Memories of the Berlin Wall

Contributed by Gerold Hübner, whom I met when I was photographing this section of the wall in the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, Washington.

What does it mean to me as a German citizen standing right next to a real piece of the Berlin Wall here in the United States? Spontaneously there are mixed feelings. I was fortunate having had the chance to grow up in west Germany. So the Wall did not have as much impact on my life as it would have had if I lived in the former east Germany or east Berlin.


I had the freedom to travel anywhere where I wanted even though my limited revenues prevented me from going everywhere, unfortunately. But I cannot complain: I wanted to be a foreign exchange student in the US. And I really ended up as one in Mesa, Arizona, where graduated from high school in 1978.


Standing here next to the Wall it reminds me that my fellow citizens from east Germany back then have not had this privilege of freedom.  It reminds me that the Wall was an unnatural barrier that prevented me, my sister and my brother from getting to know our uncles and cousins who lived behind the curtain. I remember my mother sending them packages with stuff that typically was not readily available in east Germany, e. g. good coffee, candy or modern clothes. I met my uncle only once, when he was allowed to travel to my grandmother’s funeral – without his wife and kids, who had to stay in east Germany to make sure he returned.


Back then and even shortly until the Wall came down it was very hard to believe that Germany would be re-united again some time. When it happened it took a while to realize this is for real. It felt good though. The east German Government kept its citizens like prisoners in our own country. A state like that does not deserve to exist. The day the Wall fell was a very happy day for me and everybody I know. There was some uncertainty during the first weeks after the Wall come open about how the other western countries would react to unified and potentially stronger Germany in the center of Europe. However, the was overwhelmingly large support for the German re-unification from all over that made me quite optimistic very soon.


The Wall is a piece of German history. One we would have liked to miss! It feels good and right that it is gone now. And when you are in Berlin looking for rests of the Wall you’ll have a very hard time finding some. It’s easier here in Redmond!


Comments (1)

  1. Joe says:

    Amazing story, Gerold, thanks for sharing. I cannot resist but share a part of my own.

    I was 11 when the wall came down, and I never saw it before I turned 18. However, the wall had many faces, and I do have some skewed childhood memories of it – growing up in West Germany, having relatives “in the East”.

    My grand-grandmother lived on the peninsula "Priwall" of Lübeck-Travemünde, Germany. While technically a peninsula, it was practically an island because the only way to access it was by ferry – the land route was locked down with a red-white chain, followed by untrodden dunes. Two East German watchtowers could be seen in the distance. The chain even reached far into the Baltic Sea so as to prevent swimmers from accidently crossing. There were signs that said "HALT – HIER GRENZE" (STOP – THIS IS A BORDER), and grown-ups would speak with fear when they warned us children to never, ever, under any circumstances, cross that chain. Not if a frisbee flew over or if a dog escaped over. Never. Ever. Sometimes heard stories of people who got shot in the leg and then transported away with quads “disappearing in the dunes”, or of people hitting mines behind the fence.

    My mum’s direct family fled from the East when she was 7, and we sould sometimes visit relatives “in the East”. There were two border patrol posts, one on the east and one on the west, with no-man’s-land in between, and a visible electric fence. I remember the East German border patrol would search our car for illegal objects (like books!) when entering, and my sister asking “why is this woman nude?” – very disturbing. One of my cousins “in the East” told me on his 8th birthday: "When I turn 80, I will come visit you" – if I remember correctly, that was the age at which it became a tiny little bit easier for Germans “in the East” to get an Exit Visa to visit the West. Little did he know that much would change over the next 5 years. He now works for Mercedes Benz.

    I also remember that my grandmother was very ill one time we were on visit. It would take over one hour for my father to make a phone call home to check on her. For me, the extensive use of pneumatic tube mail at the post office was very exciting. Today though I realize that they were exchanging documents and approvals with the Stasi (Department  of State Security) to get eavesdroppers appointed and a phone line hand-dispatched to the PSTN of the rest of the world, as well as a connection dialed to the approved target phone number – repressive bureaucracy without computers.

    Clearly all these childhood memories do not depict the pice of the wall above, and still they represent it – just in a different way.

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