The day after the wall opened, my mother watched my young daughters so I could go back and witness the events at the former border. I hurried off towards the city center near the Brandenburg Gate. People were sitting astride the pipe that topped the Wall, locking arms to hold their balance. East Germans? West Germans? It was impossible to tell. Below them, men and women chipped away at the concrete with hammers and chisels. One man’s strong swings seemed powered by years of pent- up frustration and his wife laughed as she pocketed the concrete chips he handed to her. John Lennon’s voice was turned up loud on somebody’s speakers: Imagine all the people, sharing all the world…”
Overnight, Berlin had transformed itself from Cold War icon to global symbol of liberation. West Berlin lived up to its reputation as the beacon of the free world. Banks stayed open around the clock to hand out “welcoming money” of one hundred Deutschmark to every East German. Supermarket chains distributed soft drinks and bananas from trucks. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” was performed at the Philharmonic free of charge. There were free rock concerts and theatre performances. All public transportation was gratis.
A few days later, the observation platform I had climbed with my mother had already been dismantled. Congo drums throbbed, tools battered against concrete, cameras whirred and flashed. A giant full autumn moon rose in the pink late afternoon sky. And then, a great flock of crows flew from East to West, across the former fortification. The crowd hushed at nature’s spectacular metaphor of westward migration. After a moment, the cacophony resumed. Green vans pulled up to the Wall, the policemen who jumped out were laughing, good-natured. Using megaphones, they told the happy revelers to get down from the Wall. When the Mauer was bare, huge cranes rolled close. Their giant metal fangs clamped around one of the concrete slabs and hoisted it high into the air. A thunder of voices and applause brought out goose bumps on my arms. The crane kept working.
The Wall wasn’t falling, it was lifted up and moved away. Not a bullet was fired, no blood was shed. No one imagined it would be like that.