It was a cold November afternoon. The year 1989. I was 19 years old. My friends and I were walking down the streets of Berlin with sledgehammers. Walking alongside of us were so many others like us.
I am German. No, I am not 6 feet 4 inches tall and I am not blonde with blue eyes. It is just an image that the Americans have propagated of the Germans. I look like any other European or American, for that matter. I am 6 feet tall and I have dark brown hair and light brown eyes.
I was born in East Berlin. I grew up here. And there was a time when I thought I would die here. I never thought a day would come when I would be able to cross the wall and step onto the western side of Berlin. I had heard it was sparsely populated. I had heard that there were rich people who lived in those parts. They had enough to eat. I had heard.
Who would have thought the communist model would fail so miserably? Everything seemed so right about communism. After we lost the war and were divided into pieces, I dont think any of us were particularly worried about being on the communist side of Berlin. I mean, even if things got worse, we could easily walk over to the other side and start a new life. It was afterall the same country. We, on this side were Germans, as were the folks on the other side.
My father was a staunch communist. It wasnt a derogatory term then as it is now. Actually, if you were 20 and werent a communist, you didnt have a heart. I say, if you are 30 and are still a communist, you dont have a brain. Communism is good, only if you arent human and are untouched by greed. Capitalism is the naked truth. It accepts us for what we are. Greedy little swines. We dont have to put up an act. Capitalism serves us right. Not that it's a permanent solution, as you will see.
My father was such a strong supporter of the communist government that he offered help to build up the Berlin wall. He was 19 years old then. The same age as I was on that cold November afternoon of 1989. Youth back then was so confused. I wonder, if we were any better and I bet our kids at 19 would be more messed up that we are. My father helped build a section of the wall near Checkpoint Charlie. My mother used to tell me that he was mighty proud of it. He really wanted East Germany to flourish. "Communism is the right way" he used to say. But then you cant be that stupid all your life. In the summer of 1971, only weeks after I was born, he tried jumping the Berlin wall, right over the section of the wall that he had helped build.
He was shot by a Russian sniper.
And that was that. If you ask me, I rather be dead that stupid all my life. My father died a smart man's death.
My mother, a qualified German teacher would get paid only as much as the Janitor in the school. It frustrated her. In those days, German as a language was losing its sheen. The Russian Govt. wanted the kids to learn Russian. The lack of importance to her mother language made her bitter. She had never been a Communist. If you ask me, she has never been anything. She doesnt feel the need to join a group to be recognized. She doesnt really love anything, except a green sweater that her mother made for her. She doesnt hate anyone. Not even the communist government. The only thing she hated from the bottom of her heart was the Berlin wall. It took away her husband. The Wall first flirted with their hopes and then crushed them.
I didnt see the wall till I was 15 years old. My mother had forbidden me from seeing it. She said it was evil. It was tainted with the blood of millions of Germans and of my father. It was only when I was in the marching band in our school that we had to pass through Checkpoint Charlie and I got to see the wall. It was all bricks and stone. It had graffiti all over it with words like - Freiheit (freedom).
And now we were walking towards the Wall, sledgehammers in hand - to claim exactly that - Our Freiheit.
I came back home that night. I opened the door and entered the living room. My mother was sitting in her chair knitting a woolen cap for me.
"I am sorry," I said. She looked up at me. "I am sorry, I went to see the wall when I was 15. And I went there today."
She kept looking at her once obedient son, finding reasons for the disobedience.
I kept a piece of brick on the table next to her.
"The Wall is no more, mother."
Tears swelled up in her eyes. All the pain, the hate, found their way out.
Dedicated to Antonia Kaul, Hillena Einfeld, Matt Gottwald, Thomas Pallien and all my German friends.
That piece of brick...
Editor in chief arshat chaudharyCurrent Issues: berlin, german, germany