Ich bin ein Berliner: The Berlin Wall – 25 Years later

Today is a special memorial day for me: The Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, Nov. 9 1989.

Ich bin ein Berliner.

I was born in Berlin, not even two years before the Berlin wall went up in August 1961. Both my parents are from East-Germany and foresaw the lack of opportunity in that Russian occupied part of Germany (the DDR or GDR) and moved to West-Berlin in the mid 1950’s.

I vividly remember the many trips we took – as a young boy – from West-Berlin through East Germany to West-Germany, through two intensively guarded border crossings, with dogs, guns, barbed wire, soldiers, uniforms, movable 50 cm thick concrete walls, tanks .. when visiting friends and family in West-Germany, where we ended up moving to in 1968.

Berlin was a city in decline in the late 1960’s to the late 80’s due to its isolation. But, due no urban sprawl due to the wall Berlin contained much of the energy in its core with a very lively arts and culture scene. Just the last ten years or so, with the move of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin in the 1990’s and massive reconstruction, really has it sprung to life again. I was considering buying apartment buildings in Berlin about 6-7 years ago which would have actually been a good idea as building prices have gone up 40-60%.

When the wall came down in Nov. 1989, we lived in Burnaby, near Vancouver, having just moved there from Edmonton – to an exciting city but a lousy job – with my young Canadian wife Lynda who I met in Edmonton when I did my MBA there from 1986-1988. I took note of her for the first time in earnest when she attended a presentation I was giving about Germany and Berlin actually, where I said to the audience that my dream was to walk through an open Brandenburg Gate before I died. Little did I know of course that not even two years later that dream would come true. So, Berlin and my (now mainly) Canadian life are thus intimately connected as perhaps without my now wife attending we may not have connected and then later, married, and thus you would now not read this post as you likely would not know me.

We listened to the news intently on TV and radio in Nov. 1989 in those pre-internet days. (remember those ?) It was perhaps the then emerging news of this world wide event in late 1989 that caused us to re-think what we were doing in Vancouver and indeed ended up moving to Munich about a year later with our young one year old son where I joined IBM. We lived in Munich for 2 1/2 years where our daughter was born, and then moved back to Toronto with IBM, ending up in Calgary 3 years later, in 1995.

The wall was frequently in my consciousness, as we visited Berlin often even when we lived near Duesseldorf in W-Germany since we frequently visited my mother’s cousins, our adopted “aunts” in Berlin-Zehlendorf, near the SW wall, Havel and Wannsee, and would often walk towards Glienicker Bruecke which was used often for spy exchanges during the Cold War) and Jagdschloss Glienicke, through Grunewald towards Krumme Lanke. The bridge which was fenced off and a few farmhouses nearby were completely encircled by the wall incl the road leading up to it on both sides. Some Berlin wall pictures here, there are thousands more of course.

On a side note, rarely told: my “aunts” from Berlin were born in the 1920’s. So when WWII ended in 1945 they were in prime marrying age in their mid 20’s but there was a shortage of men of similar age as so many had died in WWII. They ended up unmarried and childless, and as such my sister, my brother and I became their “adopted” children. Plenty of free dinners, Rote Gruetze and relatively lavish Christmas gifts as we were relatively impoverished then. Fond memories.  They lived like a couple for decades in that narrow townhouse on three floors, and died within months of each other.

Great summary of events from the end of WWII that caused the separation of Germany and the capital city, Berlin, and why there is a wall .. and the event leading up to its fall in Nov. 1989 here.

The “Ich bin ein Berliner” words by JFK are actually somewhat out of context. Here is what JFK actually said in his famous speech in 1963 – seen here with Berlin mayor and later German Chancellor Willy Brandt, at the end “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words: Ich bin ein Berliner.” JFK’s short yet very powerful speech here .. famous last words at 9:40.

Ronald Reagan gave his relevant speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 with the famous “Mr. Gorbatchov, tear down this wall” [at 12:00]. He had a “Koffer in Berlin”. Clearly spoken anti-communist language rare today ! The wall did come down only about two years later as Thatcher and him pressured Russia relentlessly those days, something we did not see when Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year.

The Berlin wall will forever be a reminder of the benefits of democracy over autocratic states, as we are fortunate to live in a free society here in Europe, US or Canada. That is why so many folks who do not have it continue to come here, creating demand for real estate (both acquired and to rent).

So, you see, PrestProp and the Berlin Wall are somehow connected (for me anyway) !