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The 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has special significance for a DeLand artist.

Bibi LeBlanc grew up in the American sector of West Berlin, and witnessed the wall’s destruction in 1989.

She had been traveling home from Africa to Germany when her mother called.

“The wall just fell,” LeBlanc heard her mother say.

“I couldn’t understand what she was talking about,” LeBlanc said.

Finally, it sunk in. Once home, she and her roommates headed out to witness history.

“We just jumped in the car and headed to Berlin,” LeBlanc said.

They marveled as they approached the city, and saw East German vehicles traveling freely on the western side. They reached the wall at about 11 p.m. on the cold, dark night.

“People — West Germans — were welcoming people through the checkpoints with thermos bottles of hot tea,” LeBlanc said.

Cars were pulled off and parked all along the roads near the wall, as Germans got out to cross the border without restriction for the sheer joy of it. LeBlanc and her roommates joined in.

“We went through the Brandenburg Gate,” she said. “Peter Jennings was reporting.”

Earlier this year, LeBlanc turned her knowledge of the city and events into a coloring book, one in her series called Culture to Color that detail various locales, including DeLand, in educational text and fun-to-color black-and-white line drawings.

As a child, LeBlanc remembers visiting her uncle’s family in East Berlin. Especially, she remembers the mild terror of knowing that her father would usually try to hide some form of contraband in the family automobile.

“Going over there through the checkpoints was always scary as a kid,” she said.

Each trip required the family to apply for a pass and then wait in line to cross into East Berlin, sometimes for hours.

“When it was your turn, they would search the car, lift up the back seat and stick a long rod into the gas tank,” LeBlanc recalled.

Only one time, she said, did the family get into trouble. They were bringing tomato plants for the relatives. The problem was, the store had wrapped the plants in the pages of a West Berlin newspaper — a forbidden item, along with currency, recorded music and books.

“You could bring food and clothing, but no printed material,” LeBlanc said.

The checkpoint guards confiscated the tomato plants along with their wrappings.

“As a kid, I didn’t really question it. It was just the way my world was,” LeBlanc said.

Not until recently did LeBlanc learn about the circumstances that trapped her uncle and his family in East Berlin.

After World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors: American, French, British and the Soviet sector, which ultimately became East Berlin.

Encouraged by members of her mother’s family, LeBlanc’s family members had begun in 1959 to relocate out of Communist territory, where conditions were deteriorating and supplies were becoming hard to get.

LeBlanc’s father met in West Berlin, with his brother, another cousin and his brother’s girlfriend, on Aug. 12, 1961. They all decided that a move to West Berlin was in order, and all but LeBlanc’s father returned to East Berlin to get their mothers.

One day later, on Aug. 13, the border closed. The family members were not allowed to leave East Berlin. Construction of the wall began.

“I didn’t find out the story until I sat down with them last summer,” LeBlanc said. “I didn’t know how close it was for them.”

LeBlanc, 56, her mother, Linda Roth, and LeBlanc’s three adult sons all live in DeLand, which LeBlanc found in 1988 because of her interest in skydiving.

She had jumped out of airplanes all over the world, and met well-known parachutist Tom Piras in her travels.

He told her, she said, “If you’re serious about skydiving, you need to come to DeLand.”

Although they could not travel with her to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall because of work responsibilities, LeBlanc has made sure her sons know their German heritage, traveling with them once or twice a year to Berlin and sharing with them the contrast between the city now, and when she was a little girl.

She cherishes, for example, swimming across what was once a dog- and gun-guarded border.

“I can swim in a river and swim across,” she said. “I call pull off the autobahn where I want, and just go explore.”

Not all of her relatives in Europe enjoy reflecting on the past as much, LeBlanc said, explaining, “They let Hitler happen on their watch.”

Traveling to Berlin for the 30th anniversary of the wall’s demise is a happy occasion for her, she said, “Being reminded that things can change, and that anything is possible.”

