My Piece of The Wall

O at Berlin Wall Dec 86

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.

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Recently Finished

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoImage via Wikipedia

Thanks to a few long flights and some relaxing time on the beach, I recently finished two excellent novels.

How to Buy a Love of Reading, written by my Cornell classmate Tanya Egan Gibson, was set in a fictional town on the north shore of Long Island town that was too wealthy to be Huntington, where I grew up. With many references to Gatsby, the book is a funny and touching story centered around a fat and unpopular high school girl, Carley, who has an unlikely friendship with the uber-popular Hunter. Carley is the character who the love of reading is being bought for, and against all odds succeeds. How to Buy a Love of Reading was a page turner that will hopefully be the first of many novels from Gibson.

Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about a fat and unpopular Dominican boy growing up in Patterson, New Jersey. Fortunately for Oscar, his love of reading (and writing) is pretty much the only thing that gets him through high school and later college. Oscar’s struggles to find his place in the world – especially the world of macho, women-collecting Dominican men – are not as successful as Carley’s, and the streets of Patterson and later Santa Domingo are not nearly as forgiving. While it had humorous moments – Oscar’s ‘kamikaze’ attempts to meet women – it was more of a bittersweet tale of lost opportunity.

Also somewhere over the past few months I also finished James Michener’s Poland, which seemed to be completed about five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, but after the rise of Solidarity. It was an interesting read – fictionalized lives of families living through almost a thousand years of Polish history. I was familiar with a lot of the history: the partitions, the veto that each member of their parliament had, the alliances with the Lithuanians, but Michener’s way of describing the details of people lives during those periods was very interesting.

I also did not finish Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon, which seemed to be attempting to be attempting a Camus style existentialism, but I found actually quite boring.

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