In response to my videos about the Berlin Wall (like this one on Vimeo.com) or when people who I meet in person learn that I grew up in the former East-Berlin (the communist part of the city), they often ask me about my own personal experiences and feelings that I had.
Specifically when it comes to the time when I was 15 years old and from when the Wall fell on November 9, 1989 until the reunion of the two German segments on October 3, 1990; a time that was emotionally and turbulent with new events unfolding rapidly, like a land slide or avalanche.
Notes and Clarifications
I posted pretty much the same stuff as comments to a previous blog post of mine, but thought to myself that it actually warrants the creation of an individual post just dedicated to this.
I also posted already the publicly known historic facts of the events. This one is personal and I tried to recall what I thought at that time and what happened from my own perspective as good and accurate as I can. It has been almost 20 years since they actually occurred, so some of the details of my memories could be flawed and incorrect (that is not because I intended that, but because it is a ???human flaw??? when it comes to ???storing??? and ???cataloging??? personal long term memories.
I personally was surprised by the events that unfolded. I did not realize what happened in the night of November 9, 1989 and went to school as always on November 10. Half the school wasn’t there; even some teachers were not there. Nobody knew what was going on.
Around noon some kids showed up and asked questions like
“Hey, have you been to the ‘Kurf??rsten Damm’ too?”
(That was the ???Main Street??? and kind of new center of West Berlin). I thought that they joked and laughed, but then other kids came talking about the same stuff. I realized that they couldn’t have possibly made the story up together and then come to school in groups, 15-60 minutes apart from each other.
Somebody mentioned that there is a visa required, so I and 2 other friends went to the local police station and asked about it. They acknowledged it and we got out IDs stamped (You got your ID with the age of 14 in East Germany).
We went to the border crossing ???Bornholmer Stra??e???, but the border was shut. That did not surprise me, because I could not imagine that they just open the border over night and that it must have been a fluke the night before.
Well, we got there around 3 PM or so and waited like the rest to see what is going to happen. The visa in my ID stated “valid from November 11, 1989“, the next day, but most other folks at the border didn’t even have a visa at all and still waited there and shouted to the border guards.
I don’t know how long we waited, but the number of people started to grow rapidly at one point. I guess a lot of people got off work and flocked to the border, just as we did, only after school (which was off around 2 PM).
They let some people pass, one by one, but that wasn’t enough. The increasing number of people, which all pushed towards the border created problems, because the first rows were smashed together harder and harder and it was only a matter of time, before anybody would have been injured or worse.
So they opened the gate again and we flushed through the border in this bulk of people. Before we knew it, we were on West Berliner side of the border. It felt weird and for me like an entirely different city. I did not know anything about West Berlin, there were no maps. I only had one from 1960 or so. I thought about finding my way to some family members who lived in West Berlin, but then decided to stick with my friends.
Welcome Money for East Germans
We heard about the 100 DM free welcome money for East Germans who visited West Germany or West Berlin and followed some folks to a bank that was nearby. The banks were of course completely overwhelmed by the flood of people that suddenly appeared to pick up their “present“.
The 100 DM were originally meant for the few East Germans that were allowed to travel to West Germany, like elderly people. They had no West German money, so they could get once per year this free money, what they usually spent on little things for their kids and grand kids (???Cold War??? strategy, obviously hehe.)
The banks didn’t make it a formality that day and gave out the 100 DM without any paperwork to be filled out. They stamped my ID with a “Date Stamp” that could have been anything and that was it.
I don’t know exactly what I bought that day with my free welcome money. I think it was a pack of TIC-TAC, a Coke, a Comic and maybe some chocolate bar. Junk actually, stuff we had in East Germany too, but different (West German TV advertisement had its influence on East-Germans. I don’t know if anybody took the time to study this kind of stuff. Would have been a gold mine for advertisers and marketers to find out what people thought about products after years of exposure by TV advertisement, without much additional exposure to anything else and with rare to no opportunity to test, taste, touch the actual product itself. Interesting thought :).)
Opinions about the Reunion Process
I am glad that the wall is gone (and NO, I don’t have nor want a piece of it, like most Berliners). How the “Anschlu??” or join/merge of East Germany into West Germany was handled was bad. It was driven by emotions and not by realistic thoughts. That’s the wrong thing to do when it comes to things of such scale and importance that have lasting effects well after the time, when emotions cooled down again. Everybody knows that, but many folks forgot about it back then. The people who knew the best were fired, because their suggestions did not fit the emotional climate. This mistake ended up to be a very costly one for Germany as a whole.
I remember vividly how my dad, who was interested in, as well as knowledgeable about economics (East and West-German), was talking about all the bad stuff that is going to happen, if a reunion is being done so quickly and in the way people wanted to do it. It sounded grim, to some degree even horrific and mom mad him shut up when he started to talk about it in public to other people, because their reaction to this was typically first disbelieve, followed by hostility and accusations that my dad is just an old-school regime-loyal Stalinist, who would love to see the border shut again and the Wall raised by a few extra meters instead.
This accusation was typical for anybody who voiced concerns about how things are planned and supposed to work out right. Most of those people were everything else but regime-loyal and/or Stalinists. They just made the mistake to think though some of the cold facts with leaving emotions out of this process. Yes, this is of course the generally well known and suggested approach to making decisions that are complex and will have long term consequences. Rule #1: Do not make any such decisions while you are heavily emotional biased and unable to form clear thoughts about the subject matter.
Emotions are usually short lived, but long term decisions made during this short live span are staying with you. (A good example is getting a real tattoo with the name of your ???eternal love??? who you only know for a couple days, weeks or months, which ends up being not so much eternal as you thought at the time. Eternal is a damn long time, even if it is only the short live span of a human being. The love fades away maybe within weeks or months but the tattoo fades, which also fades, does it at a so slow rate that it won???t disappear completely during your natural life time. Undoing what you did in a hurry while emotionally loaded is hard to impossible. Even plastic surgery usually cannot un-do it to the status where it was originally in most cases, removing the visible Name, only to replace it with a different looking reminder of your stupidity.
I was probably affected by this the least, because I was young and also not stupid. For me a whole world of possibilities opened up over night. Especially my dream to have my own computer and to do something with computers professionally was fulfilling itself faster and better than I could have imagined it just a few years before.
I hope you enjoyed this personal account of those historically significant world events. Let me know via the comments section of this blog post further down below. Cheers!
Carsten aka Roy/SAC
More Berlin Wall Articles of Mine
- The Berlin Wall and the Walls between Us (August 6, 2008)
- The Berlin Wall History – Lessons Learned … Again (September 4, 2008)
- Moments in History – The Fall of the Berlin Wall (December 6, 2008)
- The Berlin Wall – August 13, 1961 to November 9, 1989 (July 29, 2009)
Videos of Mine About the Subject
My “Berlin Wall – Lessons Learned” Videos
- Version 1 (08:53 min)
- Version 2 (09:50 min)
- Version 3 (13:01 min)
- Version 4 (30:13 min) or at Archive.org
and my (pretty popular) Video
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