A German Story, Part 3 of 3

We open in medias res of Horst’s story. If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2, you should go back and read them before continuing: [hyperlink to Part 1 post].

When we last left our hero, Horst had left East Berlin for the first time in his life and was eating pizza in West Berlin.

Also, we are in West Berlin. And on this day Helmut Kohl [the Chancellor of West Germany] is visiting. He was traveling in Poland, and came back to West Berlin for this day and on the street we are on we see a big crowd of people and cars coming this way, and helicopters flying overhead. And this is Helmut Kohl. So I am standing there and next to me is a beige Opel sitting right there. And a large man walks up to me, very big and as tall as I am and very stern, just like this.” He demonstrates again, and it is intimidating. As I said, he is a believable actor and is also at least two meters tall. “And he throws the car door open”— fearing that I missed the verb, he adds, “Not opens it, but rather really throws it open—right into me, so.” Horst is acting his own part again and bends over in agony, clutching his crotch. “And out of the car steps Helmut Kohl! This was his car! Not some black state vehicle, but this beige Opel. So he is walking past me and I am bending over in pain. Hahaha. And so that is my first impression of Western government,” he adds, grinning, clutching his crotch again in memory.

“All right, now is when you should take notes again. A couple of years after, a friend told me that he remembered walking by the gate on Wednesday. The 8th. And a GI—the very lowest, a GI—told him, hey, do you know the Wall is going to be opened tomorrow? And he believed nothing of it, because it was just some GI and he hadn’t heard anything about it. So he forgot.

“And I was later working for the London Times. I was still a student and I was working at a newspaper stand downstairs, and a girl I knew was working at the Observer. And I ran into her in the Alte Museum—what was she doing there, I don’t know. This was a very busy time for news and many important people to interview, and so on. And so I talked to her and she asked if I would want to work for her, preparing interviews. They were doing interviews with politicians of East Germany and needed to learn about the subject, pretend to be experts for a day and then move on to the next one. And so they had to talk to all the politicians, but the politicians wouldn’t trust Westerners and so I was a boy from the East and I could talk to them and they knew they could trust me because I was from the East. This job and one other job that I will tell you about later, when we are not at a university. This was the only thing I have ever done in my life that I am, ashamed of. But I will not tell you that now.”

“So. Now it is an interview and so I am talking to Günter Schabowski. And so I ask him, What. was. it. like, on November 9th? And he just . . . “ Horst held up a finger while he stood up, “he did this.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, looked at me for a moment meaningfully, and finally when I thought that was it, he tilted his head, puffed his cheeks out a little bit and pursed his lips, and gave a small but exaggerated shrug. It seemed to say either, “I really have no idea; I was just along for the ride as much as anyone else,” or on second thought, “I would like to tell you, but my lips are sealed.” It meant the latter, as Horst explained further. “He meant, I cannot say. He thought, this boy is from a Western newspaper, he probably has a recorder and a bug hidden on him somewhere. But you know . . . he knew. He couldn’t tell me, but it was something.”

“OK. And back in September there was a decision at BVG [the metro authority in Berlin] that there could be no vacation for the employees from November 8th and on. Absolutely no vacation. Trains must be coming every two or three minutes, every track . . .”

From the 8th of November?” I asked.

“Right, from the 8th November. Until whenever. Because after the 8th there would be so much traffic from the people coming from the east, there could not be vacation. And I have also been at this party at Christmas—Colonel Lieutenant Meier was, how do you say, Lieutenant Colonel Meier was there! This is the adjutant from Markus Wolf, the man who was the head of the entire East Berlin Ministry for State Security! Mischa Wolf! And his adjutant was at the party. Un-be-livable. And at this party were many journalists, and they were making jokes! Making jokes about how they had known about the opening of the Wall 14 days before it fell, and they made trips every day to the West to get batteries, and film, and so on because you could not get that in East Berlin. And they had filled their refrigerators with film, and clothes for a week of straight work, and so on, because they wanted to be ready with their cameras when the Wall fell. The one time in your life when you are in the middle of history . . . and they were making jokes about this! They all knew fourteen days before. And there were three Pulitzer Prize winners there, laughing about this. And then I know someone else in the middle of the city who worked in a, a cold house there for the Fruit Court. And early in the morning on November 9th, they were told to make space on the shelves for more bananas, because they were getting a 35% increase in bananas that day. And why? Because people in the East, we could not get the bananas from South America and so on but West Berlin did, they were imported. And so people would be coming to West Berlin and they would see all these bananas and would want one because they could not get them in the East, and they were afraid they would buy them all up. And then they would think, aha, in the West too they do not have enough of things! And they did not want this.”


A West German man uses a hammer and chisel to chip off a piece of the Berlin Wall as a souvenir. A portion of the Wall has already been demolished at Potsdamer Platz.

He leaned back in his chair. “And now we must make an end, I must go to my job. And you may not believe this but I have lived it with my own ears, three things! It was something very different from what you hear. But I hope that this was, something interesting, and you will write up something over the weekend? Not more than 30 minutes.”

And that was the end of Horst’s story.

I tender this taste of the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in the hope that the possibility of eventual Korean unification might cement itself in our imagination. Something similar has happened before.

Photo Credit 1

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