Opinion: The Berlin Wall takes a fall -- 25 years on

An original segment of the Berlin Wall is presented in Leipzig, Germany.
An original segment of the Berlin Wall is presented in Leipzig, Germany.
(Peter Endig / EPA)

It’s true about the eye of a meteorological hurricane being calm, but not a political one.

Even so, when you’re right there -- as I was, in the tumult of Berlin 25 years ago, in the days after the wall began to come down -- it’s hard to take in the full magnitude of an event people will read about in history books when I am dirt.

Nov. 9 is the date in books, but the wall didn’t tumble down all at once, like a snaky line of dominoes; it was hacked and bulldozed away in bits and pieces, over days and weeks, as fortifications fell and guards melted away.

By the time I got there, several days after Nov. 9, the tension of the first hours had turned into a sense of merry inevitability.

In the chilly darkness, enterprising West Berliners set up tables and ladled out hot spiced wine for 2 marks a cup. Walking along the wall, the place sounded, I wrote then, like a coal mine -- the clanging and whanging of souvenir-hunters taking mementos with crowbars and chisels and penknives. An American soldier from Kentucky, stationed in Germany, watched them. A month before, he told me, they’d have been shot for doing stuff like that. He himself hefted a chunk of wall into the trunk of his car.


One day, I ventured into East Berlin, and its immense deserted plazas and boulevards looked like a stage set left behind from a show that had folded.

One night, after midnight, I climbed up one of the ladders that West Berliners had hauled out, and perched atop the wall for a while, sitting with other Americans who were trying to converse with the East German border guards below. We were within sight of Checkpoint Charlie, known to every Cold War American as the crossing point of East and West Berlin. I had to keep telling myself that I was here, and here was the fulcrum where the balance of the world was tipping again, this time away from totalitarianism toward freedom.

The wall that stood for 28 years has now been down for 25. Soon it will be 30, and 50, and eventually Hadrian’s Wall and Berlin’s, built nearly two millennia apart, may wind up in the same Wikipedia entry.

But there are other kinds of walls that tyrants and terrorists still erect -- in people’s heads. Dismantling those, as we are learning, will take a lot more than chisels.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes