“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 this year celebrates 30 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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
More information: http://www.visitberlin.de/en