A Witness to history – Berlin Wall


Dear Ezra and Lian,

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.



Eating three and a half plates of spinach in East Germany


Dear Ezra and Lian,

If you read my crazy travelling stories, you are going to hear about me eating weird things. It all started in East Germany. That’s the first foreign country I ever visited. I went there before even going to the US.

I had the privilege of travelling to East Germany in July, 1989. This is 2 months before the Berlin Wall fell down and the country re-joined with West Germany. At the time, nobody there could see it happening. I was with a group of teenagers from Simcoe Country, Ontario. I think there was 7 kids and 1 leader. We were attending a youth conference in a small village.

Now East Germans were quite poor living in a communist country. When one of the teachers from West Germany brought bananas for everyone, it was a big deal. The hundred or so kids and staff all got half a banana. That usually only happened at Christmas. There was genuine excitement. So when it came to meal time, us Canadians always tried to eat everything put on our plate. Except for one time.

Our lunch consisted of a pork, potatoes and a big heaping pile of spinach. Now your great-grandma used to call me the Human Garbage Can because I could eat lots of almost anything. So I finished my plate easily. That’s when I noticed the 5 girls in the group having a lot of trouble with the spinach. I was horrified that they weren’t going to eat it all. I didn’t want to offend our hosts or let them think we wasted food. (I was also the poorest kid in the group.) So I ate another big helping of spinach. Then another. One of the girls finished all of hers. I had two more to go. However, Tasha Honey, had put a LOT of salt all over her spinach. I started eating it, but it was terrible. I tried mixing it with the other plate of spinach. I couldn’t do it. I was like Popeye, full of spinach. There was still one and half helpings of leftover spinach. In the end, though, nobody was offended.

I’m not really all that much of a food adventurer. However, I will go to great lengths not to offend people, to make people feel appreciated, to accept their gifts of food, especially if given with great sacrifice. I don’t go seeking exotic dishes, but sometimes strange things get put on my plate. Sometimes eating a meal has saved many people’s lives, so I swallowed real hard and ate it.

I’m also really grateful that you two eat spinach almost every day.