Are you kidding? That was 20 years ago??!!
I grew up with the wall. I was born on the West Berlin side of it and for the longest time, actually almost until it wasn’t there anymore, it was all but normal to me. I had never seen Berlin or Germany without it, so it was all I knew. Yet, every day, having the wall was continuously declared an unnatural state of being. I wonder whether a lot of people realized that they were not just talking about a structure or a political situation but about a whole generation that was living an unnatural state of normality, day in and day out.
I certainly never did until this very day 20 years ago.
Thinking back, it feels like home but it’s as far away as the memory of a book I read. It’s not just the spacial difference between being here in the US or being over there. I would need a time machine to get back to the Berlin I really know. Click HERE and listen to a song that very much represents this time for me.
So, again and again, I realized that the people around me here in the USA have a completely wrong perception about how and what the wall was. Nobody ever really wants to say it but so many of you are thinking: “What the ..bleep.. was the big deal about the wall and the divided city of Berlin??!!
After I had that discussion with someone I know, she said, she thought the whole time it was like Minneapolis and St. Paul, which is obviously not quiet right. So I figured I should take this as an opportunity to maybe clarify this for anybody that is interested.
I took this map from German History in Documents and Images and violated it to make the situation clear.
So, as you can see, East and West Germany are separated. There was a wall running most of the length of the border between them. If you see Berlin as one city, it is located in East Germany. The western part of the city had a wall surrounding it almost entirely. So, it was basically a western island in East Germany. There were few roads in and out of this West Berlin “island” and the border crossings were heavily guarded and enforced by the east.
As a West Berlin citizen, you could drive through the east to, e.g. get to West Germany, but you had to pass through the border crossings and you were not allowed to leave the dedicated road all westerners were supposed to travel on. It was quiet the problem if your car ever broke down in the east.
If you wanted to visit or stay in the east, you needed a visa and there was a minimum amount of money you had to exchange and believe me, you lost money on that deal. Also, you couldn’t just go wherever you like in the east. It was very restrictive for westerners.
Obviously, it was a lot more restrictive for easterners. They were not allowed to travel to the west and more or less all other freedoms were held in check by a regime that made use of violence and other methods of instilling fear and obedience.
I have a couple of old Berlin photos that I got from my dad that show the wall. Unfortunately, my scanner broke so I had to take photos of photos and the quality is not the best.
The yellow line is the wall and the “no-man’s land” (sorry but I don’t know what you call that in English), in which there were likely mines and other death traps. I also labeled east and west so you know which way you are looking.
If you look towards the bottom left of the photo, you can already get an idea how anything that was in the way of the wall just got cut off on the eastern side. It was very typical to see buildings that were simply sliced and had only a cement wall without windows etc. as a scar.You can really see it in the next photo. Look at the buildings along the border on the eastern side.
Here is a link to more photos about the wall and it’s victims: 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin wall
It doesn’t matter how many photos I am looking at though, I just can’t fathom that all this is 20 years ago.