Memories of the Wall

I suspect that I’m in a minority of AFOE’s writers and readers in that I actually saw the Berlin Wall in place pre-1989. We were on a school trip to Germany in 1987 and had actually been given permission to travel to West Berlin, so we naturally went to see the Wall. Strangely, though, it’s not the Wall that sticks in my memory from that trip – like most people my chief mental image of it is it being toppled in 1989 – but the journey between Hanover and Berlin, travelling by coach across East Germany on a long autobahn that had been effectively sealed off from the rest of the country, large embankments to either side of the road making it impossible for us to see any of the GDR – and, indeed, for anyone in the GDR to see any of us. I still have my old passport from that trip, complete with a GDR stamp within it.

Fifteen years after that, I saw some of the Wall again – in Rapid City, South Dakota, all of places, where two sections of it are on permanent display downtown. The one thing I do remember of seeing in West Berlin – the layers of graffiti covering the Western side of the Wall – aren’t really shown by the sections Rapid City acquired but then that’s merely a reminder of just how long it was.

11 thoughts on “Memories of the Wall

  1. Prior to 1990, I frequently drove across the GDR, Polish and Hungarian borders. I always seemed to be the one they stopped and searched when coming back. And, they were looking for… babies!

  2. I went to E. Berlin in its waning months in July 1989 – the Hungarians had opened the fence, but governments hadn’t started to topple yet. Maybe I’ll post about it tonight.

  3. Oh yes, those memories of the wall and the border…

    When I was in the army we went to the border for our “political education” (I think that’s what it was called). We were given orders to wear our civilian clothes for the actual visit of the border. Then we looked at the border and the border guards on the other side (who weren’t allowed to wave back if we waved, at least that’s what we were told. Don’t know if that’s true). Strange feeling that we were both German yet they had the order to shoot at us if we moved any further.

    A year or so later I drove from Hannover to Berlin on the transit Autobahn. The interesting bit was that it was December (i.e winter) and I had my Laser dinghy on the trailer behind my car. The border guard asked me if I was taking the boat for winter storage in Berlin. When I told him that I was going to a regatta for the weekend he looked very confused. At least they didn’t inspect the boat if I was smuggling anything in it, I heard of others who had to completely unpack everything.

  4. who weren?t allowed to wave back if we waved, at least that?s what we were told

    That’s what we were told, too. I grew up at the West/East German border, in the Bavaria-Hesse-Thuringia triangle. We had soldiers wave back at us — but it was always a single one, always the one at the very end of the line.

  5. It’s one of the few things that stands out really clearly from when I was much younger. Then again, I was only 5 at the time. And my parents forced me to watch it (I don’t think I disagreed though). I’m glad they did; whilst other currents are possibly more important in some ways, the cultural importance of the collapse of the Wall was so much greater. The memories of having seen it collapse, even on TV gives a mental framework of reference.

  6. I crossed the border a few times on my way to Berlin and back to Bavaria. I remember the apprehension of a classmate on the school trip to Berlin, whether they’d let him through, as he had longer hair than in his passport. I remember staring at the wall and going through and finding myself in a different decade in east Berlin. I remember the quiet terror when pasing through the checkpoints.

    I remember passing long convoys of Trabants on the motorway from Vienna to Passau after Hungary opened the border. I remember them waving and honking.

    I remember finding out the wall was down two days later in my favourite coffee house here in Vienna. I didn’t and still don’t watch tv usually. I remember watching german tv on cable that night and being absolutely stunned.

    And my daughter is 13 now and there never was a wall. There never was the constant knowledge that the nuclear arsenal of *both* superpowers was aimed at your hometown.

    The world is a better place now.

  7. One of the things I remember from my recent trip to Berlin was visiting the Soviet memorial in Treptower Park. At first, it seems almost quaint in its peddling of misconceptions about socialism – until you think that kids would have been taught about how correct all of this was as recently as 15 or less years ago. A very scary thought to think how education could be used in that way.
    TH, you’re definitely right. The world is a better place.

  8. Are there really such few people who went to East Germany before 1989?? I remember well our trips to visit the other half of the family in the other Germany. Each time we went I was so scared that they might not let us out again. If they wanted to find a reason they would have found one.

    One shouldn’t romantize all that.

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