Dear Ezra and Lian,
It is so very difficult to be fully present now. “There’s no other place I’d rather be than Right Here, Right Now.” It’s an aspiration more than a statement of fact. On many days, I wish it was the fall of 1989 again.
When I was 16, about the 3rd week of July, 1989, I stood on the East German side of the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie. A man, a stranger to me, from The Netherlands, leaned over and said to me; “You know, someday soon, this wall is going to come down.” I laughed out loud. “Maybe in 20 or 30 years, yeah, but not soon” I said. He said, “Wait and you’ll see.”
By November 9, 1989, the government of East Germany had announced that its own citizens could freely visit West Germany. Spontaneously, East and West Germans began to meet at the Berlin Wall. They climbed on top of it, sang songs, hugged and cried on top of it. They began to chip chunks of the wall off for souvenirs. During the summer of 1990 the official demolition of the wall began with actual construction equipment. Effectively though, the Wall had ceased to exist months before.
This time period was a life-changing moment for me in so many ways. You could never understand your Dad unless you consider the impact of this on me. The songs “Right here, right now” by Jesus Jones and “Wind of Change” by Scorpions are soundtracks to this era. When I hear those songs, I’m always transported back to 1989.
You will learn about this in History, probably in grade 9. The teacher may tell you that the Berlin Wall coming down was inevitable. I want you to know, that I was staying with East Germans for 3 weeks in July 1989. I was at a small youth conference. I met hundreds of East Germans. Not one of them gave me any indication that they were expecting their freedom any time soon. To a certain degree, they all were resigned to living in the giant prison of the Eastern Bloc. The spying would continue. They would be blocked from schools and jobs of their choice because they weren’t Communist Party members. They had no hope in East Germany’s future, especially for 1989.
Euphoria broke out in the fall of 1989 because it was so unexpected. The Berlin Wall had been up for decades. Communism ruled over Eastern Europe for over 40 years. In 1989, only a few saw its pending downfall. It caught the world by surprise. Saying otherwise is revising history to make us look smarter than we actually were. I was there. I was a witness to history. The totalitarian government had immense control over its citizens almost right up until the day the Wall came down.
I will only tell you one way it changed me. It gave me the inspiration to believe the impossible, possible. I can have hope in hopeless situations. It’s why I can take on problems with little chance of success. Whatever the circumstance, if that big, ugly, evil Wall can fall, then anything can happen.
Don’t let this short letter fool you. I could write 10,000 words about this. Any time you want to send your Dad on a trip down memory lane, ask me about East Germany in 1989. I could forget about whatever it is we will be doing at the time, to remember all the joy and sorrow of those days. It truly was a time of hope and new beginnings. I will always be looking for the spirit of ’89. If I can’t have that, I will happily talk about it.