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When The Wall Came Down

Frankly, I didn’t believe it.

I remember driving home from work that 9th November, 1989, listening to the radio, and hearing the speaker announce that the border to the GDR was open, and citizens were allowed to travel to West Germany, or anywhere else they desired to go. No, I didn’t believe it. I just couldn’t. Inspite of all that had happened in the weeks before, inspite of all the protest and demonstrations going on in East Germany, inspite of those thousands of people who had escaped during the summer of ’89, inspite of all the people who had made it to the German Embassy in Prague, and were subsequently allowed to leave the GDR. Inspite of everything, really.

I grew up in a divided Germany, with grandparents who had been forced to leave their homes in the aftermath of WW2, more or less raised on the trauma they experienced. My paternal grandmother, for example, refused to visit her sister in Berlin because she would have had to travel through the GDR by train, and was afraid „the Russians“ would arrest and imprison her again, just like they had done during the war, in her far-away hometown that was given to Poland after the war. My maternal grandfather made it to the west but his brother stayed in the east, and in the end, the family was divided by The Wall. Being interested in history, I knew of earlier attempts to shake off the Russian occupation, not just in Berlin in 1953, but also in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968 – and we all know what happened: the Russian government sent tanks, thousands of people died, the survivors were locked up behind the iron curtain, and critics silenced by violence and fear.

I drove home that day and asked my husband if he had heard it as well, and did he believe it? He was just as flabbergasted as I was. We turned on the telly and sat glued to the screen, watching as the first cars, the famous „Trabbis“, crossed the border. I still expected shootings and tanks and Russian soldiers turning up and saying „Fooled ya!“ but thankfully, nothing happened. The Wall had come down. The war was finally over. 11 months later, the two Germanys were reunited.

This year marks 30 years of what is still known as „The Peaceful Revolution“. We live quite close to the tiny village Mödlareuth, formerly knowns as „Little Berlin“ because the wall cut the village in two halves, just like it did Berlin. These days, Mödlareuth is home to the „Deutsch-Deutsches Museum„. They have kept parts of the wall and border facilities intact as part of a permanent exhibition. I had wanted to go there for quite a while (funny how we always drive hundreds of kilometres to visit places and museums, but never seem to make it to the ones that are just around the corner) and now, with the 30 year celebrations, seemed the right time.

Let’s just say that it was impressive, heartbreaking, depressing, overwhelming, and wonderful at the same time. I watched children play and giggle in a place that was once the death strip, totally unaware of the fear the wall once induced. We got to talk to other visitors, lots of memories were shared, from what living in the GDR was like to the quality and colour of GDR mustard back then („It tasted great but it was green! Don’t know what they put into the stuff. It was almost glowing in the dark!“).

A highlight of the celebrations definitely was the Trabbi line. There must have been around 100 Trabbis, Wartburgs, Skodas and other oldtimers of Eastern fabrication that lined up to reenact the crossing of the border. The cars were beautifully restored, that is, kept in their original shape and condition, the majority even had the same old (rather boring) colours they had back then (with the exception of one bright pink one, and a blue, white and red race car style car) – and the same gasoline stink that was so typical for them. Mind you, one of the first drivers to cross the simulated border that day actually pulled out his old GDR passport and waved it to the politicians who had come to watch and celebrate! Yes, it was quite a sight to see.

 

I took this picture when we left … even more Trabbis lining up, waiting to cross the border. 30 years ago, this was exactly the sight on all the roads near the border. We as a country and a united people have faced so many difficulties and injustices during the last 30 years while we tried to „become one“ again. It was good to remember the initial joy and enthusiasm we felt way back on that 9th November, 1989.