Photo above: Me in front of what’s left over of the Berlin wall. This part of the wall was built (or should I say reconstructed) in 1975.
I arrived in Berlin the evening of November 26th, 2016 and I stayed until the afternoon of November 30th. I found Berlin completely fascinating on different levels. It’s a city of diversity, of imagination, creativity and poverty. I also call it a city of scars; Berlin still bears the scars from the time it was divided between the communist East and the capitalist West. Parts of the Berlin wall still stand, reminding the people every day of the division that separated them for 40 years. Between 1961 and the fall of the wall in 1989, many people were shot to death while trying to escape East Berlin.
Anybody who’s been to Berlin has heard about Checkpoint Charlie and no doubt have seen it. This was the American sector in Berlin during the time when Berlin was divided between East and West.
Our tour guide, a young Hispanic man from California (the man in the blue coat), explained to us that the moment the wall went up, anyone who worked across the street from where the wall was built was forbidden to return home to his family. He could visit his family for a day, but he could not live with them.
Our tour guide explained: One night after work, a husband discovered he was going to be a father. He would have been overjoyed on hearing the news, but one day a few months later, he went to work only to find out that he was forbidden to return home to the house where he lived across the street. That was because a wall was being constructed on that very street that separated his home from his work. He would see his infant son or daughter from across the street. His wife would stand in the window and hold up the infant child for him to see. That was, other than the occasional day visit, the only communication he had with his family.
Our tour guide was amazing, but he constantly apologized for the historical information he gave us. To me that was completely unnecessary because that’s what actually happened. What people did to each other throughout history was violent, cruel and dark, but it’s history. No one can deny it happened, no one can rewrite it and no one should apologize for it. However we can learn about it and learn from it. That one example he gave us was just one example of undoubtedly many families in Berlin who were separated by the Wall.
Yet, what is really interesting is how many Berliners, particularly those who had lived behind the Wall, believe that living under communism was easier than living in the capitalist system they now reside in. It really makes me reflect deeply on the direction our democratic western society has taken…