28 years ago tonight, I was standing in front of the Berlin Wall, watching it being destroyed, pulled down, torn to shreds, history changing, political climates moving. And I was drunk as a skunk.
Ok, let’s put it this way. Stories of that night are some of the best drunken bar stories I could ever summon. I remember everything about that night, but couldn’t tell you a thing about the three days that followed. And before I go on, I have to say how much I love this pic. It truly does look like a bunch of boys from BAHS, and notice the second from the left swigging his Sekt. 🙂
It was an amazing night, full of history, full of insanity. I am grateful that I was there by accident. Didn’t mean to GO there because it was happening, but was living there, looking for a party, and finding myself telling my friends, “Let’s go before anyone else gets there!” Oh, the madness of being 17. Of course, by the time we got there thousands of people were already waiting to watch it happen. And we just fell into the crowd and started drinking.
There were these observation stands that we had on our side that were utilized by us on the Western side to peer over into the East. Now, a lot of people don’t realize that there were TWO walls. One that surrounded West Berlin, then a huge stretch of land that had land mines, then a SECOND wall. This was not just a concrete slab that divided a city, but rather, a death trap that surrounded one of the largest cities in Europe to keep people from getting OUT of the Soviet Union. Getting through was impossible, and escapes were rare.
However, we had these sort of observation stands that people on the West would… well, stand on, with many people having long standing, decade long dates to communicate with family members they had not seen in years, communicating in sign language. Now, the night the Wall fell, I climbed up on one of these stands that already had a hundred people clambering to hold on to, peering into the other side. Now, I’m a wiry guy, so I was able to hand on like a monkey for dear life off the side. To my left I heard the whirring of a platform rising beside me. No more than three feet from me was Dan Rather being lifted into the air to begin his broadcast for his network. Bright lights were everywhere, big crowds reveling in the moment, alcohol flying, chanting and yelling, noise and rambunctiousness everywhere! I saw him, he saw me and we both in a way of tilting the head were able to peer over the Wall and see this long line of ever patient people in the thousands, single file, quite silent, passports in hand, waiting for the moment the border would be open. The contrast of our excitement, versus their trepidation was astounding. I looked to Dan Rather, he looked to me and said quite humbly, “Shit….”
A few hours later I was down with the crowd, mingling and drinking and watching people come through to hug total strangers, flowers being put in the barrels of rifles, West Germans handing out celebration and alcohol, East Germans still asking, “Are you SURE I’m allowed to be here? It’s not a trick? They won’t shoot me?”
Witnessing history happen is much different than being a part of history. I was never a part, but salivated in watching it unfold right before my eyes. We were there, at the biggest party that century had ever seen, decrying, dismissing, destroying a socialist empire dead set on killing its people should they try to abandon it without firing a single shot.
That was when that pivotal moment happened, that singular moment in history when we watched communism die (TAKE A LESSON YOU IDIOT LIBERALS!), where we began to dismantle the Wall piece by piece. It started with little pick axes, car keys, crow bars, anything anyone had to chip away at the Wall with was being utilized. And soon, huge chunks were pulled to the ground, stomped on, dismissed. Of course I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn’t have anything worthy of chipping away at concrete. So my drunken little mind began to while away. You see, I had this bottle of Sekt that I had been drinking (it’s a really shitty German sparkling wine you can get for real cheap, and real cheap people were handing them out to keep the party going). I thought to myself, “you know, I could take this bottle, smash it upside the Wall, and use the broken bits to chip away at the Wall!” So, I lifted the bottle in the air, held it high and way behind as though I were coming in for a hot landing, gave it some tork, gave it some speed, smashed the bottle against the Wall, broke the bottle into a nice shardy mess….and kept going, slicing open my leg.
I was far too drunk to care. I laughed, bled on my pants, bled on the people I hugged. I don’t remember going home. But, I do remember being there for one of the most cataclysmic moments in world history. I still have that scar on my leg. I see it when I shower and smile a little. That’s a moment of history right there. I was there. I was THERE.
So, when people ask, “You lived in Berlin? You were there when the Berlin Wall fell?” I reply quickly, “Oh, yes. Absolutely.”
“And do you have a piece of the Wall from that night?”
“I sure do…..in my leg.” 🙂
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