Column: Feelings still strong after Wall’s fall

Kehinde Abiodun, Staff Reporter

The story has been told of a young man, 21, who tried to escape from East Germany in search of freedom and a better life. As he stealthily climbed the monstrous Berlin Wall under the cover of darkness, he might have imagined the new life ahead if he made it to the West. But just before he reached the top of the barb-wired wall, a forceful bullet from the AK-47 of an East German guard sank into his heart, and he never breathed again.

The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961, was both an ideological and physical symbol. Germany, and Berlin for that matter, had been divided into the Communist East and Democratic West. The East was controlled by the Soviets, and governed by communist ideology where individual freedoms were limited in the interest of the common good; the west, on the other hand, was a freer democratic and capitalistic society. The situation in Germany at the time was an apt reflection of the chasm between the East bloc and West bloc in the broader world.

To put it in very simple terms, whilst individuals in West Germany/Berlin were allowed to pursue their dreams and desires, the government in the East was calling the shots, almost deciding what to wear and what not to wear.

Even before the wall was erected, millions of people had fled the East, many more would attempt to do so even after the wall was built. But that was a tough hurdle. Hundreds lost their lives in the process. Those were dark days for the Germans. Mareile Teegen, an MBA and exchange student from Germany who was born shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall had this to say about the Wall: “I think it is a symbol of a bad part of human nature anchored in our history and stands today as a statue and a memorial for reminding us not to make the same mistakes ever again.”

In 1963, two years after the wall was built, John Kennedy, America’s 35th president, visited West Germany. At this time, the plight of the East Germans was already known to the world. His mission was to weigh in on the situation. In what has been described as one of his most brilliant and emotionally-moving speeches, he declared the now famous phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner,” meaning: “I am a Berliner,” in solidarity with the Germans. Hear him: “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘Civis Romanus sum – I am a citizen of Rome,’” he proclaimed. “Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”

Sadly, the Berlin Wall, infamously known as the wall of shame, would remain standing for another 26 years. By this time, East Germany was in a sorry state. It was the same story that had attended communism in most other places where it was practiced: economic stagnation, poverty, men standing in line for hours for a piece of banana. The system just did not work–end of story.

In 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall was officially opened, Ronald Reagan delivered a powerful speech at the Brandenburg gate in West Berlin. There is an interesting story about the plenty consultations that went into this 20-minute speech. In the end, Reagan, not known for pussy-footing in the face of critical issues, thundered the now famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

At this time, protests were already ringing all through East Berlin. After years of stifling existence, the people wanted a new deal. When the wall was finally opened on November 9, 1989, and a wave of humanity surged through to the other end, it was a surreal feeling. Many cried in disbelief as they reunited with loved ones in the West. Their joy was boundless like a vast swath of an ocean. Mareile echoed the same sentiments: “My parents once told me they could not actually believe it when it was announced on TV that Germany was united again.” Today, memories will be re-enacted across Berlin and beyond. It is the 27th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is the celebration of the triumph of human spirit.

Kehinde Abiodun is an economics graduate student. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].