Fast forward to 2015. Not only were Sally and I looking forward to a nostalgic trip back to Germany and a visit with friends in Augsburg and Ansbach, but we also had the pleasure of sharing this journey with our sixteen-year-old grandson Gavin. Forty-two years from our first visit, we landed in Berlin on December 7, excited to see how the city had changed. We could never have imagined how great that change would be.
Our new Marriott hotel was located near Potsdamer Platz, a section of the city that was once behind the Wall in the former East Berlin. As we walked about the area we were stuck by the vibrancy, prosperity, new development, and excitement of locals and visitors. Busy stores, restaurants, and businesses abounded. As we crisscrossed the city the brick trace of the Wall, laid out in brass, could be seen meandering along the pavements and streets. Except for chunks here and there the Wall was gone but its history not forgotten.
Checkpoint Charlie now existed only as a tourist stop, the guard house remaining but actors in quasi military dress now playing the crossing guards. Museums to recall the Nazi era, the Holocaust, Cold War, East German gadgets and lifestyle were all available to the public to visit and to remember, with sobering clarity and sometimes with humor. We’ll never forget walking past Trabi World Tours.
The old Trabant had made a comeback! An enterprising and apparently successful Berliner provided rentals for tourists. Who could resist travelling the city and experiencing a ride in this unforgettable “classic”!? It was another great example of entrepreneurial capitalism popping up in unexpected places.
Perhaps our most enduring memory came at the start of our trip. When we landed in Berlin it was late afternoon, and as our taxi sped into the city the early December night had fallen. The lights along the streets showed a city alive with activity and the Christmas season beginning. Straight ahead we could see in the distance the Brandenburg Gate brightly lit. Through its arches were clearly visible an enormous Christmas tree, a large Menorah and Star of David. All three were brightly shining and spoke in such a powerful way of reconciliation in a city once torn by hatred and oppression. We will always be grateful for the blessing of this gracious memory, a beautiful benediction to our Berlin experiences. Indeed, “… it was the best of times.”
P.S. From co-authors, Eric and Sally: for excellent reference, we recommend the book
The Collapse, The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall, by Mary Elise Sarotte.