Sunday, November 9, 2014

I touched it

In June of 1982, I touched it.

Today, 25 years later, we remember when it fell in 1989.

As a 17 year old girl, freshly graduated from Red Oak Community High School, I went on a trip with other Iowa teenagers from United Church of Christ congregations. We were learning about the heritage of our denomination by going to the source.

I remember the train ride leaving a modern and somewhat familiar West German countryside and entering East Germany. Armed soldiers boarded the train to check our passports and it was an experience unlike any other we tender and sheltered rural Iowans had ever known before.

West Berlin was an island of western culture and freedom, until you reached the edges of the city. Until you saw the white crosses of remembrance with dates past and very recent along the fence that lined the river Spree.

Until you saw the imposing concrete slab of division.

Until you saw the concertina wire.

Until you saw the strip known as No Man's Land where any intruder would be immediately shot.

No, we knew none of this in anything we had ever experienced before.

We traveled into East Berlin and were required to exchange our West German pfennig coins with heft and weight in the palm of our hands for East German coins made of aluminum or tin. Their value equally light. We were required to spend the entire sum, which was a little hard to as I recall. I bought a small calendar and some postcards to carry with me back to Iowa.

East Berlin was exquisite in its beauty. The Soviets wanted the stunning architecture that survived the wars for themselves. Whereas West Berlin had been rebuilt from the devastation of bombs, the Wall carefully claimed the amazing churches and cathedrals that withstood the war.

Until you saw the piles of rubble around the corner that had not been moved in 40 years.

I remember that morning in 1989, waking up to see revelers standing on the wall, standing within the Brandenburg Gate. I remembered how only seven years before, the wall was as permanent as the mountains. I remember crying in my shock and surprise.

I am so grateful for that time in Berlin at an age where extraordinary experiences have lifelong implications. And grateful that it was as close as I have ever been to war.

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