In my family’s photo album there is a photo of us in front of the Brandenburg Gate with the date “December 26, 1989” underneath. I remember that we could hear the sound of the “wallpeckers” – people chipping off pieces of the Wall as mementos. At the front of the picture is a baby carriage containing my little sister. She’s 15 years younger than me, and was born in the fall of 1989. She will only ever know the German Democratic Republic from stories.
It’s funny that she and I are basically two different generations in relation to this historic event of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I grew up in West Berlin. My brother and I would often go on long bike rides without bothering to take a map. After all, we couldn’t really get lost – at some point the Wall would be in our path. I’ve often thought that people who moved to Berlin from elsewhere, such as my father, must have found it claustrophobic to live in this part of Berlin, free yet penned in by a big wall. I have a vague memory of the GDR border police we encountered on the transit route through the GDR to West Germany. They have stayed in my mind as unfriendly, shadowy figures of dread. There was also a smell that used to trigger negative emotions in me. It was the smell of a cleaning agent that seemed to be used everywhere in the East and that still hung around in some buildings even years after reunification.
The more time that passes, and the more the city changes, the more incomprehensible that inhuman regime seems. The course of history must be particularly hard to grasp for the families of people killed trying to cross the Wall – especially those that died in the final weeks and months before it fell. These days, living in Pankow, going out in Friedrichshain, and working in Buch, you just can’t imagine the insanity of that whole situation. Could people have sensed that change was coming? Should people not have taken the risk of trying to flee in 1989? I can remember our history teacher postulating a theory to us, which he described as “bold,” that “the Wall won’t be around forever.” We students were speechless with amazement. That was in late October 1989.
© picture alliance / Ulrich Baumgarten