Alumni Horae: Vol. 95, No. 1 Fall 2014 - page 7

Remembering the Berlin Wall, 25 Years Later
by Richard Schade ’62
By the day I made it to Berlin in November 1989,
the clink of steel on concrete reverberated off
the Berlin Wall, bounced off the abandoned
buildings lining no-man’s-land. On its western
flank, Berliners and others hammered away,
collecting chunks of world-historical import.
I joined them, having rented a hammer and
cold chisel from a vendor – 10 marks for half
an hour.
I walked from Checkpoint Charlie, where
U.S. and Soviet tanks faced one another down
muzzle to muzzle in 1961, on by the Branden-
burg Gate (originally named the Gate of Peace),
all the way to Bernauer Strasse, made famous
by frantic East Berliners jumping from apart-
ment house windows to freedom in the West,
thinking back on my previous encounters with
the Wall.
In central Berlin, the Wall traced the border
of the Soviet sector. It was put in place during
the summer before my Sixth Form year (Au-
gust 1961) and I was among those who learned
from J. Carroll McDonald that autumn term
– he parsed the Cold War crisis with incisive
precision. Later, in college, I encountered
the realities of East Berlin firsthand, having
crossed through Checkpoint Charlie into the
proverbial cold – one had to surrender one’s
passport through a small window, becoming
stateless until your name was called. Some
years later, I served as a counterintelligence
operative in Berlin and along the East/West
German divide, observing the comings and
goings of East European agents, debriefing
them, listening to their putative life stories
before they were handed off to West German
intelligence. Then, during subsequent decades,
I guided American college students into East
Berlin, waiting on pins and needles for their
return at Checkpoint Charlie, and I have tales
to tell.
So it was that my career came to be marked
by visits to and through the Berlin Wall. And so
it was that I wept for the joy of it all, standing
at the Brandenburg Gate in November 1989,
observing jubilant Germans atop the Wall. The
photos I shot on that walk document the Wall’s
western flank as text, as canvas, expressing the
aspirations of visitors like me (or those punsters
from Walla-Walla), and I couldn’t resist putting
my arm through the Wall eastward surprising
a border guard, for the souvenir hunters had
breached the barrier long before East German
construction crews disassembled the structure,
segment by segment.
In 2009, I procured one such segment for
installation at Cincinnati’s Freedom Center.
There it commemorates those who overcame
totalitarianism in non-violent demonstrations
against the regime – not a single shot was fired,
all the while chanting “Wir sind das Volk,” a
mantra echoing the American phrase “We the
People.” It was the disenfranchised East German
citizenry in Berlin and elsewhere that achieved
the first progressive revolution in all of German
history, among them the current president
of united Germany and Germany’s current
This is what I remember 25 years after the
fall of the Berlin Wall.
Richard Schade is a professor of German at
the University of Cincinnati and an honorary
consul to the Federal Republic of Germany.
This segment of the Berlin Wall was a gift
to Cincinnati from the City of Berlin.
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