Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kindnesses the Wall Could Not Block

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kindnesses the Wall Could Not Block

Article excerpt

In contrast to the celebration that accompanied the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the recent 40th anniversary of its construction (Aug. 13) passed almost unnoticed.If I hadn't seen a small blurb about it in my local newspaper, I don't think I would have remembered it myself. This, despite my having an actual piece of the wall mounted neatly alongside a photograph I took back in 1985, when the most formidable and durable structure created by East Germany still stood as the quintessential icon of the cold war.

I have three distinctive memories of my interaction with the wall, each, in its way, denoting a certain poignant aspect of its existence.

I first saw - and touched - the wall during a Fulbright year in 1984-85, in what was then West Germany.I wasn't living in Berlin, but I knew that the erstwhile capital of a united Germany would eventually be on my itinerary.Suddenly, in March, I was there, running my hand along the wall, over the myriad graffiti covering its western face. Then I scaled an observation platform to view the bleak, heavily mined no-man's land that formed a deadly buffer between the inhabited sections of East Berlin and the wall itself.

The very next day, I decided to cross over through the notorious Checkpoint Charlie.Sticking to the narrow white-painted, prescribed path, I sauntered along to a window where I obtained my day visa from the East German authorities before continuing on my way.

A moment later, a German motorist called to me from the car path a short distance away. He had broken down and was beckoning for me to help him push his vehicle.Without thinking, I stepped off the path and began to walk over to him.

Within the instant, three guards were upon me, demanding to know just what I thought I was doing. With my hands up I explained - breathlessly - about the car that was kaput. The guards conferred.Then one of them grudgingly allowed me to go offer assistance while he guarded me.

My second interaction with the wall came a few days later.I was on a tour bus to East Berlin with other American Fulbrighters.We alighted in the heart of the city and visited some prescribed sights, none of which I recall. …

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