I was listening to NPR yesterday and they were discussing the period in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Even though the math is simple, it took me by surprise that it’s been 20 years.
In November of 1989 as a new consultant, I was working on a project for the Department of Defense that brought me as part of a small team to Stuttgart, Germany for two weeks of work on a NATO base. It was my first trip to Europe and I was very excited about being abroad.
While we were heads-down doing some technical things — I think I spent two days trying to get our modems to work with the German telephone system — we heard that the Berlin Wall had suddenly fallen, and it that all of Berlin was celebrating. A few days later, on a Friday after finishing for the day, we piled into the black Audi I had rented and drove the 600 plus kilometers to Berlin.
At the time there was a guarded highway that cut through East German from West Germany to Berlin. We took this road which was very strange because there were no exits for what seemed like 400 kilometers except for rest stops. And the rest stops had bars in them. We arrived very late at our hotel and crashed without seeing anything of the past and future German capital.
The next day we set out on foot looking for the Wall. As we approached, there was a noise that sounded like “tap tap tap”, which gradually became “TAP TAP TAP” and then we turned a corner and it was like the entire population of Germany was taking a sledge hammer, a shovel or anything they could find and trying to demolish the wall.
Most of the graffiti covered sections had been removed by this point, so I resorted to buying a small piece from a friendly guy for 5 Deutchmarks. It was an amazing scene. We walked through ‘Checkpoint Charlie‘ with thousands of other dazed people, visited the Alexanderplatz and up into the TV tower. I remember we had lunch at a cafeteria in East Berlin, and to this day that was the worst lunch I’ve ever had.
We only had that one day in Berlin as we had to drive back the next day. I’ve been back a few times and the former East Berlin bears little resemblance. It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago. I need to find my souvenir from that day.