When I was 23, I visited West Berlin in the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time. We lived in West Germany, as it was called, as part of the US Army Forces stationed there to protect the "West" from the the threat of communism from the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union...aka the "East".
I had one of those "a-ha" moments in Berlin. Specifically, I was standing in East Berlin, just a little ways from Alexanderplatz with its huge TV tower. There were grey buildings all around me, some still showing bomb damage from World War II forty years previous.
I looked up, glancing over the high concrete wall in front of me. I saw the old Reichstag. The seat of West Germany's government was Bonn, and the old Reichstag housed a museum "Questions of German History". But West German flags still flew above the building. And for the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to be free.
I could travel back through the checkpoints and guards, through the hassles of showing papers and being glared at and looked over. But I could. I could get around that wall and stand in front of those West German flags. The same could not be said for some of the people around me.
I was free.
That appreciation has never left me. It is why I celebrated so much when the country that so warmly welcomed me to call it home for three years was reunified. When that damned wall came down.
I own a small chunk of the Berlin wall. No, I did not buy it from Bloomingdales or Macys. It was retrieved by a young East German student and given to me in support of his trip to New Jersey in 1989. It is one of my treasures.
The joy in my heart at being able to take this photo can not be put into words.
Nothing to keep one in or out.
The government came up with a clever way to remind visitors and residents alike of the almost 30 years the wall existed.
A simple double row of bricks marks where a city, and a people, were separated.
And the Reichstag, with her new dome, is once again the house of the government for the German People.