Changes in East Germany

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 25 Years After the Fall of the Wall

In late December I went for a walk with my wife and son to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall just outside our village. I grew up here, right along the border between East and West Germany.

Sign in Germany about the Berlin Wall

“Here Germany and Europe were divided until December 22, 1989 at 11 o’clock”

“But,” you might be thinking, “the Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.” And so it did, in Berlin. However, I live farther westward along the inner German border–the 870-mile double-barrier of steel mesh fencing, anti-personnel mines, barbed wire, watchtowers and dog runs. Here the opening began on December 22nd, 1989, with pedestrian-only access in just a few towns. Cars were allowed through in January of the next year, and the fencing itself didn’t come down until much later. It was a significantly slower process for the rest of us than what was portrayed in the newscasts of Berlin.

On our walk, my family and I headed to Point Alpha, a memorial and open-air museum about a mile from our home. It’s a popular place for education as well as hiking. We’re enthusiasts of both.

Along the way, we pondered such questions as What would we be doing if the wall was still up? Would I be a physiotherapist as I was originally trained? Would I be married and have children? We certainly wouldn’t have been able to meet–a Canadian girl and an East German boy–in Brazil, as we did. And Isn’t it interesting that, with the whole world open to us, that we’ve chosen to come back here?

Berlin Wall, East German watchtower on right, American tower on left

Remnants of the border East German watchtower on right, American tower on left

At Point Alpha we walked along both sides of the remaining fencing. My head was awhirl with memories and stories. When the border was drawn, it arbitrarily split families. My grandparents found themselves separated from half of their siblings who just happened to live a few miles farther west. Visits to the West were nearly impossible, required a lengthy application process and, as my grandma and dad later learned, involved a thorough Stasi background check.

Although ostensibly constructed to protect us from the evils of imperialism, capitalism and the temptations of good chocolate, it was evident that the barrier was supposed to keep East Germans from leaving. Nonetheless, tens of thousands risked their lives attempting to flee, including two of my dad’s cousins who escaped as young adults in 1987, only two years before the border opened. Knowing their stories–and many others like them–makes me appreciate the ease with which I can travel around Germany and the world.

Point Alpha is about the past, but also about the present, and you can’t help but feel positive about the future here. When we visited in the middle of winter, it was busy with rambunctious families and dog walkers. In the summer the parking lot is overflowing with museum-goers, cyclists, long-distance hikers and strollers.

Elsewhere in Germany, similar trails and memorials have sprung up to help people learn about the past while enjoying the beautiful surrounding countryside. Our new Berlin to Dresden Bike Tour abounds with such powerful markers of history coupled with scenic, easygoing biking. If you decide to visit, you may be as surprised as I am about the changes that have taken place in East Germany over the past 25 years.

Some of the last remaining fences of the Berlin Wall

 Some of the last remaining fences

 

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Michael Bernhard

Michael Bernhard

Regional Coordinator, Europe at Backroads
Michael grew up in a tiny village in East Germany, within walking distance of the former Iron Curtain, which not only separated Europe but also his extended family. When the Berlin Wall fell, Michael seized his newfound freedom and traveled extensively throughout Europe, lived and worked in South America, and finally moved to Canada in 2003. After designing and managing programs in education, community development and IT, he was ready for a more nomadic life again and joined Backroads in 2011. Michael loves leading and developing trips that showcase the natural beauty, culture and history of his European home turf, such as the new Berlin to Dresden Biking and the Danube River Cruise Biking trips. In his off-time, Michael competes in marathons and triathlons, having completed his most recent Ironman on a Backroads titanium bike in New Zealand. He currently lives in Germany with his Canadian wife, who is also a Backroads leader, and their young son.
Michael Bernhard

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