CONTRIBUTED BY SANDRA OSTROM
There must have been thousands of people cramped in the late gothic St. Lamberti-Church. But yet it was eerily quiet as the congregation eagerly anticipated the first words of the Bishop. “With the last ring of the church bell at midnight, the post-war era for Germany will come to an end.” … Post-War era? What did he mean? It was 2 October 1990, WW2 has been over for a long time! … “Germany will no longer be an occupied country.”… Occupied?… occupied country???
At that moment it was like the honorable Bishop had smacked me over the head with a history book. History was not only being made at that moment – it was screaming in my -then 17-year old- face. Of course I knew why the whole country was celebrating that night. Church services giving thanks were held all day long everywhere. Germany was to be re-united. East and West Germany would be officially melting into one country. The people and politicians had peacefully fought for this for decades, from the day the first barbed-wire fence was put up in Berlin in 1961.
I grew up in the West, but my father was born in Eastern Germany and his mother fled on foot with him to the Western part, when the Russian Forces marched in – trying to reach my Grandfather who was in a British Prison Camp. She left behind everything. I grew up with letters and small Christmas presents from relatives that I only met on rare occasions, because they lived behind the “Iron Curtain”. We sent “Care Packages” to my Grandfather’s sister that I only met once, to an Uncle I only knew by name. I knew there was family property and land lost when the German Democratic Republic was established under a communist regime. But that was just the way it was.
I grew up in a divided country but I never knew any different. I learned about the How’s and Why’s in school, I travelled to West Berlin – I even visited East Berlin – I stood on top of an outlook across from the Brandenburg Gate, staring at the Russian Guards, trying to comprehend what was going on here. But still – I just didn’t know any different.
“In 1945, the Third Reich ended in defeat and Germany was divided into two separate areas, with the east controlled as part of the Communist Soviet Bloc and the west aligned to Capitalist Europe (which formed into the European Community), including a division in military alliance that formed into the Warsaw Pact and NATO, respectively. The capital city of Berlin was divided into four occupied sectors of control, under the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Germans lived under such imposed divisions throughout the ensuing Cold War.
Into the 1980s, the Soviet Union experienced a period of economic and political stagnation, and they correspondingly decreased intervention in Eastern Bloc politics. In 1987, US President Ronald Reagan gave a speech at Brandenburg Gate challenging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” that had separated Berlin. The wall had stood as an icon for the political and economic division between East and West, a division that Churchill had referred to as the “Iron Curtain”. In early 1989, under a new era of Soviet policies of glasnost (openness), perestroika (economic restructuring) and taken to even more progressive levels by Gorbachev, the Solidarity movement took hold in Poland. Further inspired by other images of brave defiance, a wave of revolutions swept throughout the Eastern Bloc that year. In May 1989, Hungary removed their border fence and thousands of East Germans escaped to the West.
The turning point in Germany, called “Die Wende”, was marked by the “Peaceful Revolution” leading to the removal of the Berlin Wall with East and West Germany subsequently entering into negotiations toward eliminating the division that had been imposed upon Germans more than four decades earlier.”
From “Wikipedia – Precursors to reunification”
On August 13, 1961, communist East Germany began building the Berlin Wall. It “fell” on the evening of November 9th, 1989 when for the first time in GDR history the border’s checkpoints were opened for everyone to freely exit the “country”.
On 3rd October 1990 Germany was official whole again.
What I didn’t realize until that moment was that I grew up in an occupied country. Although it was part of my every day live. My parents’ house stood not 10 walking minutes away from British Army Family Housing. The closest British Caserne only a few more minutes to walk. Riding on my bicycle downtown, my friends and I would wave to the soldiers at the Gates and stop for the train carrying tanks and trucks.
Not for one day I “felt” occupied or questioned the foreign military presence. My city was part of the “British Zone” after the War. But the war was long gone and West Germany had its own democratic government.
The church bell rang twelve times…seemingly endless crowds of people were on the city’s streets and squares, cheering, dancing and drinking. Bands were playing. On the big screens we saw thousands of men and women dancing on the Berlin Wall, driving their cars through “Checkpoint Charlie” from East to West. The Scorpions “Winds of Change” blasted through speakers everywhere. Fireworks illuminated the night skies.
“Mr. Gorbatschow, tear down this Wall”, Ronald Regan famously said.
What it meant was that for the first time in decades, families –torn apart by the “Iron curtain” would see and hold each other again. And that more than 40 years after the end of WWII Germany could finally start to heal.
Months later I was standing in the mild August sunshine in a tiny village in the former “Eastern” county of Thueringen, looking for the first time at the very house my Grandmother hastily fled from in 1947. My father next to me silently shed a tear.