Germany - Watching History Happen

 




Sometime in the fall of 1989 I decided to make my third trip to Europe.  I booked a flight to Paris and bought a rail pass.   I had no plans to go to Germany.   That all changed in November, just a few weeks before I had planned to leave on my trip.

The Berlin Wall came down.   I immediately decided to change plans.  I arrived in Paris and caught the first train to Berlin.   You had to travel through East Germany to get there and even though the border was opening up, it was still forbidden to get off the train until you arrived in West Berlin.  

I arrived at night at the Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station.   Walking outside, you could feel the excitement in the air.  There was a Christmas market happening on the plaza in front of the station.  People were everywhere and they were jubilant.  To say this city was alive would be an understatement.  

I found a hotel near the station, dropped my bags and headed to the wall.   I passed the podiums that were erected for all the of TV News crews, past the barricades that has been put in place to keep back the cheering crowds and eventually found my way to the wall.   I'm not sure why, but I felt the urge to touch it.  That was the first thing I did.

I came back the next day and took photos, including this one.   (Of the thousands of travel photos I have taken over the years, this photo is the only one that I have displayed on a wall in my house.)


Looking through the Berlin Wall from West Germany into the still guarded East.

I chipped away a number of pieces of the wall then went to the post office to mail them back to family and friends.   And I went to Check-Point Charlie the gate between the East and the West.   While it was possible to cross into the East, officially you still needed a visa to go.   I briefly thought about going anyway, but since I was traveling alone, common sense prevailed and I stayed in the West.  

I didn't want to leave Berlin.  Never before and never since, have I been in an environment like that. 
 
I boarded the train to leave and found myself sharing a compartment with a middle-aged German woman.  She knew no English and I knew almost no German.  However, I did have a German-English Dictionary.    We passed the time by handing the dictionary back and forth to carry on a conversation.

What I learned was that she had lived in East Germany all of her life.   This was her first time in the West.   She was on her way to meet some cousins who she had never met.   She planned to begin a new life with them.

When she arrived at her stop, she got up and said good-bye.  As she was walking out of the door of the compartment, she turned around, reached into her bag and pulled out an apple.  She handed it to me, as a gift.  She smiled and left.   I've often thought of her and wondered how her new life in the West worked out.  And her kindness to me with the simple gift of an apple is one I won't forget.

Notes

I went back to Germany one year later, in 1990, to produce a series of stories about the Berlin Wall for the TV station where I was working. Linked below is that story from reporter Evan Forrester with anchors Roxanne Stein and Gene Lepley.   

There are two other links.  The first is a short video I shot during my 2014 visit.   And the second is to a radio interview about my first trip to Germany in 1984.  You can hear the part about Munich and Dachau beginning at 15:23.   

Dates of Travel

  • March, 1984
  • December, 1989
  • September, 1990
  • September, 1995
  • July, 2013 (Airport Only)
  • January, 2014
  • June, 2016 (Airport Only)

Places Visited

  • Munich
  • Dachau
  • Berlin
  • Bonn
  • Dresden
  • Leipzig
  • Stuggart
  • Frankfurt
  • Husem
  • Hamm
  • Cologne
  • Hamburg
  • Pottsdam

Videos

Radio Interview

Links

Maps



This post is part of my series "One Photo - One Country."  I'm am selecting one photo and writing one story from every country I have visited.   Your comments and questions are welcome.  

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