Personal Recollections: The Fall of the Wall Part Two

By Bobbie Kirkhart, Evangelia Kindinger, Lynette Kirschner, Maria Moss, Monica Ortez, Cheryce von Xylander

This week’s installment concludes our series on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Enjoy!

 

Pho­to cred­it: Doris Antony
Bobbie Kirkhart, Los Angeles

When I was very young, I imag­ined there was a wall just beyond my view, mak­ing sure I could not ven­ture into the for­bid­den world. It made a strange shape, sur­round­ing all the ter­ri­to­ry I could explore and block­ing every­where I could not. Per­haps it was that I was by far the youngest in my fam­i­ly, so that every­one else was an adult in my eyes and there­fore free. What­ev­er the rea­son, I accept­ed as sim­ple truth that I was banned from a world where every­one else was free to go. As I grew old­er, I real­ized that the wall was a metaphor, but I saw it as no less a real­i­ty in my life.

I was well into my 40s when that changed.

I had set­tled inside my metaphor­i­cal wall with­out think­ing much about it. Every­one, after all, encoun­ters lim­its. I saw no rea­son to rail against mine, at least I did not until the brave cit­i­zens of East Berlin showed me how to deal with walls.

As an Amer­i­can who had nev­er been to Europe, the Berlin Wall had sim­ply been a polit­i­cal sym­bol to me, a bit­ter state­ment of the Cold War. I was, of course, hap­py for its fall, admir­ing the courage of its destroy­ers, rev­el­ing in their joy. The more I watched, the more I real­ized this was not sim­ply a polit­i­cal vic­to­ry – it was, more than any­thing, a per­son­al vic­to­ry. The East Ger­mans were the heroes, of course, but much of the world shared the tri­umph that was per­son­al to each of us, empow­er­ing each of us. The world looked to the East Berlin­ers because in destroy­ing one wall, their exam­ple dam­aged many walls – some of them metaphorical.

 

Pho­to cred­it: Doris Antony
Evangelia Kindinger, Berlin

I moved to Ger­many in 1990. When the wall had come down, I was an unsus­pect­ing third-grad­er on a Greek island. I don’t remem­ber any strong reac­tions from my par­ents, not even from my Ger­man moth­er. I now know that is has influ­enced her more than I thought, as she talks about vis­it­ing East Berlin as a teenag­er and reads a lot of lit­er­a­ture about the divi­sion. I nev­er expe­ri­enced a geo­graph­i­cal­ly divid­ed Ger­many and have to admit that this part of his­to­ry does not affect me much. I can only guess how mean­ing­ful it was (and is) for those affect­ed direct­ly and indi­rect­ly. I just moved from Bochum to Berlin. There­fore, it is all the more present and vis­i­ble now but still not part of my biog­ra­phy and history.

 

Pho­to cred­it: Doris Antony
Lynette Kirschner, Lüneburg

I immi­grat­ed to Ger­many in 1988, and my first one and a half years were very event­ful. On Novem­ber 9, 1989, I was vis­it­ing my moth­er-in-law in Quak­en­brück to cel­e­brate her birth­day the next day.

The birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, how­ev­er, turned out dif­fer­ent­ly than planned. We end­ed up glued to the tele­vi­sion, watch­ing the unthink­able unfold. When the East Ger­man offi­cial, Gün­ter Sch­abows­ki, inad­ver­tent­ly opened the bor­ders, we were flab­ber­gast­ed. But if he did the unthink­able, so could we. We con­grat­u­lat­ed my moth­er-in-law before her birth­day on the 10th (a very taboo thing in Ger­many), packed up our car, and drove to our apart­ment in Lüneb­urg, at that time a bor­der town.

Berlin was swamped with Tra­bis, and Lüneb­urg was cov­ered by the grey smoke of this very cute, but also very odor­ous car. The stores stayed open longer, peo­ple went out to greet the East Ger­mans, and the first ‘couch surf­ing’ office opened that week­end. Peo­ple left their address and tele­phone num­bers at the tourist infor­ma­tion cen­ter in case any­one from East Ger­many want­ed to spend the night, free of charge. It was a euphor­ic expe­ri­ence. But I also remem­ber the inten­si­ty of the evening: Pic­tures of peo­ple amass­ing at the Bran­den­burg Gate, the inten­si­ty of the live news cov­er­age, and the very real fear that peo­ple would be shot or that a bor­der skir­mish might break out.

With hind­sight, it is clear that the wall was going to fall at some point. How­ev­er, despite the East Ger­man Head of State, Erich Honeck­er, resign­ing on Octo­ber 18 and West Ger­man Sec­re­tary of State, Hans-Diet­rich Gen­sch­er, giv­ing safe pas­sage to thou­sands of East Ger­mans crowd­ed in the West Ger­man Embassy in Prague and Budapest, the Wall was seen as immutable by every­one. Isn’t it great how things can change?

