Monday, November 9, 2009

November 9, 1989


Today it was just the two of us sitting in the student lounge reserved for those honor roll students who wished to vacate study hall for a setting a little more comfortable and less restrictive. We were without supervision, we had a couch, we could walk the halls without a pass and we had a radio. It was just a small boom box with the standard cheap antenna that could pick up only the local station and today, Eva and I were listening to it and talking about the social changes that were occurring in her country.

Eva was a foreign exchange student from West Germany and had joined our school for a year to learn American ways. Always a student of foreign cultures, I took the opportunity to learn about her country and we hit it off. Although I took her to prom the next spring, we never dated and just became really good friends who could talk about anything. But today, more than a friend, she would simply need a shoulder.

As we were talking, the music was interrupted with a special news bulletin saying that the West German guards had simply thrown open the gates of the Berlin Wall and East Germans were now streaming into West Germany. Later that evening, we would see images of people climbing on the wall and in places, attacking it with hammers and sledges trying to tear it down. But at that moment, it was just a simple announcement that the gates were open and people were crossing without fear of getting shot. The music resumed.

Eva sat stunned staring at the radio hoping that something, anything else would interrupt the music telling her of her home county thousands of miles away. I for the most part sat quietly watching her absorb the news. Finally they came, big fat tears rolling down her cheeks as she began to cry. Confused, I tried to awkwardly comfort her as a teenage with soothing words. But when she jumped up and hugged me, I knew that they were not tears of sadness but rather ones of joy with some homesickness mixed in for not being there to witness it. I hugged her back and let my shoulder catch her tears that day and being a softy, a few of mine too. I was truly happy for her and wished she could have been home that day.

Over the coming of the weeks, we spent much time talking about what we had seen or heard about the newly united Germany. For me, it would have just been another day in history but thanks to a West German now German foreign exchange student, that day came to mean so much more to me. To this day, I can't separate thoughts of the Berlin Wall with thoughts of Eva in the student lounge crying into my shoulder on that sunny day on November 9, 1989, twenty years ago today.

10 comments:

sage said...

That's a nice memory. I too was in school, my final year working on an advance degree, and there was a German student, but I don't remember much discussion about it. Of course, with so much work and living without a TV and only reading newspapers in the library to save cash, I wasn't as tuned into everything

R. Sherman said...

The Berlin Wall went up a few months after my wife was born. She never thought it would ever disappear. I remember her crying when she watched the news footage. It's hard for us to understand what living in an oppressive place is like. I caught a glimpse of it once, and it scared the crap out of me.

Ed said...

Sage - I was not really into current events back then either. My parents didn't own a television, still don't, and I didn't read the newspaper other than the comics.

R. Sherman - I'm glad that I can only imagine what it was like. Even when I think our country is falling apart, all I have to do is look abroad and realize how lucky we have it, even to this day.

Murf said...

I was in the early part of Freshman year of college in the dorm. Nuff said.

TC said...

Great memories. I wonder if she's thinking about that today, too?

Beau said...

Such a memory... such amazing news. I was at sea, somewhere far away. The cold war was so real- I was amazed at the news and remember thinking if the Berlin Wall could come down, then maybe everything else would be okay too.

geri said...

It IS a nice memory to connect with what could be a just-another-day date :)

Ed said...

Murf - Were those the horizontal years?

TC - I'm sure she did.

Beau - You certainly got a much closer perspective than I did on a rural farm in Iowa.

Geri - It is certainly one of those times when I remember where I was exactly at that moment along with 9/11, Gulf War I & II starting, Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, Reagan getting shot and perhaps a few others.

PhilippinesPhil said...

That wall was a big part of "the unending war" that my dad, my brother and I were a part of for decades. When it fell we knew we had won it, but until that moment we also figured that it would go on indefinitely. We realistically trained for the "inevitable fight" with the Soviets knowing we would likely die if war actually came. As airmen, we practiced in chemwarfare suits, trying to launch and repair aircraft with rubber gloved hands that reduced our adroitness by half and claustrophobic masks that reduced our vision by a third. Occasionally troops would pass out from the heat and dehydration. We did this knowing that those suits weren't designed to keep us alive indefinitely in a chemical or nuclear environment, only long enough so that we could continue to do our jobs until we finally expired, but hopefully also long enough to win. Thing is, you win one war and there's always another one to fight eventually. Stupid human condition. War fighters will always have a job, always.

Ed said...

Phil - I for one am thankful that you won that war and for all your training.

I often wonder what the US would be like if we were some neutral country like Sweden. Would we be where we are today? But I guess that is probably not going to happen especially for a country that was born from war.