Friday, 22 September 2017

Face to Face With a Little Cold War Reality

I caught a Taxi this afternoon. It wasn’t a long trip.

I travelled from my Hotel in Berlin to Berlin Vital Expo where the formal registration took place for the Berlin Marathon. I am number 58,818.

It was a most enlightening Taxi ride.

But I will come back to that later.

Earlier in the day, I joined a Fat Tire Tours Group for their “Berlin Wall and Cold War” Tour. Our tour guide was Ciaran who hailed from Ireland. Our experience was enchanting, educational, entertaining and thought provoking.

Ciaran took us on a tour tracing the Cold War history of the East and the West, the events preceding the raising of the Berlin Wall, the Eastern architectural changes that occurred as “dictators” changed and the way of life of those in the East compared to the West.

He outlined with physical examples the efforts the East went to in order to protect their way of life by inhibiting exposure to western culture, manipulating information, restricting discussion and a regime of propaganda. Residents of the East had little say in how they dressed, what the read and the music they could listen too.

I wasn’t exactly shocked to learn that one in nine residents of East Berlin were registered secret police informers, but I was disappointed.

We learned of children falling in to the river that separated east from west and how they would be allowed to drown. If help came from the West, they would be shot as soon as they entered the water and if help came from the east, the saviours would be shot also, by their own under suspicion of attempting to escape.

We went to the Russian Memorial and learned about the history that resulted in its establishment. We also learned about the Berliner’s less than complimentary take on the centrepiece of the memorial referred to by Russia as being the Unknown soldier.

We also heard about the events that lead to the fall of the Berlin wall and these are well worth researching because at the end, a “stuff up” at a press conference directly hastened reunification.

Something that came as a surprise to me was learning that a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall, many of those previously living under the suppression of the East wanted the wall to go up again.

In the East, they lived a controlled, consistent life with job security and life certainty. Each day was a mirror image of the last. When Germany became “whole” again, they were subjected to market pressures because “the state” no longer provided for them. Many struggled to adapt.

Back to my Taxi journey.

My driver was older than me. He asked why I was going to the Vital Berlin and was impressed I had travelled to Berlin to run their marathon. Berliners have great pride in their marathon.

He asked about my day and my reply resulted in further discussion and me asking if he was from the East of the West. He was from the East.

He was very clear that the falling of the wall was positive in all ways. He conceded many struggled to survive in the new world of the west but said the concern they expressed about this were with the security and knowledge the wall was never being re-instated.

He said the struggles he has faced as an under educated East Berliner of the separatist days finding regular and reliable work since re-unification are irrelevant compared to the freedom of thought and expression he has enjoyed for nearly 30 years.

He told me he was 21 years old when first locked up for political insubordination. Further, he told me he has no idea what he did or said that resulted in being locked up at 21 years of age.

I gathered he was incarcerated on several subsequent occasions.

He admitted he was a free-thinking young Eastern Berliner who despised the subservience his family, friends and countrymen had been subjected too. He said he was also aware of the rules however his concerns must have filtered through to his everyday way of life.

He suggested that those who say they want the wall restored, do so for political reasons and in reality, do not want a return to separate states and all the fear that brings. However, my taxi driver is most proud that they get to express their desire because for so long, opinions were not allowed.

It was a fascinating day, made even more so by my short taxi ride that brought the learnings of the day in to reality.

I also suspect very many people here will have similar stories to tell, and tell them they should.

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