Note from the author: The Beacon’s recent article on Bibi LeBlanc, who witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, brought back memories of that Veterans Day weekend of 1989, because my family was also in Berlin to witness the fall of the wall. While we were Department of Defense civilian employees overseas, our home of record was DeLand.
On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I remember that unforgettable Veterans Day weekend when my husband, Joe, my sons, David, then 15, and Terrence, then 7, and I were eyewitnesses to history.
We flew into West Berlin the morning of Nov. 10, 1989, from Frankfurt, Germany, near our Defense Department jobs in Wiesbaden.
Having heard that the Berlin Wall had opened, we immediately headed to the Brandenburg Gate.
On that crisp, cool and sunny morning, we walked toward the wall, with Joe filming the events with his new toy, a clunky videotape camera.
We joined the crowds heading to the wall, some carrying German flags.
As we approached the wall, a German oom-pah band played. Hundreds of joyous bluejean-clad people were sitting, standing and climbing on the wall.
They sang, laughed, cheered, and sometimes roared and drank.
Newscasters from around the world mixed with the crowds. We saw Peter Jennings of ABC News in his perfectly tailored suit watching the action.
I passed by him and commented, “Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” He replied, “It certainly is.”
He then helped his crew push his cameraman up the wall.
Walking along the wall, we occasionally climbed observation platforms to see the no man’s land between the walls, and an occasional guard.
David and Terrence peeked through a hole in the wall.
At Checkpoint Charlie, the huge crowd roared every time another vehicle came through. Some people were patting or tapping sticks on the arriving vehicles, while reporters interviewed some of the new arrivals.
That night, we took the kids to McDonald’s, which was packed with East Germans. We heard sirens, and the police closed the streets near the Europa-Center for a big rally.
We nearly bumped into Chancellor Helmut Kohl. When Kohl was introduced, he was greeted with a chorus of boos but, mostly, there was loud cheering.
That night, we could not sleep because we kept hearing loud shouting and many frightening bangs. We were uncertain whether the sounds were celebratory, angry or violent.
On the morning of Nov. 11, we looked out our window and saw a long line of people, many carrying bouquets of flowers, patiently waiting.
Once outside, we found that the line started at the nearby Bahnhof and snaked past our hotel around the corner to the nearest bank!
The West German banks were giving 100 deutsche marks to every East German (or Ossie) who arrived in the West. The Ossies bought toys, especially Legos and Barbies, and tropical fruits. Getting into a toy store was impossible.
The Berlin Zoo, halfway between the Bahnhof and the wall, was a popular destination for both Ossies and our son Terrence. Ossies got in free. We were probably the only paying customers.
The animals seemed to sense the excitement and were particularly lively: Polar bears swam and played, brown bears played, wolves howled, penguins waddled, and seals dived, swam and barked. Everyone, young and old, especially laughed at their antics.
After our visit to the zoo, David and I again joined the crowds heading for the wall. But the mood had turned somber. Gone was the happy cheering of the day before.
Everyday people were no longer on top of the wall. In their place, armed guards stood. David took video of the guards. I feared things could get ugly, and we headed back to the hotel. We weren’t sure whether the events of the weekend actually would result in change.
We flew home Sunday, Nov. 12. We were surprised to find a small East German car parked with its hood up in our neighborhood in Hochheim, with a cardboard sign saying in German, “Leipzig heartily greets the rest of the World.”
We welcomed the man fixing his car. One Ossie had made it to the heart of West Germany, but he planned to drive home that night.
It was a magical moment, but also an uncertain one. It was the first step to the reunification of East and West Germany, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But our hopes for a prosperous peace were quickly dashed.
Less than a year later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. On the one-year anniversary of the fall of the wall, I was employed at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, supporting the massive Desert Shield logistics efforts to supply the ground offensive of Desert Storm, despite a DOD job freeze and the loss of many employees to the activation of a local National Guard unit.
Eleven years later, David was a U.S. Navy lieutenant deployed to the Persian Gulf on the USS Barry, the last ship through the port of Aden, Yemen, before the bombing of its sister ship, the Cole.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Joe and I drove home from work in downtown Washington, D.C., on an eerily empty Shirley Highway, past the Pentagon, with billows of smoke filling the blue sky, with the Stars and Stripes still proudly flying.
Since then, we have been continuously at war, China has grown to be our most powerful rival, and there has been a resurgence of Russian power. How sad to see the tremendous hope engendered by the fall of the Berlin Wall ruined by the reality of war and hate.
— Comella is a retired federal human-resources specialist. She is a graduate of DeLand High School and Stetson University, is the president of DeLand’s Chapter 817, National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), and is a member of the DeLand Planning Board.