Ramble On

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall - part 5

Since the Wall fell I’ve been lucky enough to get back to Berlin twice – I mentioned the four-day stopover in 1995 on the way to Kiev. I stayed in Kruezberg at a little hotel near where some friends had lived, not too far away from Tempelhof Airport where I had lived. In the ’95 trip I spent most of my time walking around the city and checking out old haunts, including visiting some favorite night spots.

Here are two photos of the Reichstag, one from my ’95 trip, and the second from the trip Mary and I made in 2001. In the 1995 photo, renovations had yet to begin; in fact, I learned that the Christo project that wrapped the building in fabric had just been taken down the previous month. Obviously, in 2001, not only had the building become the home of the German Parliament, but the new Dome was a major attraction in the city. I went up twice during the visit, the first just for the experience, the second to get last views of some of the sights on the horizon from up there – the radome at Tempelhof, and the silhouetted Teufelsberg site up on the hill.

In 2001, Mary and I made our way around the city from our hotel, which was located near Potsdamer Platz (and thankfully near a Tchibb coffee shop). We were directly across the street from Martin Gropius Bau, which was on a street where the Wall had run. After a day or two of walking around the neighborhood, I realized that I had done an early training run through here as I prepared for the 1983 Berlin Marathon – Shybuck and I followed the Wall from there to the Reichstag.
These photos are from a little side street near the hotel - a couple of derelect pieces of the Wall were there, including this demolished guard tower and a slab with some new paintings.

The line of the Wall was marked with cobblestones in the streets and sidewalks, but everywhere, new buildings had gone up as this was now an emerging commercial district, with the Daimler Platz and Sony Centers not far away, and the new groundbreaking for the new American Embassy not too far in the future.

We were also only a half mile from Checkpoint Charlie, which we made a point of visiting. On the short walk, we discovered a stretch of the Wall that had been maintained - here I am near it, disguised as a German tourist.
Interestingly, a series of underground rooms had been discovered here directly under the Wall – these were part of a State Police jail during the Nazi days and had a sinister history.

After proceeding through Checkpoint Charlie and visiting the museum there, where Mary endured my stories of going through the Checkpoint and frenzied shopping tours in the East, we circled back to Unter den Linden, where we enjoyed a very civilized lunch at a café.
It was a very nostalgic visit for me, one with a lot of mixed feelings about personal history that was now long gone. But also, it was hard to miss the impact of the renewal that had gone on since the Wall came down. There are stories about hardships in the East, where some of the towns have struggled to integrate into the new economy. But I hope that everyone is on the road to better off than they had been.

Reading the reminisces of my friends who were in Berlin when I was there, and especially those who were there the night came down – these have been a great experience the last few days. Getting caught up in all of that during those days, it was hard to realize that this really was history - it’s quite a thing to have been a part of.

This is the final post in this series, for now - when I manage to make it to the Wall display at the Newseum, I will post about that. I want to close out with a little anecdote my friend Chris K. wrote about his activities on the day the Wall came down - cobbled together from a series of posts he put up on Facebook yesterday:

"For my Family and FB friends who didn't spend time with me in Berlin, it was 20 years ago today that the Berlin Wall came down. A lot of my friends and coworkers were released from duty and joined the festivities. Michele and I worked a mid shift and as soon as we got home from work we changed, filled a backpack with some Heinekins, grabbed a hammer and screwdriver and headed for the Wall.

"We spent a good part of that morning/day walking along the Wall and chipping pieces from it. I kept a few pieces but most of them we handed out to the Berliners who were stopping to watch. Some even came up to us and asked if we could chip off a piece for them.
"I remember two elderly ladies, who approached but were reluctant to say anything, I asked if they would like a couple of pieces and they nodded. One of them broke into tears when I gave her a fairly large chunk. I couldn't imagine the emotion that she had bottled up inside.

"At one point, a photographer came up and said he had snapped our picture and wanted permission to publish it in the Stars&Stripes. We were afraid to give our names because the Commander had ordered us (sort of) not to join in the chipping. So, the next day, there we were on the front page. Thought I was busted, literally, but nothing happened."

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