Die Mauer muß weg!

For more nearly 30 years, West Berliners spraypainted the slogan Die Mauer muß weg! ("The Wall must go!") on their side of the concrete block wall that slashed from north to south through the heart of the city, dividing the city into East and West and splitting apart families.

But 10 years ago today, on Nov. 9, 1989, following widespread demonstrations in Leipzig and the flight of East Germans to Hungary, the rulers of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, relented and the winds of change blew holes in the Wall.

For the people of both sides of Berlin, the Wall has been the focal point of their lives since the first sections of the Wall were erected in August 1961.

None of the principals, both East and West, involved in the erection of the Berlin Wall remain. President John F. Kennedy, who stirred the world in June 1963 with his declaration that as a free man "ich bin ein Berliner," and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev are both dead, as are West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and East German leader Walter Ulbricht.

... Presidents and prime ministers came and went, but the Wall remained.

For those of us who have lived in Berlin, the Wall was always there, often an unseen but never-forgotten presence. Not only did that concrete barrier trap 1.5 million East Berliners inside the city, it also held 2.5 million people hostage in West Berlin.

I spent three years -- 1966, '67 and '68 -- in West Berlin. It was an exciting city, filled with art and music and politics, but still remaining firm in our minds was "die Mauer."

We could not escape it. Its presence was always there, creating a sense of claustrophobia with knowledge that you could get in a car and drive just a few kilometers and you would have to stop because of the Wall. In all, the Wall cut through 192 of the city's streets.

Get on the subway under the city's streets and you would notice the U-bahn did not stop at Friedrichstraße -- that was in East Berlin and the exit was blocked.

Teufelsberg, a 400-foot-high mountain of rubble that was built after World War II and which served as a spy installation for the U.S. and British, offered a beautiful panorama of the city lights, both in West Berlin and East Berlin. But nearly every night, the beauty of the city was marred by the flashes of machine-gun tracer bullets. Rabbits or other small animals would venture into the no-man's land behind the Wall, setting off alarms and triggering the machine-gun fire.

For someone like myself who grew up in Southwest Arkansas and who was used to being able to get in a car and drive for miles and miles around the state, the knowledge that I was behind a concrete barrier that confined me made the huge city seem smaller and smaller with each passing month.

From my own experience in Berlin, I know the sense of confinement that the Berliners, East and West, felt. I also can feel the sense of joy that surged through them when the Wall was opened and people could pass from one side to the other.

A column by Don Cooper
Originally published in the Hereford Brand on 9 November 1999


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