Celebrating the Fall of the Berlin Wall: One Man’s Experience of a Family Divided

The site of the former Berlin Wall, one foot in the East and one in the West.

The site of the former Berlin Wall, one foot in the East and one in the West.

“Berlin is not Germany. It’s a very important sentence. Berlin was always something special.”

Christian Tanzler would know. Although he’s a spokesperson for Visit Berlin, Tanzler isn’t just a media mercenary hired to promote the city, which recently celebrated 25 years since the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall. He’s one of the many whose family was torn apart by those cruel miles of concrete erected in the 60s. But even during those darkest days, Tanzler says, Berlin’s denizens on both sides of the wall harboured a rebellious, irrepressible spark.

The Topography of Terror Museum. At ground level, you see a remnant of the former wall. Below are former Gestapo cells.

The Topography of Terror Museum. At ground level, you see a remnant of the former wall. Below are former Gestapo cells.

“Before the fall of the wall, there was already a community of artists and those who were going against the system living in East Berlin,” he insists with a sly smile. It was a hangover, if you will, of the heady days of the Weimar Republic, a sort of golden age of liberalism leavened with more than a dash of decadence that lasted from the end of the First World War until Hitler’s rise to power.

Please do not adjust your computer screens. This is the actual decor at Roses, a bar in Berlin's Kreuzberg District where the libertines of the Weimar Republic would feel right at home.

Please do not adjust your computer screens. This is the actual decor at Roses, a bar in Berlin’s Kreuzberg District where the libertines of the Weimar Republic would feel right at home.

West Berlin, too, drew more free-thinking residents, as they were exempt from military service. “So the left-minded alternative crowd went there and created a special atmosphere, too,” Tanzler explains.

Yet there was the ever-present heartache of knowing your loved ones were across the wall. “I was a child when the wall was erected,” recalls Tanzler, who lived in western Germany, while his grandparents and uncles were trapped in East Berlin.

One guide says that if you were to put all the chunks of concrete that have been sold as "part of the Berlin Wall" back together, you could rebuild it three times over. Let's hope that never happens.

One guide says that if you were to put all the chunks of concrete that have been sold as “part of the Berlin Wall” back together, you could rebuild it three times over. Let’s hope that never happens.

“I still remember the border controls. You had to be invited to visit. You had to go to the police and announce your stay when you arrived, and when you left. We were only allowed in the district where my grandparents lived. You can’t imagine how it is living in a divided family.”

Brandenburger Tor is one of the former "ghost stations" which was closed for decades after the wall went up. Trains could pass from West Germany, but they couldn't stop, and armed guards stood on the platform to be sure of it. That would have been a pretty creepy commute.

Brandenburger Tor is one of the former “ghost stations” which was closed for decades after the wall went up. Trains could pass from West Germany, but they couldn’t stop, and armed guards stood on the platform to be sure of it. That would have been a pretty creepy commute.

Remnant of the former wall, now an artist's canvas.

Remnant of the former wall, now an artist’s canvas.

Then, one day, Tanzler was watching TV…and he saw people poring across the border.

“I called my brother who lived in West Berlin, but he didn’t know because he had no TV. I asked him, ‘What’s going on? The wall is coming down.’ He said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

“All night, you could smell it–the smell of the cars burning oil as East Berliners came across.

“The supermarkets were crowded and the shelves were empty. They just wanted to see what is behind the wall.”

“It was not sudden, but no one expected it so fast.”

“One of the East German officials said they would make traveling easier for East German people. A journalist asked when, and he searched his notes and couldn’t find a specific date. So he said, ‘As far as I know, from now on.’”

“It was announced on TV. People started going to different checkpoints, demanding and screaming for the guards to open them. But the border troops didn’t have any advice about what they should do. One very charismatic soldier opened the border gate, and then everything started.”

Checkpoint Charlie is now a tourist photo op.

Checkpoint Charlie is now a tourist photo op.

“There was a cry for freedom. We were reunified. It was like Atlantis coming back from the sea.”

“Berlin was back on the map,” he beams. “It was like you cut the ribbon.”

The Brandenburg Gate, where Berliners gathered to celebrate the fall of the wall.

The Brandenburg Gate, where Berliners gathered to celebrate the fall of the wall.

More information: http://www.visitberlin.de/en

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *