November 9, 2009

The Wall

Twenty years ago the Berlin wall came down.  I was in Berlin once, in 1969.  A loooong time ago.  I had gone with some friends, there was no room in any of the relatives apartments for a girlfriend and myself, so they put us up in a little 'Schrebergarten' house.  That's a little house in a rented garden space.  No indoor toilet, no running water, just a place to sleep.  We went over Easter, and my mother gave me a huge pot of colored Easter eggs to take along.  My father's half sister lived in East-Berlin at the time, and I visited her and her daughter a couple of times.  I remember that it felt weird.  Especially the crossings. 

When the wall came down in 1989 we were in New Hampshire for the weekend.  We had friends who lived there in a big old colonial, and we had a good time, driving to Portsmouth, NH, and exploring the area.  I also remember witnessing on the radio and TV what was going on in Germany and feeling left out.  Wanting to  watch and see and still be in the moment in NH.
We had gone to Germany the summer after, and a couple of days before the currency was going to be made the same, my brother asked me if I wanted to go to the Wartburg and Eisenach.  We had gone as children (I was 13, my brother 10) to visit our grandparents in Weimar, and had good memories of that trip.

Sure, I said.  But we're Americans, won't that cause a problem?  The border still existed, and I foresaw all kinds of problems.  I called some embassy - the East Germans - and was told, yes, we could have visas, $50 each, please.  For a couple of hours?
My brother said (and I listened, I have to problem getting into trouble if someone else suggests it), let's just go, and we'll go the back ways, we won't get stopped.  So we went.  And kilometers before the border were trucks parked all along the high way waiting for the day when the currency was the same, so they could fill the stores and the East Germans could spend their West marks.

We did go off the highway, went the back roads to Eisenach, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the church.  My brother told me to tell my kids not to be 'so American' .  What do you mean? I said.  Well, be so loud, to tone it down a bit.  I'm still laughing at that.  There was no way - these are/'were irrepressible American children!  Cheerful, happy, yelling 'hey, Mom, come see this!', sometimes whiny - to tell them to act like something else was not going to happen.

The drive through the country side was like a blast from our youth.  Tree-lined roads, with the white oblongs painted on the trees as guides, old villages where time seemed to have stood still.  Very few people.

We did make it to the Wartburg (a memory our father gave us years before), and, as it turned out, we were the first Americans to take the tour.  I remember how touched the guide was, when I gave her some single $$.

Michael was still with us, my brother's son.  His battle with leukemia was still a few years ahead at that point.

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