On November 9, 1989, I was five years old. Not exactly a great age for remembering world events. Still, a single memory floats around in my head of holding a small newspaper for children with a picture of East and West Berliners standing atop a structure that I didn't know existed.
Ever since that day I've been fascinated by the era known as the Cold War and what would motivate someone to put up a barrier between people. Currently, I'm reading Berlin Now: The City After The Wall by Peter Schneider and am struck by how much each side of the city had in common right before that day in November 1989.
Standing for almost thirty years, it feels like the remains of the Berlin Wall speak to me. I've yet to step foot in Germany, beyond a flight routed through Frankfurt, and it is the top of my travel bucket list. I have this dream of being in the city for the thirty year anniversary of its fall in November of 2019. To stand at the Brandenburg Gate and look upon the progress achieved in my short lifetime.
Music, Movies, and Memories
For the last few years, I've immersed myself in documentaries, movies, music, and remembrances of the Cold War era, especially the turbulent 1980's that led to the fall of the wall. Books like The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989 by Frederick Taylor and Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, The Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin by Paul Hockenos offer a glimpse into the political, cultural and, everyday lives of Berliners on opposite sides. In Berlin Calling, Hockenos looks at the culture of communes, artists, squatters, and music that helped lead to the eventual reunification of the German capital. Taylor's The Berlin Wall gives a much more comprehensive take on the politics at the end of World War II that brought about the Wall and its eventual demise.
Following on from Berlin Calling, I stumbled upon a user mix on Apple Music entitled Berlin Wall, Microfilm, and the Cold War that collects some great tracks from David Bowie, Re-Flex, Blondie, and many more, that helps transport my mind to '89.
Last year while talking with my grandfather, I learned that he'd been part of an Air Force team that helped prepare Francis Gary Powers for the reconnaissance flight that led to the 1960 U2 incident, the aftermath depicted in Steven Speilberg's Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks.
Constantly Making Plans
I'm not sure there's any other city in the world that I've dreamed about more than Berlin. From constantly reading, studying maps of the Wall's route and even brushing up on the German language (not quite successfully though), there's no place I've prepared for more without actually going. That's something I'd like to remedy shortly. As I said before, I'd love to be in Berlin for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, but the truth is, right now I'd settle for simply seeing the city.
There's an inherent romanticism to travel. The movement from one place to another. New sights, smells, surroundings and a sense of shared kinship. For me, though, seeing Berlin isn't merely a change of place, but a pilgrimage of sorts. Like stepping foot on ancestral soil, even though I have mostly English and Scottish heritage. After immersing myself in the history, culture and politics of the Cold War, visiting Berlin feels like going home.
So in 2019, that's what I hope to do. See you soon, Berlin.