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.”