1989 is the first time I really became aware of history. The exact moment is still clear in my memory: I was sitting in history class at the time - 10th grade world history, to be exact - and I was overwhelmed by the realization that “history" did not stop somewhere around 1970, but that it continued on, that every day was history and every small event contributed to the making of history.
The Berlin Wall had fallen. I remember sitting in the car with my parents outside of an ice-cream parlor on an army base in Germany. Over the radio, we heard that the East Berliners were coming over to the west unimpeded, and that the Wall was coming down. I was stunned; I couldn’t believe it was true. I was a child of the Cold War and the child of a military family to boot. The world I was raised in was divided by the invisible Iron Curtain and the very concrete Berlin Wall. It was separated into “us" and “them," the protectors of freedom and democracy against the big bad Commies. I had been through East Germany, been to East Berlin, even been to Russia by the time I was fifteen, and it was firmly entrenched in my mind that their world was a different world from our world.
So when the Wall crumbled, my Weltanschauung suddenly crumbled as well. I didn’t know what to make of it. The Cold-War-army-brat part of me was confused. Was it good? Bad? Dangerous? Wonderful? Only when I started seeing the pictures on television did I find the answers: it was wonderful.
I can still see the picture of an East German woman in a West Berlin grocery store; she was holding an orange in her hand and crying at the beauty of it. I cried, too - and I still do when I think of it. Even today, the pictures of people pouring through the gaps in the Wall, or standing on the wall near the Brandenburg Gate and facing down the East German border guards, the pictures of the stones being ripped away and East meeting West - it still moves me to tears.
Against a historical backdrop of tragedy and misery, the Fall of the Wall was one Really Good Thing. Good things don’t seem to happen very often in history. The Wall was the concretization of a conflict, ideology set in stone, a symbol and at the same time a physical barrier. Watching it fall was watching people take destiny into their own hands. They used their own hands to tear away the Wall that physically, mentally and spiritually separated them from - well, “us."
What has happened in the past ten years is, of course, a different story. Prejudices against the East still rule in Germany today. There are huge financial problems involved in uniting east and west, and there are walls in people’s minds. The reality is, as always, much different than the ideal.
What remains for me, though, apart from all of this, is the memory of sitting in history class with my textbook in front of me and realizing that, obviously, there was nothing about the fall of the Berlin Wall in it because the event had just taken place. I realized that the textbooks would have to be rewritten and that, in ten years, 15-year-old kids would sit and read about the Fall of the Wall like I read about the Vietnam War: as something that was not really a part of them, something they had no personal memory of and perhaps no particular feelings for. It would just be history to them, whereas to me it was a part of my life. It was the first time that it really became clear to me that history was real people, and that despite all the flag-waving and fanfare and glory, the real history is made when a fifty-year-old woman sees a pile of ripe oranges for the first time in her life.