In the Autumn of 1988, I had a nightmare that I was traveling through Checkpoint Charlie from the East side with an East German tucked away in the trunk of my car. As I neared the checkpoint, my heart raced with fear that I would be caught and jailed.

I dreamed of this while visiting Berlin in the fall of 88, but I would have never dared to bring anyone across. The Russian guards on the East side of Checkpoint Charlie were so intimidating with their uniforms, fur caps, and rifles. They took their time inspecting our vehicle and paperwork before allowing us into the Eastern sector and then again on our way out.

My then-husband was a U.S. Army officer working in Kitzingen, and I worked for the German-American Public Affairs Office in Würzburg. The 300-mile drive to Berlin required us to pass through the three allied checkpoints–Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. To make the trip we first had to obtain special permission from the Army. Our drive time between the checkpoints was recorded, and we were warned not to make any stops or get off the main road for any reason which, understandably, caused great angst to my husband when I required a bio break. (You can read more about the checkpoints here and here.)

Driving through East Germany and visiting both East and West Berlin was impactful, aside from causing me a terrible nightmare. I was both surprised and frightened by the sight of buildings still littered with bullet holes from the war. On the other hand, I couldn’t believe how much the equivalent of $10 could buy–a six course meal at the best restaurant, or a box full of lead crystal glasses and a beautiful vase. A vivid memory I have is going out after dark to the open air market where wrinkle-faced women bundled against the cold and sold their wares. I bought a water kettle for the equivalent of 25 cents and a ceramic pitcher for 75 cents.

In November 1989, the wall came crumbling down, and the days and weeks that followed littered West German roadsides with East German Trabants abandoned when they couldn’t go anymore. There was no comparison between an East German Trabant and the West German BMW or Mercedes, so it’s not surprising that the Trabant manufacturer went out of business the year following the reunification on October 3, 1990.

This brings me to today’s celebration of reunification 29 years ago referred to as Tag der Deutschen Einheit.

When I first moved to Germany in 1985, I was working on an undergraduate degree in politics. As part of my program, I visited the German Bundesrat, a legislative body of appointed officials who, together with the elected Bundestag oversee policy and legislative decisions. At the time, the seat of government was in Bonn. During my visit, I remember feeling amused and highly doubtful when the Bundesrat official described Bonn as the “temporary capital” until East and West Germany were reunited and the capital moved once again to Berlin.

On the day the East Germans were given permission to leave, and the wall subsequently hammered away, I remembered the confidence with which this official spoke and my lack of faith that it would ever happen. Since then, I’ve remained more flexible in my thinking, especially when it comes to politics–homeland or foreign.

Given that Tag der Deutschen Einheit is a national holiday, it’s a day of hanging out with friends, eating, and drinking. This day has meaning for me, too, since it brings back many memories of my four years living and working in Germany.

It’s nice to be back again, and I’ll definitely raise my glass in celebration.




Activate Your Braveheart by Sheila Callaham


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