The Fall of the Berlin Wall . . .

Thirty years ago, this month, the people spoke and the Berlin Wall came down. Not many people even remember what the Berlin Wall was all about and more don’t care at this stage of the game. Real history is not a topic taught in our school systems these days.

I remember that day particularly well. My mother was actually in Germany at the time although she wasn’t in the vicinity of the historiic day. And when I heard the news, I was happy for many relatives who had spent the last thirty years behind the wall but sad for my mother as her mother lived in East Germany and died there behind the wall.

There were a lot of relatives from my grandfather’s side of the family residing in communism. When the allies divided up Germany, no one realized that Russia would take this step. Only one of family of my German relatives got out before they closed down all traffic in and out. The father of the family was a clever and hardworking man who knew Russia would never be satisifed watching people go in and out of ‘Russian’ terrority for long. At the early stages, Germans could get a pass to spend the day in the West visting relatives. My cousins did so taking with them their baby girl. At the checkpoint, initially, the Russian guards tried to take the baby for collateral to make sure the couple did return at the end of the day but, somehow, the couple assured them they would be back and walked through that checkpoint taking with them only their child, the baby carriage, and the clothing they were wearing and never looked back.

A young priest, who befriended my grandmother, was from West Germany and was in the newly-occupied Russian Zone on assignment. The wall went up and he woke up to being a ‘citizen’ and, basically a prisoner in a new situation.

My mother was there when the Americans pulled out of East Germany and watched the Russians come in. Being fluent in English, she had been called upon a lot by the American Army to help with translations and dealings with the Germans during their time there. When word came down that it was official that the Russians were coming in, my mother took to running down to the main square every morning to see what flag was flying. Her stomach dropped the morning she arrived to see the Americans taking down their flag and the Russian flag being hoisted up the flag pole. She walked slowly home.

However, several of the American soldiers she had been helping, contacted her and quietly said to pack a small bag and stand in the crowds watching the American troops pulling out at the train station. Her mother packed the bag and they stood side by side in the noisy crowds but had been warned to not do any goodbyes, just stand there. Minutes before the train pulled out, several American soldiers came up behind my mother and grandmother, circled my mother blocking her from view and the group marched into the train successfully hiding my mother.

Naturally, the American MP’s were carefully searching the train for people trying to leave on the troop trains. My mother’s soldier friends, put her into an oversized uniform, hat down over her face, and told her to be quiet. Sure enough, the MPs checked out the car and when they pointed to where my mother was shaking in her boots, the other soldiers indicated they needed to be quiet as the ‘soldier’ had done too much celebrating the night before and shouldn’t be bothered. My mother successfully made it to Bavaria and her uncle’s home but not without a lot more adventures.

Even though she wasn’t home in the States when the wall went down, I imagined that she was reliving what I just related and thanking God for the chances He gave her in life.

There is a difference between the Berlin Wall and the walls on our borders. The Berlin Wall was in place to prevent people from leaving. Our border walls are there for our protection yet we can cross back and forth without worry of being locked in against our will.

Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 9, 1989

On November 9, 1989, East German officials opened the Berlin Wall which allowed people to travel from East Berlin to West Berlin. This was one of the important events beginning the end of the Cold War. This action by East Germany was preceded a few weeks earlier when Hungary opened the border between Hungary and Austria.
The day after this announcement, Germans, probably on both sides of the wall, began to reduce this symbol of tyranny into a pile of rubble.
I grew up knowing about this wall and what it meant. In the final days of World War II, the Americans came into the small German town where my mother and grandmother lived. American soldiers were billeted into the homes of the Germans and my grandmother took in six or eight of the soldiers. My mother spoke fluent German which helped them manage the situation but it was my tiny grandmother who, in strict German, lined them all up and made them wash before allowing them to settle into her home.
Although the German people were happy to have an end to the bombing and war, it was a tentative peace as rumors flew that their little country was going to be divided up like spoils of war and word had it the Russians would be taking over the Eastern part of Germany. My mother, being able to speak both German and English, had been an invaluable help to the American military so she, being a good listener, knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans would withdraw. Every day, she would run down to the main square to see what flag was flying and the morning she saw the American flag coming down and the Russian one going up, she realized her world was changing once again. One of the soldiers she had been helping with translations confided in her that if she came down to the train station with basically the clothing she was wearing, he and the others that had lived with them the last few weeks, would see that she got out of what was to become East Germany.
My mother went home and her mother helped her pack a very small handbag and they went down, like everyone else, to see off the Americans at the train. As they stood there, two soldiers appeared on either side of my mother and just whispered, “Keep walking!” and they successfully got her hidden in the ‘mess tent’ compartment of the train. They put her into oversized Army fatigues, a hat on her head, and told her to put her hands in the pockets to hide the fact she was a female and pretend to sleep. Naturally, military police went through the train cars and when she didn’t move, one of the other soldiers laughed and said, “Too much celebration last night, officer.” and they went on without further investigation.
The reason my mother wanted to leave and her mother insisted that she leave was they realized how things would probably turn out with the Russians in charge. History proved that out. And, as we all know from said history, the wall went up and the gates closed and everyone there when they closed, stayed there, including my grandmother.
Later on, my grandmother made friends with a priest who had been in East Germany helping with parishes when the wall went up. He was not allowed to leave. His family was living in West Germany. The ‘rule’ was that anyone under 65 had to remain behind the wall. However, once someone turned 65, they could leave for a visit for two weeks exactly or forfeit their pension.
We only saw my grandmother once in our lives. My mother went back to visit Germany and my grandmother used her two weeks to visit and stay with the family of the young priest friend who also made me and my mother welcome there for the visit.
My mother, by some twist of fate, was in Germany when the wall came down. She decided that she didn’t need to see what kept her family apart all those years. She didn’t travel to join the celebrations. She’d seen and lived enough of that already.
My grandfather’s family lived in East Germany so when the wall came down, a great many relatives were reunited with the fortunate ones that had gotten out in time many years before. My cousin’s parents left East Germany when people were still allowed to go back and forth a bit. They left with my cousin in her stroller and that was about all. Initially, the Russians at the border wanted to keep my cousin to guarantee her parents’ return but they relented when they saw they were not trying to take anything other than themselves and the baby over the border presumably for a day excursion.
Events in the world leave the decedents with a stronger bit of history in their make up. For instance, I know for a fact that there is no Jewish blood in my mother’s side of the family because at the onset of the Hitler regime, it was mandatory that every person have their family legally traced back two or three generations in order to include this in their paperwork. From an early age, I read all I could find on Ann Frank and related topics. I often wondered why as did most reasonable people.
The Cold War deprived me of a relationship with my grandmother and a lot of relatives as they were ‘kept out of reach’ behind the closed border. It often makes me ponder how many other people were caught in the trap of the Wall when it went up and hope they eventually found their way home to their families.
Ancient history? Perhaps, but looking at the situation in the world today and the problems going on, I don’t think we are too far from even more horrendous situations we will have to contend with and wonder what traces of history will affect our children?