On Monday I saw a Facebook meme that said the Berlin Wall has now been gone for as many days as it stood: 10,316, to be exact. Fact-checking, I found this article. It’s true: Berlin Wall anniversary: Landmark date in Germany as symbol of division has now been down as long as it was up, by Jon Stone in the Independent.
In 1983, I lived in West Berlin for 8 months. I graduated from high school at age 16 and took a gap year before going to college. My father, a Chemistry professor, did a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet Berlin, and our family went with him.
Paradoxically for a city surrounded by a wall, I was afforded a lot of freedom in Berlin. I took public transportation anywhere and everywhere using a student pass. I rode my bike. Every week I would go alone to my violin lesson on both the bus and the subway. My violin teacher, an American expat married to a German, lived in an apartment near the wall. She sometimes crossed into East Berlin to buy sheet music cheaply. My copy of the Brahms violin sonata #1 is an old Edition Peters, bought on one of those trips. When my teacher gave it to me, I handled it gingerly, like it might be radioactive.
The only time I ever crossed into East Berlin myself back then was on a carefully guided tour for American tourists, which we were. After crossing at Checkpoint Charlie, we drove down Unter den Linden, toured a museum with a bust of Nefertiti, and visited a memorial to fallen soldiers.
We were shown a lot of the wall, too. Across the wall and no-man’s land, you could see this futuristic silver ball, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Built from 1965-1969 and 365 meters tall (at the time), it was visible from many parts of West Berlin. Particularly as I rode my bike around the city, it was a landmark I kept in my mind’s eye. Like my Eastern copy of Brahms, it seemed extra-foreign and a little sinister.
Living there at that time and playing music there influenced what I’ve wanted to write about as an adult. One of my stories at the Clarion West writers’ workshop, “Sunrise on West Lake,” was fantasy about a musician who escaped from a repressive society.
In 1997 I married my husband, who was born and raised in (then West) Germany. We’ve been back many times to visit his friends and family, but only once to Berlin, in 1998.
We could visit the Brandenburg gate from the other side (and it’s a lot cleaner looking!)
Checkpoint Charlie was also no longer recognizable.
Construction was everywhere in Berlin back then in the first heady years after the wall came down, and it’s still going on. Pieces of the wall were dismantled and sent around the world as memorials. We have such a piece right here in Mountain View CA. It’s next to the Public Library, and someone made a virtual geocache out of it. I decided that the anniversary would be a good day to find that cache, which is called “Wir Lieben Dich” for obvious reasons.
To find this virtual cache, you had to answer a question about the area around the cache, and have your picture taken with the pieces of the wall. I ran into a fellow cacher at the library, and she happily took my picture.
As we rightly celebrate the wall’s demise, we also remember those who died trying to cross it:
And the victims of the Nazis:
No more walls.