I usually talk about the past as it pertains to other people, and not myself. I will make an exception for today.
It is hard for me to believe that it has been 20 years. On November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened up. To me, this was one of those momentous occasions in history that I witnessed.
I was in the US Army stationed in Germany at the time. I was personnel and administrative clerk at the headquarters, 2nd Region, US Army Criminal Investigation Command, that covered all of Europe. My duty station was near Heidelberg, Germany.
I had visited Berlin about 14 months before the wall came down. It had seen the city that was an island of capitalism and decadence, surrounded by a sea of communism that was even worse. West Berlin was full of lights and fun, and East Berlin was still a crumbling ruin from the aftermath of World War II.
In 1989, the cold war was getting very hairy, and tensions had been heating up in Europe the past few years. There were a lot of boarder face-offs with the Communists in East Europe, and we almost thought that we were getting close to Armageddon. People were escaping East Germany in record numbers by all sorts of innovative escapes, and spy capers on both sides were running rampant. I was close to the front stage watching this show. Then, the unexpected happened: Peace.
One of the greatest speeches I ever heard in my lifetime was by President Ronald Reagan, when he gave his speech at the Brandenburg gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall!” That part of his speech was unscripted, and the greatest presidential speech that I have heard in my lifetime.
On the evening of November 9th, 1989, the East German government suddenly declared that it would open up the wall in Berlin and allow free passage after 40 years of captivity.
It was evening, and Sergeant Major Murphy was driving me back to the barracks after I helped out at the American Boy Scout meeting of Troop 1 in Heidelberg. My roommate/barracks rat, Brian, said that they were going to take down the Berlin Wall. I laughed and didn’t believe him. I guess I was eating crow the next morning when we found out that it was all true.
About two weeks later when everyone was still in the celebration euphoria, I was at a scouting OA meeting in Frankfurt, where one of the scouts who came in from Berlin handed chunks of the wall to everyone present. People were chipping away chunks of the wall for souvenirs faster than termites.
The US Army issued orders that American soldiers were still not allowed to approach the wall. But it was ignored, and soldiers were flocking to Berlin to collect their souvenirs, the order was quickly modified, saying, “Okay, but don’t go any further into East Germany.” They also told us not to take large parts of the wall because it was still East German property; and order that was also ignored.
A year later, Germany was reunited after 45 years of communist oppression.
Not long after, I had to pick up my Sergeant Major at the Air Force base in Frankfurt. He was returning from conducting a command meeting with the top NCO’s of our command, held in Berlin. We were still under orders not to collect too much of the wall. As I picked up the CSM’s suitcase, it must have weighed 150 lbs. And putting it back down on the ground, it made the noise of a substantial pile of rocks. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Somewhere among my curios I still have a couple pieces of the Berlin Wall. The chunks of the wall are an odd sort. As you look at the pieces, you can see mixed up in the cement are glass and other bricks. The wall was created from the ruins of post-World War II Berlin. Now the wall itself has succumbed to ruin. And Berlin was recreated once again.