I’ve been talking to my long-distance family members and I’m telling them how excited I am about my upcoming trip to Berlin. We’ve been watching Matt Frei’s BBC documentary “Berlin” to get into the spirit of things. I am ready to go.
My octogenarian father tells me, “I saw Berlin. It was in ruins. Cologne, too.”
“What?! When did you see Berlin? When were you even in Europe?”
“Let’s see, it was for the World’s Fair in Brussels. Must have been, 1954?”
“I can’t believe you saw Berlin.”
Dad chuckles, “Yes, and I saw East Berlin, too. Nothing was happening over there.”
“You went into East Berlin! How? Didn’t you need a special visa?”
“Well, the better question is how did I get out of East Berlin. It was before the wall. I just hopped on a bus and went over. Then when I wanted to come back, I got back on the bus. But it was dead over there, nothing was happening.”
(The Berlin wall went up in 1961)
“You could see a difference between east and west back then? Even with no wall, no checkpoints.”
“Oh yeah, in the west people were hustling, selling stuff, rebuilding. There were still ruins, but there was lots of activity on the Kurferstendam Street. People were selling shirts. In the east nothing was happening. Everything was in ruins and no one was doing anything about it.”
Dad and I then get into an argument about the Cologne cathedral. He says the Allied pilots let it stay up because they wanted the people to have at least one church to worship in. I have been to Cologne, walked up that cathedral. I tell him that the Allied pilots didn’t bomb the cathedral because they needed it for navigational purposes on their bombing runs. Think about all the other churches and cathedrals that were bombed! We sign off with each of us convinced we are right.
A few hours later I speak with my younger brother.
Turns out, he also went to Berlin in 1988. He spent the summer with his friend in Bremen. His friend had a cousin (who was a cop) and they stayed with them for most of the summer, but they did make a trip out to Berlin. At this time, the wall was up, Checkpoint Charlie was enforced, and everyone thought this was how it would always be. He never saw East Berlin
(The Berlin wall came down in 1989)
Now it is my turn to check out Berlin. I will be the first family member to see it in the 21st century!