Poetry & Words

Where I was when the Berlin Wall fell

November 9, 1989 —  I’ll never forget that day 25 years ago — well, I didn’t hear the news until Friday morning, the 10th, over breakfast in West Germany. The night before, East German Communist Party spokesperson Günther Schabowski suggested, without much oomph — almost accidentally, it seemed — that travel between East and West could happen “from now”. [1]

Humanity surged toward the barrier, climbing over it, smashing at it with axes and hammers, and waiting in endless lines at the now-open gates, disbelief in the air. It’s emotional for me even now to think about this exodus, the pieces that held up the regime crumbling, the people locked in for years.

People died trying to cross that wall.

In a giant cloud of exhaust fumes of two-stroke engines, hundreds of East German cars wait bumper to bumper in front of the West German checkpoint Helmstedt to enter the west, Nov. 11, 1989. In front of the eastern checkpoint, the cars wait in line for a distance of 30-40 kilometers, a West German policeman said. The ride from Berlin to Helmstadt (about 200 kilometers) would last about 11 hours. (AP Photo/Claus Eckert)
In a giant cloud of exhaust fumes of two-stroke engines, hundreds of East German cars wait bumper to bumper in front of the West German checkpoint Helmstedt to enter the west, Nov. 11, 1989. In front of the eastern checkpoint, the cars wait in line for a distance of 30-40 kilometers, a West German policeman said. The ride from Berlin to Helmstadt (about 200 kilometers) would last about 11 hours. (AP Photo/Claus Eckert)

“So it was the other side of the roughcast concrete barrier that mattered, the side that people did not spray with aerosol cans but had risked their lives to climb over. The emotional quality of this liberation can only be captured if you can imagine what it was like to live behind that ‘anti-fascist protection rampart’ (its mendacious official name) for all your life, never setting foot in the western half of your own city, and with the expectation that this would continue for years to come.

Here is the other thing that even the finest historians struggle to recover: the sense of what people at the time did not know. To those who lived behind it, the Berlin Wall had become something almost like the Alps, a seemingly unchangeable fact of physical geography. Even when things began to change so dramatically in Poland and Hungary, most people just did not believe the Alps could crumble. After all, there was a nuclear-armed empire holding them up. ” [2]

People now tell me I couldn’t have understood what was happening when November 10th dawned. I begin to tell my story, and they quickly interrupt. No, I couldn’t have known the significance of the day. I wasn’t yet six years old, they remind me.

In a way, they are right. I can never fully understand what it was like to have lived under East German rule. During that time, I did not live in Berlin. I lived in the former Yugoslavia — officially, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. And I was on the Western side of the wall when it fell.

But unlike many six-year-olds, I knew about the secret police. I knew about the checkpoints. I knew about smuggling, and borders, and visas and papers and freedom. And on November 10th, I could feel the wild mix of jubilation, uncertainty, and the thrill of the unfettered unknown.

People who’ve always lived in freedom don’t always know how to describe it. And people who’ve always lived in fetters can’t always articulate the lack of freedom, either.

“It is almost impossible to recreate the emotional intensity of the moment of liberation. For that intensity came from having lived for most, if not all, your life with the aching certainty that something like this was, precisely, impossible.” [Read More: The Berlin Wall: What it Meant to Be There]

Oh, I remember. There is no doubt about that.

And there’s something else: I am going to keep remembering, and keep telling this story. Because I don’t want to forget.

I don’t ever want any of us to forget.

Poetry & Words

Remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall

Twenty years ago, I was a five-and-a-half year old little girl who called the former Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) home.  I remember November 9, 1989 well. I was visiting Germany that day, and I like to think I fully understood the significance of what was happening. (I did, after all, celebrate in an age-appropriate way — with a bowl of Sugar Smacks.)

Berlin Wall Freedom
Image via MS State Univ Library

Today, I celebrate freedom.

Where were YOU twenty years ago today?