This year, after a brief visit to Berlin last weekend for a conference, I got a glimpse at a whole new perspective on what Reunification Day actually means. I remember in sixth grade when my teacher told us that the Berlin Wall had come down. I vaguely remember watching on the evening news and seeing people standing on top of it, waiving flags, and chipping away pieces with hammers. My sixth grade teacher even somehow managed to get a piece of it to share with us in our classroom. As an 11-year-old, I did not really understand the impact that the wall, or Berliner Mauer in German, really had. As an adult, I still do not really understand it, but seeing Berlin allowed me to understand a small piece of what it might mean.
Just to give some brief history, I am a teacher, after all- the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961. As everyone remembers, it divided the city of Berlin into East Berlin (communist and controlled by the Soviet Union) and West Berlin (democratic and controlled by Germany but with a strong American & French presence).
After the construction, the freedom of movement around the city was restricted and the Eastern side became part of the USSR, with all of the deprivation and misery that went with it, while the Western side grew strong and thrived economically after the war years. Attempting to cross from East Germany into West Germany was often a fatal feat.
What is really hard to wrap your head around until you see where it was, is that it is literally right in the middle of the city. If I think back to Fort Collins, where I lived for almost 10 years, and think about there suddenly being a wall that did not allow me to travel from east to west, how that would have impacted my life. Friends and families were cut off from each other, and people from the East could not get visas to get into Western Europe. They were just stuck. This is really hard to imagine. The subway still went underneath East Berlin and those stations just became "ghost stations" where the train didn't stop and there were armed guards on the platforms. At the street level, the stations had just been sealed off.
Construction of the Berliner Mauer in 1961.