This small island was not surrounded by oceans like those other small islands. Instead, from 1945 until 1989, it was surrounded by land under the control of communists and was therefore cut off from the western world. During those years, it was a tiny island of freedom inside the vast red expanse of the Soviet empire. This small island was of course West Berlin which, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been reunited with East Berlin and has resumed its position as Germany’s capital.
Pat and I passed through the reunified city for the first time in July 2010. We were only there for seven hours, which is no basis for writing anything at all about such a large and historic city as Berlin. At least Pat has had the wisdom not to pontificate on the subject of Japan, simply because she was once a transit passenger through Tokyo airport! Nevertheless, I must mention some of the places in Berlin, which saw the making of history and of which I was fortunate enough to catch a fleeting glimpse during our visit.
Firstly, there was the Berlin Wall itself, separating East Berlin from West Berlin. A very short stretch of the wall still stands and I filmed Pat touching it. We resisted the temptation to take home a little piece of the wall as a souvenir. We can always buy a piece on E-bay, if need be. Indeed, so many pieces of the wall have been offered for sale on E-bay that one could build many walls with them. Before the wall was built by the communists in 1961, millions were using Berlin as an escape route from East Germany. After the wall was built, thousands still managed to escape to West Berlin though hundreds perished in the attempt.
|Checkpoint Charlie - Then and Now|
|1936 Olympic Stadium Berlin|
|Reichstag - Home of German Parliament|
|Brandenberg Gate and Berlin wall|
Finally, we came to the Brandenburg Gate. Built in 1791, it lies to the west of the center of old Berlin. This Gate is the monumental entry to the Unter den Linden, which is the well-known boulevard of linden trees that once led to the palace of the Prussian emperors.
This Gate was the site of the famous speech by President Reagan in 1987, when he challenged the Soviets. “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” cried the President.
The Brandenburg Gate was not the site of an earlier speech by a US President in 1963, when President John F Kennedy proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner – the literal translation of which is “I am a jelly donut”. That speech was made in front of City Hall, when his huge audience perfectly well understood what JFK meant and appreciated the support that he was promising to the beleaguered people of West Berlin.
The story of the Brandenburg Gate recently had a happy ending in November 2009 when the present German Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with Mr. Gorbachev himself and former Polish president Lech Waleska, walked through the Gate to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
|Political leaders walk through Brandenberg gate 11/9/2009|
So we accomplished much in those seven hours, despite having to cope with a humid temperature of a 100 degrees Fahrenheit. While it is sad not to have been able to take more time to enjoy these famous places, together with many others that are to be found in Berlin, it is far better to have had a fleeting glimpse of them than never to have seen them at all.
This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on February 11, 2013.