I’m almost a month late for an exact anniversary, but I didn’t want to skip this one. On August 12, 1961, on what has been nicknamed “barbed wire Sunday,” the barbed wire Berlin Wall went up almost overnight, soon to be reinforced with an additional solid concrete wall. Strangely, it would change our lives as well. People in Al’s age range who had been passed over for the draft were revisited with the increased need for soldiers, and he got an invitation from Uncle Sam. In his case, the Army put a square peg in a square hole, and he stayed for a career.
Twenty years later we visited the wall with our children and were able to cross over into East Berlin on a military bus with Al in uniform. I described it in our 1981 Christmas letter.
We made our last – and by unanimous vote – most meaningful trip of our European tour in late spring to East and West Berlin. Pages and books could not describe the impact of leaving West Germany with its beauty, industry, and purposefulness and crossing into the East. Words cannot adequately relate what we saw and felt, but some that come to mind are – dilapidation, watchfulness, gloom, oppression, and heartlessness. We could tell the difference in the railroad tracks at night as we crossed the border from the modern, smooth-running ones in the West to a “Ka-bump, Ka-bump” across the East until we arrived in West Berlin. The Wall Museum, devoted to methods and means of escape, and the sight of the wall itself left a tremendous impact on all of us. Over and over again, I kept thinking that 50 years ago, these people were a part of the beautiful Germany that we had lived in for three years and come to love. I could go on, but the bottom line is that not one of us will ever again take our freedom so lightly.
Less than ten years later when the wall came down, a young German friend, who knew our link to it, came bringing me pieces of concrete with graffiti. Her father, who lived near the wall, had sent her a box of shards to share with those who would treasure them. They came from Berliner Mauer, Grenz ibergang, Berlin-Wedding, Chausseesbrase as best I can decipher her handwriting (English identification – Berlin Wall, checkpoint, district, boulevard).
Robert Frost said, “Something there is that doesn't love a wall,” and goes on to caution, “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence.”