Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Tear Down that Wall!" Memories from a 7 Year Old German Boy's Eyes

(Dr. Earl Henslin's lovely daughter Amy with her German Love,Stephan Benzmann)

One of the perks of working with Dr. Earl Henslin on the book This is Your Brain on Joy was meeting his lovely, kind, and talented daughter Amy who often assisted us in gathering information or promotional help. During this time Amy fell in love with one Stephan Benzmann, who is from Germany. Her already beautiful smile seemed to grow wider and wider.

This week, the 20th anniversary of the "Fall of the Wall", Amy shared with me how deeply significant this day was to her boyfriend, Stephan, and so many of the Germans who never dreamed this day would come. It was to so many Germans, what the election of a black President must have been to so many African Americans. They truly never thought this day would come. And here.. it was. I love it when dreams that seem too crazy to come true... somehow, do.

Stephan was seven years old, twenty years ago, and I asked him if he would please share his memories of the event in honor and celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He graciously did and here his recollection, in his own words.

I was eight when we got the news that the wall fell and East Germans were allowed to cross the boarder. My family was touched by what happened because my dad and his family flew out of East Germany to West Germany in order to cross the border in Berlin one year before the wall was build. The stories he tells today about this experience seem unreal. When I was 6 or 7 I was in Berlin a year before the wall fell. I remember standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate wondering what is behind it. I remember how it took us eight hours to be allowed to cross the border in our car, how they checked everything, how they walked in the rain with our passport just to be rude and how they copied everything written we had with us.

The day the wall fell "accidentally" was very emotional. I watched TV with my mom when they said in the news that they will open the borders. My mom called my dad who was still in his office and told him to come home. He didn´t believe her that they opened the border and it took him some time to come home. When he saw on TV that it was real he started crying. I had never seen my dad crying before...

The next day we drove to the border in Lauenburg where they had a checkpoint. My parents said that they needed to see it otherwise they wouldn’t believe it. The scenes at the border were unbelievable. People were crying, celebrating and hugging people they’d never seen before. Everybody was just happy. The West Germans welcomed every East German car by hitting their Trabbis (this is what East German cars were called, they only had two brands)with their hands. I will always remember when one East German lady was running towards an East German soldier crying "Why did you do that to us? Answer me! Why did you do that to us?"

A few weeks later we travelled to Berlin. We hammered little pieces out the wall by ourselves and we walked through the Brandenburg Gate for the first time......
When I had an internship at the German parliament a few years ago I had to walk through the Brandenburg Gate every day in order to reach the parliament building. I felt blessed every time that I walked through it, that this wall fell, that families or even married couples aren’t divided by this wall anymore, and that all Germans can live in peace and freedom today.
Well that was in a very, very, very short way what I remember about the Wall. I started writing everything down in German, so I don’t have it in English. If you have any questions please fell free to ask.

Thank you so much, Stephan. I post this on Veteran's Day, a day that is so significant to me now since 3 summers ago, when Greg and I went to Europe with two World War 2 vets who were portrayed in the movie, The Band of Brothers. At one of the stops, a war memorial, we met an old German vet, who went up to Buck Compton and Don Malarky to shake hands. Amazing to see men who were forced to fight against each other so many years ago, now shaking hands, smiling and putting the awful past behind them. This is what freedom is, isn't it?

It is not only when walls of brick and mortar fall, but when hearts of hate and anger and opposition also give way to reconciliation and friendship.

I wonder today, what walls in my own life, perhaps, need to fall?

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