 

Pho­to cred­it: Doris Antony
Maria Moss, Lüneburg

I was liv­ing in L.A. at the time, doing research on my Ph.D. the­sis and try­ing to become a pro­fes­sion­al surfer. When I got home one day, I had a mes­sage on my answer­ing machine from my friend Chris­tiane: “Die Mauer ist weg.” The wall is gone? Which wall? THE WALL? In shock, I ran to the tele­vi­sion set I shared with my room­mates. In awe, I saw Peter Jen­nings in front of the Bran­den­burg Gate with peo­ple behind him jump­ing up and down ON THE WALL – appar­ent­ly with­out get­ting shot.

Los Ange­les Times, Nov. 12, 1989

Peo­ple were wav­ing flags – very unusu­al at the time – and the Ger­man nation­al anthem was play­ing in the back­ground – even more unusu­al. Peter Jen­nings explained that the anthem is part of Haydn’s famous Kaiser Quar­tet – some­thing I nev­er knew. The next day, peo­ple came up to me to con­grat­u­late me and tell me how won­der­ful they thought this was. I’ve always liked Cal­i­for­ni­ans, but on that day I tru­ly loved them.

 

Pho­to cred­it: Doris Antony
Monica Ortez, Los Angeles

I remem­ber U.S. Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan’s trip to Berlin in June 1987 where he gave his famous, “Mr. Gor­bachev, tear down this wall!” speech. And only a lit­tle more than two years lat­er, I was in my apart­ment, glued to the tele­vi­sion set, watch­ing Ger­mans from both West and East Ger­many hug­ging and cry­ing. At Check Point Char­lie, they were all over the wall, like hordes of ants on a mis­sion, try­ing to get to the oth­er side. Sledge­ham­mers bashed against the wall over and over until it start­ed to crack and crum­ble. They were “free at last.” I was also think­ing of my good friend Maria Moss that night, as she did not live far from the GDR bor­der near the Elbe Riv­er. How often has she dreamt of the two Ger­manys being one again.

 

Pho­to cred­it: Doris Antony
Cheryce von Xylander, Berlin

I’d grown up in Berlin but was study­ing at Stan­ford when the Wall fell. Liv­ing in the Bay Area, a major earth­quake struck in Octo­ber of that year, killing 67 peo­ple. A few weeks lat­er, the Berlin Wall fell – and no one was killed. To an insid­er look­ing on from the out­side, the news from home was unin­tel­li­gi­ble in sen­tient terms. As scenes of a city no longer divid­ed played out on tele­vi­sion, the two events came to seem strange­ly con­nect­ed. They felt sim­i­lar­ly unex­pect­ed, over­whelm­ing, and trans­for­ma­tive. Seis­mic forces were at work in both set­tings, a transat­lantic con­cate­na­tion of pro­gres­sive erup­tions. The upshot: Berlin’s Mauer­fall tips my per­son­al Richter scale at 6.9!

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Bob­bie Kirkhart is a past pres­i­dent of the Athe­ist Alliance Inter­na­tion­al and of Athe­ists Unit­ed. She is a founder and past vice pres­i­dent of the Sec­u­lar Coali­tion for Amer­i­ca. She is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to U.S. freethought publications.

Evan­gelia Kindinger is Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor for Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Ruhr-Uni­ver­sität Bochum. Her aca­d­e­m­ic inter­ests include: pop­u­lar cul­ture (espe­cial­ly film and tele­vi­sion), 19th cen­tu­ry women’s writ­ing, Fat Stud­ies, Gen­der Stud­ies, and the study of the Amer­i­can South. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on her sec­ond book, a study of the sig­nif­i­cance of the red­neck stereo­type in Amer­i­can culture.

Lynette Kirschn­er is a lec­tur­er at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in Ger­man Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture. She likes all things strange, dif­fer­ent, and off beat and often lets her stu­dents get geeky in class.

Maria Moss is a lec­tur­er at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty with a doc­tor­al degree in Native Amer­i­can Stud­ies. Her oth­er fields of teach­ing and research include cre­ative writ­ing, Cana­di­an Stud­ies, and envi­ron­men­tal lit­er­a­ture. In addi­tion to her pas­sion for Native Issues, she has recent­ly branched out into the fields of ani­mal ethics and Crit­i­cal Ani­mal Studies.

Mon­i­ca Ortez is from Ana­heim, Orange Coun­ty, CA, and is a retired K‑8th grade Pro­gram Direc­tor of an Amer­i­can Indi­an Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram. Mon­i­ca is cur­rent­ly a pub­lic his­to­ri­an, docent, author, artist, and board mem­ber of the Orange Coun­ty His­tor­i­cal Society.

Cheryce von Xylan­der is a U.S.-American schol­ar who has lived and worked in the USA, Eng­land, France, Aus­tralia, Rus­sia, and Ger­many. She has stud­ied cog­ni­tion from a vari­ety of dis­ci­pli­nary van­tage points as an engi­neer at Stan­ford, a philoso­pher in Cam­bridge, and a his­to­ri­an at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. Her research at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty focus­es on indus­tri­al-strength mind and its Kant­ian architectonics.