When walls fall down
We were in the lobby of our guest house in Berlin when someone wheeled in a television set on a cart to the center of the room. People began to gather around it with shouts of glee. I looked at the screen and it appeared as if cars and people were streaming through a toll booth. “What’s going on”, I asked, not knowing the language. “They just opened the Wall!” people shouted. It was November 9th, 1989 and we had just become a part of history.
At the next moment, we were on our way to Check Point Charlie, the main artery connecting West and East Berlin. We stood on the side of the road and joined the throngs of Berliners in the most jubilant celebration ever. Families and friends were welcoming loved ones they have not seen in decades. We laughed, and cried, and drank champagne in the streets. It was clearly a ‘moment’ that we would treasure for ever.
I had just arrived in Berlin a few days earlier, having hitchhiked from Amsterdam to Berlin with Kathy from San Francisco. Just the day before the wall opened, we visited East Berlin and took part in a demonstration where students and other East Berliners – young and old, were marching in demand for democracy. “Freedom of Speech”, “Freedom of Press”, they shouted. It was unbelievable to us that people were living without these basic rights – ones that we took for granted in the West. We saw people throwing flowers at soldiers saying “these are our weapons.”
Returning to West Berlin, I saw someone painting on the wall. It was a fascinating to witness how decorated the wall was on the west side and how utterly empty it was on the east side. The west was filled with artwork, poems, slogans, and graffiti – a colorful canvas for the voice of the people. I asked if I could borrow their paint brush and wrote “Love thy neighbor”. Who could know that the wall would be no more on the following day.
We never did get to see people tearing down the wall. That evening we were on a train to Warsaw. Our path led us through Poland and into Prague, Czechoslovakia, just in time for the Democratic uprising there!
Twenty years later and I can still recapture that excitement and sense of purpose we all felt. There was such a strong sense that something wonderful and historic was occurring. May the walls continue to crumble. The walls that stand between us and our life’s calling. The walls that stand between people of different beliefs. And the walls that stand between us and the other creatures with whom we share this precious planet.