When Walls Fall

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Walls – whether meant to keep people out or kept them in, separated and apart – have a way of falling. With the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at hand, Holly Hubbard Preston has this Perspective.

On the evening of November 9, 1989, I was seated at a bar in San Francisco, celebrating my birthday with friends when I looked up at the television and my jaw dropped.

Pictured on the screen were East and West Berliners hacking away at the cement wall that had divided them for 28 years. The jubilant scene—so unexpected in my lifetime—moved me to tears.

The 866-mile long barrier system that divided East and West Germany, including Berlin, was supposed to stand for another 50, even 100 years. That’s what Erich Honecker, East Germany’s last president, told the nation 10 months before the communist regime collapsed and he was forced to resign.

The year prior I’d accompanied a German friend on a visit to her family in West Berlin. In her car, we traveled from Bavaria across the border into East Germany where we were confined to the heavily armed transport corridor that led to the democratic island city that was West Berlin.

Though I’d traveled through the Soviet Bloc before, this was my first trip to West Berlin and the experience rattled me. I had West German friends with relatives in the east who hadn’t seen one another in decades—not because they didn’t want to but because the communist regime would not allow it, fearing such familial exchanges would undermine its ideology

Reflecting back on those long ago images, I’m reminded of the impermanence of walls—real and imagined.

Today, Germany is unified country.

The U.S.? Less so.

While no physical wall separates Americans from one another, the country is clearly divided. What separates us is not cement or barbed wire, but race, religion, class, and politics stacked like bricks atop one another.

If I’ve learned anything from the German unification 30 years ago, it’s that differences need not divide. And that the will of the people makes for a mighty pick ax when held in a defiant, collective hand.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a North Bay writer.