“I’m a child of an island in the red sea.” That’s what I always stated, when we had discussions about East vs West in the past. This is a long topic and the re-unification was not always as smooth as it might seem to you.
We had many discussions with our East German counterparts, because we – from the West – had everything and were arrogant – from the point of view of East Germans. Heard that the last time, when the East Germans behaved exactly like that, getting everything we prepared as group work and being arrogant when questioned for doing so in the studies of Pharmacy in Berlin – “Now it’s our turn, you had everything, all the years before” was the unacceptable answer. Maybe they have been right, but it was not my fault or the fault of my colleagues from the West, we have been small children by that time. That’s already nearly ten years in the past – and the sad thing about it is, that all the glory of a moment and all the hope and good will is replaced by routine – getting back to the routes, forgetting what was important, all too fast.
Today it’s hard to distinct who is East and who is West German – it does not matter anymore or the importance vanishes more and more, at least in my generation. It’s good like that, we are one people.
“I’m a child from an island in the Red Sea.”
By employing this phrase I stated, that I am from West-Berlin, I was born and raised there. Former West-Berlin to be adequate. The place in Germany which was surrounded by the soviet occupancy – the red and since it was a big area surrounding West-Berlin the metaphor “Island in the Red Sea” made sense to me. The DDR (GDR, i.e. German Democratic Republic) was under Russian patronage, but still controlled by their own East German people – the secretary general and his executive the VoPos (Volkspolizei, i.e. peoples police). West-Berlin was a spot of Western life in the middle of the communistic driven DDR – connected to East-Berlin via closed bridges everywhere, with the most prominent Oberbaumbrücke, Bornholmer Brücke in the inner city and Glienicker Brücke towards Brandenburg – those are bridges over the rivers Spree and Havel.
I come from the former British sector, from Berlin-Wilmersdorf. I still remember radio stations like RIAS which means Radio In the American Sector. I still know the surveillance station on Teufelsberg as a guarded stronghold of the American – or allied – forces. I know the term “Rosinenbomber” and connected to that, the importance of the Airport Berlin-Tempelhof, which was the only airport in the beginning, right after the wall was built in August 1961, to bring supplies and food to West-Berlin. Visit the memorial park while you are in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburger Tor, to see the most popular places, where the separation was obviously visible – and Eastside Gallery to see authentic left overs of the Berlin Wall.
While for us in West-Berlin traveling was possible during the whole time, it was not as comfortable as today. We had to pass the DDR, on the corridors that were open to the West-Berliners and Western Germans to enter Berlin. This act – yes it was! – was called Transit. You had to wait at the border leaving West-Berlin and again at the border to enter BRD, or Western Germany, as it was called in the past. And this Transit was not always smooth, some days you had to wait hours to be allowed to reenter or they didn’t let you at all. I remember one night in winter, when I was a small kid. We have not been allowed to enter BRD and had to wait at the border for ten hours, before it was reopened. The allied forces handed soup and sheets for the people waiting and the VoPos checked every car with dogs for fleeing people. That was reality and I still have this image on my mind of soldiers digging our luggage, a submachine gun over the shoulder, the dogs in the car. On the highways of DDR, the speed limit was 100 km/h, unimaginably slow compared to today – for Germany, that is known for the fun Autobahn experience. When you took your pets, you had to present them to the veterinaries at the border and pay a fee. When you wanted to enter the DDR to visit relatives or friends, you had to pay a fee and change Deutsche Mark into Ostmark. Life was certainly different.
I was six years old, when the wall fell on November 9th 1989. I don’t remember too much anymore. I just remember everyone went nuts. There was a great excitement in the air. My mum went alone, she left us at home on this night. I think it is a pity. I think we would still remember what happened nowadays. But a couple of days after the fall of the wall, we went into East-Berlin to discover it. What I remember: The smell was so different! It smelled like coal, burning coal. The wall must have prevented the smell to come over. And the Trabbies smelled horrific by that time as well. Everything was grey and rundown, compared to today where the eastern parts of Berlin shine so beautiful. You could still see the bullet holes in the walls of many buildings, the holes which date back to WW II.
We visited Friedrichstadtpalast and witnessed a suite of Tschaikowski, played by the former East-German variete, and we visited the Naturkundemuseum in Mitte. That have been the first two events respectively places I remember in accordance to the re-unification. And today?
Everything seems normal! Berlin is one, no doubt about that. But I still have the feeling it is different when you hit the East German countryside in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But it is good that it is like it is and our children will hopefully realize, that times have been different, will hopefully understand, that everyone can be thankful, this never ending cold-war is over, once and for all. What we should learn out of that? Make Love not war, everywhere on this planet. It might be a special case in the history of Germany, with all the guilt, the forgiveness, the separation and finally the re-unification – November 9th is a dark and a glorious date – has both sides in German history and a date which will always be bound to that history. But the principle I address of making love and not war is the same, no matter about what wall we are talking, no matter which religion we believe in and which economic interests are on our list. People have to understand that, finally, once and for all.
And to visualize the celebration of the 25th anniversary of this epic event, I took some pictures, mainly in Mauerpark of the event itself, some close to Bornholmer Brücke and some the days before along Oberbaumbrücke and Eastside Gallery, as well as at Brandenburger Tor, where the rests of the inner Berlin wall can be found. I wrote about the area between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain – including Eastside Gallery – a couple of month ago and you can find the entry here.