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Crying for the "Bad Guy"

GERMANY | Tuesday, 19 August 2014 | Views [1378]

My tour guide made me cry today. Not an uncontrollable sob, like when I said goodbye to my fiancé at the airport for four more months apart, but a heart-wrenching painful stream of tears that I could not fight back. I was thankful for sunglasses to cover my shame.

Like most American high school students, most of what I learned about the end of World War II and the entirety of the Cold War happened over a 3-4 week period in high school.  I had a basic grasp of the holocaust and the aftermath that followed. Or so I thought. Clearly it was not nearly basic enough.

In just under three hours, our expert tour guide, Rob McCracken, with Sandemans New Europe Tours had reduced my knowledge of Germany, the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War to rubble, leaving me in a puddle of tears at the significance of what I had overlooked.

In my mind, the wall had always been more of a symbol of separation than anything else. That was the impression I made, and though I knew people were not allowed to go from side to side, I did not realize what that actually meant. It meant there was actually more than one wall; there were three. It meant those who tried to escape or approach could be shot, attacked by dogs, or even impaled on spikes buried in the ground. It wasn’t just a wall as I had thought. It was a death strip, as it was so aptly named.

But oddly enough, that wasn’t what struck me the most.

On August 13, 1961 at one o’clock in the morning, the wall was erected overnight.  If you had a job, family, fiancé, or even a house on the wrong side, it was all gone.  Couples were unexpectedly separated, families torn apart, all without warning. For some it would be 28 years before being reunited. Approximately 5,000 escaped, 1500 of which were young border guards, disliking murdering their own countrymen, seized opportunities to flee.

As I thought to my husband, who is thousands of miles away right now, in a different country, a different time zone, it became suddenly real to me. To fly home and be told I could no longer access a part of my country, could not see my husband indefinitely, possibly permanently. To wait 28 years before having an answer to all my questions: Is he still alive? Is he in Germany? Does he have a new family? Kids?  

The emotional turmoil must have been unbearable. It is no wonder there are 138 known deaths of those attempting to escape. One woman sewed herself into the seat of a car so a person with the proper identification could drive her across the border. Others attempted escape through Checkpoint Charlie, one of three access points mainly used for military, government, and diplomatic officials. The desperation was apparent, but the oppression was overwhelming

Twenty-eight years later, on November 9, 1989, a mistake at a press conference changed history. Once the borders were opened to the people, they were never closed and the cry of “We are one people” could be heard in the streets. Life would never be the same again for the people of Germany. It still will never be the same.

With such a tumultuous past, Germany is often given a negative reputation as a result of a historical leader. But how is the suffering of Germany being overlooked? Were they not also ravaged by the wars in some way? I had cried many times for the Jews, but had never contemplated crying for the Germans.

It is not one person that makes a country, not a government leader, religion, or social movement. It is the people. And with most of the wall torn down, I could finally see the immense suffering and angst of the people on both sides. 

Tags: berlin, germany, history, mistakes, sides, wall

 

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