When we (my family) found ourselves as political refugees in Sweden in 1980, we assumed never to set foot in the former East Bloc again. Never. This was it. We escaped and considered ourselves lucky to be free and the idea of ever returning home was absurd and unreal. The years that followed were the years that any refugee or immigrant would understand. The consuming feeling of never to belong anywhere. Never to feel home anywhere again and yet being home everywhere to a certain degree. While something, somewhere deep inside, would never be complete again.
Therefore the chain of events that unraveled later that decade and brought eventually the end of the Cold War holds a very important place in my heart and soul.
Today is the official twenty years anniversary of the fall of The Berlin Wall. I think we all can remember November 1989, when our television screens were filled with images of joyful Germans, climbing over the Berlin Wall and rushing through the open borders to celebrate freedom. And some would finally be reunited with family members they might have not seen for what must have felt like eternity.
This force to end the decades of oppression spread through out the eastern Europe, even into Czechoslovakia where the Velvet Revolution saw the overthrow of the Communist government later that same year.
And so that, which once seemed impossible, came to pass.
In the spring of 1990, only months after the fall of communism, my family drove into Czech republic for the first time since our escape. I can still recall the chills running down my spine as we crossed the borders. As the guards at the checkpoints required our passports, the look in their eyes and the way they scrutinized our faces brought back memories of times, when these borders used to confine us. Later, I often used to wonder what they really did think of us and people like us; did they think us to be traitors or did they think us to be brave (stupid) enough to venture back? The guard handed us the passports at one point in a aloof manner, confusing my parents. As my father asked is we could continue across the border, the man in the uniform gave us one last look, waving his hand, uttering with a sting of nonchalance "If you really wish..." For a split second, as the gates closed behind us, an eerie feeling enveloped my heart and as we drove quietly onto the soil of my former home, an absurd thought of fear crossed my mind, instigating the feel of being trapped once again...
However, when we reached Prague, the onset of freedom was palpable in every corner of the city. To this day this first visit home was the most significant visit of them all. It was bittersweet in every way and reinforced the fact that one can go home, but one can never ever go back.
Later that summer we drove back to Prague again. We took the night ferry from Sweden and arrived in West Germany on an early summer morning, watching the sun rise as we disembarked the ship. Our plan was to visit Berlin on our way down and gaze at the remains of the Berlin Wall. I recall the drive very vividly. Barely a year after the fall of the wall, the signs of the old regime could still be perceived as we passed the empty border controls at one of the checkpoints that led the autobahn through a sort of no-man zone into the city. The deserted border buildings stood as silent witnesses to an era that has ended, yet was still very much present. On the pictures below that I took out of the car, one can still see the old Trabants, the undying symbols of the former DDR, driving ahead of us on the highway. Seeing one today is considered a rarity.
As we arrived in Berlin early on a Sunday morning, the city was still asleep. We reached the Brandenburg Gate which was empty, completely devoid of people or animals, cars or any kind of sound. I think what I recall the most was the unusual feeling of the place. It was filled with a sense of nostalgia and even a certain sadness. I felt as if we were walking through a deserted city. As we strolled around for almost an hour in complete silence and without meeting a soul, we passed the Reichstag Building and finally reached the wall. This was the first time that I stood face to face with this important structure in our history. I remember touching it and trying to envision the years of oppression and the shed of blood and tears that it symbolized. My parents can be seen on the pictures I post here. My mother stands at the lonely wall in one of them, while my father is seen walking. I wonder to this day what my parents were thinking. Their body language and their silence is maybe an answer in itself. The solitude and the melancholy of the pictures is hauntingly symbolic of what these are all about...
We all took a piece of the wall. I do no longer have mine, as it has disappeared through all the relocating that took place in my life over the years. But it doesn't matter. It was just a piece of concrete. The most important souvenir is the one that I carried away from this place in my mind. The idea that nothing is written in stone. Nothing is ever final and that history, although brutal and cruel in most parts also carries moments of monumental victories.
(Please click the below to enlarge).
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