Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down?
It’s a moment seared in my memory. I was between classes and sitting with fellow students; we were discussing politics in a way that only earnest young adults just out of adolescence can. We’d grown up in an era when the Cold War was a living thing, when it was not a stretch to think that a government might push the red button of nuclear doom. That climate formed us as surely as the music of the times and our families’ beliefs.
I get goose bumps when I remember those days. None of us believed it would happen in our lifetime. The hard regime of the former German Democratic Republic seemed entrenched and had a stranglehold on the lives of the people east of the Wall. And when the Wall fell many of us cried in support, and with relief and happiness because it meant that people with hope could win.
The celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall makes me as emotional as the days when I sat discussing politics with fellow university students who wanted to change the world. Don’t we all want that kind of celebration for other parts of the world fractured by violence and repression?
As a young girl, years before we immigrated to Canada, I visited the GDR with my parents and brother to vacation with a cousin of my father’s, whom he hadn’t seen since the Wall’s construction. I have vague memories of our vehicle being stopped going in and coming out of the country, and having to leave the car while the border police searched for hidden cavities where we might be hiding dissidents. I also remember being attacked by swans when I snuck too close, but it’s unlikely they were working for the Stasi.
My mother has since filled in the details: months of paperwork leading up to the visit, making sure my parents drove a car with French plates and not West German ones to avoid undue attention, strict instructions as to where we were allowed to go, the trickiness involved because my father was West German, a security presence assigned to watch us and ensure we didn’t stray from our timetable, whispered conversations between adults so that the children wouldn’t overhear and inadvertently reveal their parent’s political leanings on the school playground.
This was life in the GDR and maybe I felt so invested in the Wall coming down because I had a connection to it. Or maybe I’d listened to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” too many times and was too serious for my own good. Either way, change came to Germany and it came as the Peaceful Revolution, which began in Leipzig.
This is a celebratory story because the victory wasn’t fleeting, and though Germany has stumbled along the road to reunification, it seems to be coming out stronger and more vibrant now that its population is no longer separated.
October 9, 2014 marked twenty-five years since 70,000+ East Germans peacefully demonstrated for their freedom. The Berlin Wall fell exactly one month after the Peaceful Revolution, and November 9, 2014 marks its anniversary. The Lichtgrenze Project in Berlin, which runs for 15 kilometres through the city, tracing the line of the former division, is made up of thousands of illuminated balloons. These will be lit throughout the weekend and then released on the anniversary of the fall, symbolizing the end of division. There are many other events planned throughout the country and I can only imagine the atmosphere in Berlin and elsewhere will be electric as Germany celebrates 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.
Germany Tourism invited travel writers to an event in Toronto commemorating these moments in German history, and the urge to grab my passport and hop on a plane is strong. It’s been fourteen years since my last visit and I was repeatedly told that Germany is different. I want to see it. I want you to see it. It means that positive change can happen and that it’s possible to combine the desire to discover the world with celebrations of hope.