I was on my own this time, having lost touch with most of my college friends who made the trip the last time. I had David’s number and called him, but he was recently married and couldn’t come with me, but I quickly made new friends and, since this was their first time visiting Germany, they saw everything in a more carefree way, unencumbered by memories of a divided country.
By the time we got to Berlin, I was amazed at how everything had changed with the wall gone, and the enterprising locals had set up tables on both sides of Brandenburg Gate, hawking everything from authentic Soviet-era hats, badges, and uniforms, to “certified” chunks of the Berlin Wall mounted on plaques and frames. A good deal of the wall had come down, but a short walk brought us to a place where the wall still stood, and here old men were renting hammers and chisels so we could take home a piece of the action.
I must admit that I succumbed to this gimmick on a purely visceral level, for I could in some small way feel like I was a part of that glorious night of November 9, 1989, as I stood in Berlin with a hammer and chisel. As I chopped away at the wall where graffiti covered most of the concrete, I got a chunk off about the size of a baseball.
Another tourist a few feet away from me managed to yank a complete brick out of the wall. He rubbed his hand over it to remove the dust and debris and walked away with it very contentedly. I thought about that old Pink Floyd song, and looked down at the piece I had in my hand. Satisfied with that, I put it in my pocket and I still have it to this day, kept in a special box labeled “Berlin Wall 1990.”
As we walked around town, there was such an overwhelming euphoria and a true feeling of freedom. I passed near where I had seen those boys sitting on the steps in the rain years ago, and there were teenagers standing there holding a basketball and dressed ostensibly like American teens in jeans, sneakers, and backwards baseball caps. Freedom indeed had come to East Berlin.
I traveled to other places in Eastern Europe that summer of 1990, and I encountered much of the same excitement and saw people reveling in the sun openly, literally laughing and dancing in the streets. Buskers could be found in all the big cities like Dresden, Prague, and Budapest, and other street performers filled the squares with colorful entertainment. Also, American products were being advertised everywhere, as the move toward the West came complete with Marlboro cigarettes, Budweiser beer, and McDonald’s hamburgers.