November always makes me a little bit nostalgic. This is the month where my childhood dreams took a dramatic turn. Until November of 1989, I had wanted to be a marine biologist or a veterinarian or a zookeeper. Like most little girls, I wanted to do something with animals and if those animals were cute, so much the better. Yes, I liked learning about Ancient Egypt and the incredibly secretive Phoenicians, but my perception of history was always looking back, way back.
Until the news aired on 9 November 1989. Personally, I shouldn’t have given two hoots about The Fall of the Berlin Wall. I didn’t have relatives on either side. I had zero interest in Germany except as it pertained to geography bees. However, watching people tear at the wall with pick-axes, shovels, pipes, and whatever else they could find, did impact me. My first thought was that I was watching history unfold right before my very eyes.
The impact was such, that I don’t need to look at photos or rewatch the news clips to remember the faces of the people. They were seared into my brain. I remember people smiling, singing, crying, shouting, and a few looking like the world might be in the process of ending. And I remember crying along with these happy people that I didn’t know and would probably never know. Whether their tears were out of joy or sorrow, depended on the person. For me, they were joy. I mentally understood that families had been separated for years by The Wall. However, it wasn’t until I saw it coming down that I emotionally understood it.
I was raised to believe family is very important. Not just the nuclear, immediate family, but all my family. Two of my best friends are actually cousins. And while I don’t necessarily like some of my family, they are still my family. This ingrained belief is why I cried as The Wall fell. Families were reunited. What if my cousins and I had been separated by a physical wall? Even at 9, I understood that my life would have been very different without my these lovely ladies.
My young girlish dreams of working with animals burst that day. Replaced by a desire to know everything I could about communism in Europe during the 20th century. Sure, I still wanted to be Indiana Jones most days, but who doesn’t want to be Indiana Jones? However, I wanted to become a historian. I wanted to know what it was like to live behind the Iron Curtain. I wanted to know the story of how it came to be and why The Wall had needed to be built. I understood why they were tearing it down, but not why it had been put up in the first place.
My knowledge of communism, the division of Germany, the horror stories of living behind the Iron Curtain, the difficulties of living in West Berlin while your family was stuck in East Berlin have all become a part of my information database. I took dozens of classes in Modern European history, finding answers for the questions that burned within me.
And an event that happened 35 years ago, can still bring tears to my eyes. Last night, as I watched the news and they rebroadcast some of the original news footage, I found myself wiping away a few tears. Those initial feelings stirred and it was like watching it for the first time all over again.