The anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down reminds me that I have knowledge of history and how will my descendents know this unless I tell my story. Another one of those duh moments. We chase those links to the past but I know I forget that someday someone will want to know this about me.
I have seen this wall. I toured it when I was 17 and a young army wife while my husband was stationed in Ansbach. I saw the wall that kept East Germans inside their borders and I remember this tour 33 years later. I remember being afraid as being 17 I clearly remembered my European Studies classes in high school.
I boarded the bus and sat next to a window. I was excited and scared at the same time. The tour guide asked us not to make any gestures towards the watch towers or anyone guarding the wall saying that the bus could be apprehended and by law no one had to let the US government know we were in custody for 48 hours. This alone terrified me and being an impressionable teenager I took this as gospel and was actually afraid to lift my hand to eat the peanut M&M in it! Too, I had a baby on my lap. Our bus driver, however, was of a different mind and he was beeping the horn and making all sorts of gestures towards the soldiers the entire trip and I wondered if the man had a death wish for everyone on that bus! I have never been religious but I do remember looking up and mentally begging for a safe trip home and promising to never hit my sister again and so on. Come on, I was 17 and out of the nest way too soon and in a foreign country! I couldn't imagine why the bus driver would do all this, risking our lives, as that is what I thought he was doing. It is very easy to think this when you are looking out the window at men standing in uniform and holding a machine gun. Today I wonder what they thought. Were we just another bunch of American's to dislike or did they envy the freedom we had? If I had been older, I would have asked a thousand questions of the tour guide. What a missed opportunity being that I was of an age where I really had other interests and this was part of my arrival orientation to live in Germany with the Armed Forces.
The tour consisted of seeing the sights and hearing of the horrors. I gazed at innocent looking chain link fences. There was nothing innocent about them. They were razor sharp and would take the fingers off anyone trying to climb the fence. If they happened to get to the top they would get no further with barbed wire and a rolling tube waiting to keep them inside. Wide open fields would be seen and I would wonder why anyone could not just run and make it out. I did not realize it was not one solid wall around the country but then again, I was young. These areas were patrolled by Russian Wolf Hounds trained to eat from the trainers throat then left hungry enough during their time on duty. As explained, they were attack dogs. I never looked at the family dog again in quite the same way. There were towers where armed men would shoot to kill should anyone make a run for it. Then there were the check points and the wall. I was moved by it. I remember feeling so bad for the people behind it given no choice. I heard the stories of families and friends separated by just the placement of the wall; neighbors one day and then of different worlds the next. The Autobahn lined with slab walls and dynamite to set off stopping anyone who tried to leave or come in. I know there was a lot more but it was so long ago I don't remember it well and it was part of my very forgettable "first life" that I call it.
What I do remember clearly was the story about truck drivers. If they were delivering or picking up outside of the wall their families were put in protective custody to ensure the driver and the truck came back. That was what bothered me most out of everything I learned that day. Why are peaceful hard working people terrorized like that. This is where I come back to that bus driver that scared the life out of me with his outward behavior to the guards at check points all along this bus route. He was one of those truck drivers and he smuggled his wife and children out of the country in the truck he drove out. The sheer act of such bravery astounds me. Would I ever risk everything, the very lives of my family, to make a getaway like that? He knew what he was up against and the risk he put his family in. I can't begin to touch upon how this family must have felt through the planning and eventual escape. There had to be people they left behind. The bus was parked when the drivers story was told. What he got for it was a standing ovation and a pride so strong and seeing clearly the reason why we were there. The fear I felt by his actions that day melted away to a huge respect and feeling he was well in his rights to celebrate as he did every day driving that bus.
When the wall went down I knew I had been a tiny part of history. I could say, "yes, I have seen it with my own eyes." Twenty years later I realize just what a big part of history it was. I realize the importance of that wall coming down. As many wish over the years, I wish when I saw that wall at such a young age that I truly understood the weight and importance of it and its time and place in history.
GRIP 2015: Day 3 - For my first post on this year's Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), go here. Apologies for the late posting, I couldn't put down The ...
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