By Carolina Jackson
I still remember it like it wasn’t 30 years ago when it happened.
It’s late on a Thursday evening, and I am viewing TV in my tiny apartment in Hamburg, West Germany.
I am actually watching a channel from our neighboring country, East Germany. It is a black and white French movie about pygmies. All of a sudden the movie stops and we hear a voice explaining that the borders of the nation have been opened. The voice stops and the movie resumes. About five minutes later the movie is put on hold and the same voice says, “Yes, you heard it right, the borders are open now.”
The movie never resumes. The new reality takes precedence over pygmies or whatever else. The cameras are now showing us some of the checkpoints along the Berlin Wall. We see East Germans crossing over to West Berlin by the scores.
It is a river of people who, most probably, did not see it happening that particular night, even if protests about lack of freedom had been intensified during the previous month.
We spend the next several days glued to the TV. We don’t just see more people crossing, but also young people who have climbed over the wall. Some of them are actually hammering it. And it is not just Berlin, but also other places in West Germany that are receiving daytime visitors from their sister nation.
Most of these people go back home every night, but some of them don’t want to.
Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Germany who were able to cross the border are entitled to a Begrüßungsgeld (“greeting money”) of 100 marks – about $50. What do they do with that amount? A favorite article to buy is jeans. Real jeans. They are tired of those fake, ugly, thin, poor imitation blue pants that they had to endure.
East Germans are blown away by the huge market offerings in the free Germany, but they also ponder the two different paths that both nations have been taking over the course of more than 40 years.
This process cannot be stopped now. Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Germany will vote yes to reunify with the Federal Republic of Germany.
The process is anything by easy. A new tax is implemented to help finance the reunification. Federal money needs to be scrambled wherever possible. I lose some precious teaching hours at the university.
West Germans complain that the “Ossis” (East Germans) can’t work properly. Somebody else comments that students in the former East Germany have not been trained to think for themselves but just to follow instructions.
But the process was meant to happen. Freedom is precious and there was no reason for the lack of it in the heart of Europe in those days.
Open borders also mean that we can start traveling to East Germany without applying for visas and becoming poor in the process. Leipzig, Dresden, Schwerin and Rostock are open for everybody now.
I was a first-row witness in those days, the days when the wall came tumbling down. Little did I know that 30 years later I would write about in a city in the United States, the city I would be calling home.
Carolina Jackson, of Alden, was in Hamburg, West Germany, when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989.