Years ago, probably in the late 90s, I spent several weeks working my way through Peter Wyden’s incredible book, Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin. At 762 pages, the hardcover edition made for difficult reading on my morning commute on the T. Still, I couldn’t put it down. Wyden’s writing and detailed knowledge of Berlin were compelling, but I was also captivated by the fact that what I was reading was so current, so vivid. Not even history, yet. Barely even past.
I remember watching the news reports from Berlin in 1989 when the Wall – suddenly, unbelievably – came down. My father had spent time in Berlin during his stint in the Army in the 1960s and his experience colored the otherwise dull history lessons that I had learned by then. I struggled to understand the geography – to say nothing of the geopolitics – of the whole arrangement. West Berlin was inside East Germany? How could this tiny, isolated pocket of freedom survive inside a Communist country? Who would allow that? For an American child growing up near the end of the Cold War, it was another mystery in another unknowable country.
And yet. There we all were, watching on TV as the Germans helped each other to the top of the wall. Watching ordinary people armed with hammers and chisels, literally dancing in the streets, a city-wide celebration. It made such an impression on me, one that has stayed with me to this day.
On Thursday we leave for Berlin for a long weekend. In my mind, Berlin seems to carry memory, weight, nostalgia. There is no explanation for this, since I have never been there. Rationally, I know that the Berlin of my imagination ceased to exist 25 years ago, if not more. But I suspect that in a city so rich with history and so committed to modernity, there will be more to discover than I have imagined.
More to come, from Berlin. Finally.