The Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 10, 2009

Twenty years ago yesterday, November 9, 1989, after supper, I was in my bedroom with Bettina, our exchange-student from Germany.  West Berlin to be exact.  I was in Grade 12 and she was in Grade 11.

We were doing our homework when my mother rushed in and excitedly announced, “Bettina!  They’ve opened the wall!  It’s on the news – they’re taking it down!”

To which Bettina replied in disbelief, “That will never happen!” which after she realized it was happening, quickly changed to, “But I’m stuck in Canada!”

For the next few months, we were glued to the television whenever there was coverage to see if she could spot anyone she knew.  We had already heard stories about her family from the East who had been separated from her family in the West when the Wall went up.  We had heard about how her cousin was going to be either a dentist or a doctor, I don’t remember anymore, and that the family had applied to buy her a car for her graduation seven years before.

New Year’s Eve was especially painful for Bettina since her sister and friends in Berlin were all ringing in the New Year of 1990 at the Wall.  Again, we were glued to the television.

In 1994, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Berlin overnight to visit Bettina while on a trip to Amsterdam.  We went to the Brandenburg Gate and to the Berlin Wall Museum at the site of Checkpoint Charlie. To see the images and the history there, coupled with a visit to the Secret Annex of Anne Frank in Amsterdam was overwhelming.  To this day, I can’t sing “O Canada” without getting teary;  if I hear a group of children sing it, I’m a mess.

Looking back, I’m sure that the Fall of the Berlin Wall was probably my first conscious realization of some of the horrible things that happen in the world.  Because I had a personal connection, these events that we learned about in history class or heard on the news became real.

Tomorrow, as we do each year, we will take our family and go to the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day.  During the moment of silence, I will think about those who fought and continue to fight so that we may bring our children up without the first-hand experience of war.  And in the words of Anne Frank, I will reflect on “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

 


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