{{tncms-inline alignment=”center” content=”&lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Mid-April 1945:&lt;/strong&gt; Berlin, capital of a united Germany, is conquered by Soviet armies, after bitter fighting, street by street and house by house, that raged for two months.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;April 30, 1945:&lt;/strong&gt; The Battle for Berlin finally ends after the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, commits suicide, along with his wife, Eva Braun, in his fortified bunker. The war in Europe officially ended a week later, when the Nazi government surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Later in 1945:&lt;/strong&gt; Consistent with the Allied agreements for dividing the conquered nations after the war, the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union carve up Germany and its capital into occupation zones. The American, British and French zones in the western portion of Germany later became West Germany, while the portion of Germany east of the Elbe River became East Germany. West Germany became a parliamentary republic and a prosperous nation, while East Germany became a hard-line communist country with virtually no freedom and chronic shortages of basic consumer goods.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;June 1948:&lt;/strong&gt; So determined was Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to drive the Western Allies out of Berlin, he cut the overland routes, both road and rail, from West Germany to West Berlin in June 1948. He intended to starve West Berliners into submission.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;Then followed what may be the biggest humanitarian use of air power in history: the Berlin airlift. Armadas of cargo planes that had carried soldiers and materiel during the war were repurposed to deliver lifesaving supplies &amp;mdash; food, including tomatoes and powdered milk, coal and clothing &amp;mdash; to the besieged city. American airmen took compassion upon the German children &amp;mdash; innocent victims of crises caused by adults &amp;mdash; in the city and made a point of flying chocolate bars to them to ease their plight.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;May 1949:&lt;/strong&gt; The U.S. had spared no expense in sustaining Berlin for 11 months. Stalin finally ended the land blockade.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Summer 1961:&lt;/strong&gt; Tensions were reaching a boiling point as many East Berliners went westward. President John F. Kennedy declared in a nationally televised address on July 25 that Berlin was &amp;ldquo;the great testing place of Western courage and will.&amp;rdquo; Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev had demanded that the Western powers get out of Berlin.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;If the Western forces were not leaving the city, others were.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&amp;ldquo;East Berliners and East Germans began, as the West Berliners put it, &amp;lsquo;voting&amp;rsquo; with their feet. During the 30-month period from November 1958 through July 1961 West Berlin became the escape hatch for a steadily increasing stream of East German refugees. In July 1961 as many as 3,000 escaped in a single day. … In terms of manpower, East Germany was bleeding to death. The Communist leadership solved the problem with brutal simplicity,&amp;rdquo; reads &amp;ldquo;The Story of the Berlin Brigade,&amp;rdquo; a publication of the U.S. Army&amp;rsquo;s Military History Branch.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Aug. 13, 1961:&lt;/strong&gt; East German First Secretary Walter Ulbricht orders police and workers to put up concrete barriers and barbed wire. Guards watched the line to make certain no one from the east tried to leave. The East German government defended the wall as necessary to keep East Berlin&amp;rsquo;s enemies out.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;Few, if any, people tried to sneak into East Berlin, but there were plenty trying to exit. For the next 28 years, thousands of East Berliners went to great lengths, often risking their lives, to get to the western side. The films of Easterners jumping, climbing, tunneling under, or driving vehicles through weak points in the barrier &amp;mdash; often in a hail of bullets fired by border guards &amp;mdash; were broadcast on nightly newscasts in the U.S., as well as West Germany.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;Some swam across the rivers, and a few even swam through the city&amp;rsquo;s sewer system to get out of tyranny. Sometimes the border guards themselves made a desperate dash for the west.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;Not all escape attempts had a happy ending. The numbers are difficult to pin down, but approximately 150 East Berliners lost their lives trying to flee westward.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;June 26, 1963:&lt;/strong&gt; In a speech in West Berlin, President Kennedy highlights the contrast between rival political systems and famously declares, &amp;ldquo;Ich bin ein Berliner.&amp;rdquo; The crowd roared with approval.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;An urban legend persisted for years that in the speech, Kennedy accidentally said, &amp;ldquo;I am a Berliner,&amp;rdquo; a type of German pastry similar to a jelly doughnut, rather than a citizen of the city, as he intended.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;June 12, 1987:&lt;/strong&gt; Another American president calls for the end of Berlin&amp;rsquo;s division, as Ronald Reagan urges &amp;ldquo;Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate,&amp;rdquo; referring to the Brandenburg Gate, and &amp;ldquo;Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.&amp;rdquo;&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Nov. 9, 1989:&lt;/strong&gt; The Berlin Wall is breached, and is ultimately brought down. The city was united again after more than four decades.&lt;/p&gt; &lt;p style=&quot;text-align: right;&quot;&gt;&amp;mdash; Timeline compiled by Al Everson&lt;/p&gt;” id=”91160b37-7e5b-467f-97bf-728ea5087dea” style-type=”info” title=”Divided Berlin: a timeline” type=”relcontent” width=”full”}}

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