A report on Berlin would be incomplete if it didn’t include an acknowledgment of the human cruelty and suffering perpetrated both in and to Berlin during the 20th Century. There were several informative exhibitions in town when we visited: “Hitler and the Germans” exhibit at the German History Museum, “Forced Labor: The Germans, the Forced Laborers and the War” at the Jewish Museum Berlin and The Museum at Checkpoint Charlie. While there are important lessons to be learned from Berlin’s history, especially lessons regarding the attitudes that led up to various events, I’m going to focus this post on the Berlin Wall—because I like its happy ending.
I have childhood memories of the wall being built in 1961, the horrifying news reports over the decades of hundreds of people being shot trying to escape to freedom, the tensions Cold War and the fear over the possibility of nuclear war. Yet those memories are dim compared to the shared euphoria watching television November 9, 1989, the night hundreds of East Germans assembled, climbed onto the wall and started chipping pieces out of it, without the guards firing or the dogs attacking. To think that night that the Cold War could end because of the will and peaceful determination of ordinary people was the best of all possible scenarios. With tears of joy, I pulled out and played two old 45 RPM records over and over that night: Born Free (Roger Williams) and People Got to Be Free (The Rascals). I remember being filled with good will—and love—toward the brave people who gathered by the wall and climbed on it and to the guards who did not shoot.
Some sections of the Berlin Wall still stand. In this area, artists have added their messages: