Friday, August 13, 2010

The Walled City

When I first arrived in this wonderful city of Berlin, my destination was only one half of the city, West Berlin, technically belonging to no country but comprised of the three occupation zones of the Western Powers, France, Great Britain, and the United States. The inhabitants of West Berlin were actually not citizens of any country, were provided diplomatic services abroad by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, its "provisional capital" in Bonn.

Having heard of the Wall before arrival, having even seen pictures of it, I went to see it within my first few days here, specifically at Potsdamer Platz. The picture from the postcard of that time shows a view of the Wall, begun on this day in 1961, from there across no-man's land and Leipziger Platz to the eastern part of the city.

In East Berlin, technically the fourth occupied zone under control of the USSR, but made capital and part and portion of the German Democratic Republic with Soviet approval despite Western Allies protest, the inhabitants were citizens of the GDR, although this actually violated the occupation status of Berlin as a whole, and were subject to all provisions this entailed. They had to serve in the draft army, the Volksarmee, and could "watch" the government of the country with all its ministries and offices in East Berlin.

Inhabitants of West Berlin were not allowed to be in the Bundeswehr, the army of West Germany, and many West German boys "fled" to West Berlin to avoid the draft there. When, for example, elections to the presidency of the BRD were held in the Reichstag in West Berlin, the Soviets protested loudly, even sending jet fighters to razz the assembly in low-altitude flights or to break the sound barrier overhead.

My husband Detlef grew up on the "east" side of the Wall, and we would probably never have met, certainly not have been able to establish a common life, had that wall not come down in November of 1989.

The little red chip standing below the picture is the one piece of the Wall I hacked out at precisely the location of the photo, at Potsdamer Platz. Its color is from the graffiti that covered the western side of the wall, in stark contrast to the blank white of the other side, to make it easier to see any who might attempt to get over it. Don't forget that there were TWO walls: the "outer" or "western" one here in the foreground and the "inner" or "eastern" one on the far side of the mined and patrolled no-man's land in the distance on this picture.

The Wall was an attempt to separate people for ideology; its fall an example of people overcoming barriers; its absence is the presence of my life in love with Detlef.

In Berlin I feel and relish the absence of that Wall every minute of every day. That absence is a freedom hard to describe if you never experienced the hassles trying to "cross" at the checkpoints; hassles nothing in comparison with what the inhabitants of the East faced, usually not allowed to cross at all!

And now Detlef and I simply ride the number 200 bus across Potsdamer Platz, right through what was no-man's land, piercing both "sides" of the now absent Wall. Here, too, was where I first walked across after the opening of the Wall in November, 1989. The first place I saw the Wall with my own eyes is the first place I crossed back and forth once a makeshift opening was created there. It is now one of the central points of our life in Berlin.

Ironically, Detlef's mom's birthday is also August 13th; and thanks to the Fall of the Wall 21 years ago after it had stood for 28, Detlef and I along with his brother and his wife and kids and some of her friends will celebrate Edith's birthday in a riverside restaurant in the Köpenick district of Berlin this evening. There is family unity and no wall to hinder celebration, as she once experienced when she was not allowed to attend a celebration of her sister's in Bavaria. So then, this is a lesson in birthdays!

The birthday of a Wall is to be commemorated only now that it has fallen as a reminder never to allow infringement of freedom. And the birthday of my dear mother-in-law is a celebration of the joys of humans able to love and overcome boundaries.

Never forget!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful reminder of all that the wall meant for so many years, and even more importantly, of what its absence means today. And a very special American "Happy Birthday" to dear Edith!