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Monday, November 9, 2009

Berliner Mauer

photo by SSGT F. LEE CORKRAN US Air Force

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall (in German: "Berliner Mauer" or simply "Die Mauer"). I lived in Paris then, but went to a German school. Germans for obvious reasons are pretty low key about national identity or displaying any love of country.
But I do remember the days following this historic day and even standing up in class for the national anthem. While for American kids this might not be a big deal, it was a pretty extraordinary moment for us kids at the expat school.
Obviously November 9 was not just a moment in German history. People from everywhere came to Berlin to witness this moment in history (even Dick Avedon!).
My sister and brother-in-law travelled from the US to Berlin to witness the tearing down of the wall. I did not make it to Berlin until a couple of years later. Once I went with a group of German & American friends , and when we were standing in Friedrichshain in front of what remained of the wall we had run out of film. Classic.
As a small child I lived about 50 km from the East German border but I might as well have lived 5000 km away.
I never travelled to East Germany and we did not have family in the East. My dad sometimes had to go for work and he would tell me frightening stories about crossing the border. On the news sometimes you would hear about someone who died while trying to make it to the west. But for me as a child this seemed far away or unreal - like a scary fairytale.
Maybe even for a child the absurdity of it all was clear.

President Kennedy at the Berlin Wall, 26 June 1963 --photo:Robert Knudsen, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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