WE interrupt our conversation on second order change to dwell on Germany’s Unification Day, which also is my day. And celebrated last week.
Every time there would be holidays while in my studies in London, I would bring my backpack and hop into a train for some part of Europe. It wasn’t crucifying taking the rail; each passenger had a comfortable sleeper and one could proceed to the next car where the dining room was. Train stations had enough lockers and other amenities — no fear of pickpockets, delayed schedules, missing luggage, smelly toilets or broken faucets. Saved allowances from fish and chips on alternate days, a studies grantee like me could save for a truly delightful meal and given some luck, could engage in great conversation with another studies grantee or an academic from another European university.
Before leaving for my UK studies on institutional management (thanks to the British Council), I armed myself with several eurail pass good for three days and for a week which I could use during a longer break. Buying this in Britain would reduce my pounds allowance. To control expenses, I had enough ready cash and kept tight to traveller’s checks. And so it was how I got to visit Berlin the first of several times before and after the 1990 unification, the first, to witness the 96 miles of a long barrier around West Berlin — a concrete wall built from concrete blocks twelve foot high with a smooth round top.
That first visit was with a dear friend in 1985, a Lufthansa maintenance engineer whose Filipina wife I had tutored on the basics of German culture before they got married.
Helmut had enough petrol while the wife had enough home-steamed siopao large enough for a full meal. Back in Helmut’s flat, one finds ready-to-eat stuff that his wife cooked — the siopao properly coded with a dash of food coloring to mark whether the filling was pork, beef, chicken or vegetable, garnished with the ubiquitous slices of hard-boiled egg.
We also had pastries and lots of soda water. We enjoyed this repast as we motored to our almost four-hour travel from Hamburg to Berlin via Potsdam, for a look at the Berlin Wall of the German Democratic Republic – East Germany – Soviet. It was drizzling; we passed by wide fields of green but automatic sprinklers were on. People tended to spoil water they didn’t own. The state did.
Several hours after, we reached a checkpoint where the guards asked for my passport and to step out the car, take off my glasses to check whether the color of my eyes jibed with what my passport said. They then placed it on a conveyor. At the next post, I got it back. As we drove on, I learned there were anti-vehicle measures, bunkers, watch-towers and electrified fences. On reaching the Brandenburg gate, we had to view East Berlin from an outpost.
Thereafter, we drove to where we had a full view of the wall with its unending stretch.
Before coming to Germany, I read about the Berlin Wall — that the Wall physically divided West Berlin and soviet Germany “since 1961 to the 80’s stretching over a hundred miles not only through the center of Berlin, but also wrapped around West Berlin, entirely cutting West Berlin off from the rest of East Germany.” Another source named it as the “symbolic boundary between democracy and communism during the Cold War”— that sealed the border between East and West Germany. Berlin alone remained accessible, the only ‘hole’ in the Iron Curtain being the Wall <//www Historytoday .com/frederick-taylor/berlin-wall-secret-history#sthash.DAbrkiE.dpuf> through which a great many from the East tried all means to move to the economically burgeoning west. Erected in the dead of night the Berlin Wall for the past 25 years kept East Germans from fleeing to the West.
By early 60’s, repressive living conditions of GDR had 2.5 million people mostly young professionals leaving for West Berlin through the “hole.” This prompted GDR to build the last and fourth major transformation of the Berlin Wall — its concrete slabs reaching nearly 12-feet high (3.6 m) and 4-feet wide (1.2 m) with a smooth pipe running across the top hindering people from scaling the Wall.<1980www.germanculture.com.ua/…history/blwallb collapseunification.htm>
Potsdam Conferences sired the November 1989 marking the “Fall” of the Berlin Wall. Nearly a year after, midnight October 03, the GDR joined the FRG in unification celebrations held all over Germany, “celebrating unity without a hint of nationalistic pathos but with dignity and jubilation. The world realized that an historic epoch had come to a peaceful end.”
Years after the unification, Helmut drove me to Berlin again on holidays from studies at Kassel U. I saw a part of the wall for us tourists. The splashes of colors and figures, I thought, were not without meaning; they signified the memories, the sentiments springing from the million human hearts that once upon a time longed for togetherness — separated by a daunting wall —- kit and kin that pined to celebrate the oneness of families, common roots, albeit, the desire to hand down ancestral stories, such as on the heroism of uncles, cousins whose deeds were a turning point in the history of the two Berlins. Back at Kassel, I viewed the video of the “Fall” Helmut gave. There were tanks; people offering flowers, cigarettes and food to the uniformed. Some scene like our EDSA, I thought.
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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.