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Gift of History: The Berlin Wall

Published April 07, 2008        by Nicole

It was snowing. The snow came down in white sheets that went yellow in the street lights. At the end of the boulevard there was a monument to the wall. It was a great block of plain cement. On one side the back end of a big American car from the 1950s stood out in the circle of the street lights. There was a similar tail end coming out on the other side. The cars were covered with snow.

We walked down the boulevard. At one end there was the ruined church and the new church stood next to it. They left it, she said, from the war. She didn’t say, which war, because it was clear and everywhere you went the war was there even if no one spoke abut it.

At the train depot you looked at the names of the stations and that was the war as well but no one spoke about it and it was as if you were in a crowded elevator but no one said anything.

Every day the news was about the wall. There were crowds at the wall and people coming and going, but no one knew what was happening.

I waited with her and she became impatient. We went for a drive. There is no speed limit on the freeways and she drove very fast. She drove fast but other cars went by us in a humming-blur. You heard the hum, like a massive, bloated wasp, angry and determined was coming at you, and then there was the elongated blur of a car going by you.

We are Germans, she said, smiling with wry humor, we don’t know what to do, so we try to do everything perfectly.

We walked in the woods. It was bitterly cold. The ground was frozen. We walked down to a lake and the water was very still and sharply blue. We went to a restaurant that looked over the lake. We drank hot cocoa favors and spoke about nothing in particular. The waiters were gathering around the television behind the bar.

The next day she was up early, watching the news. She turned from station to station. Then she said, she couldn’t wait any longer and that we should go see it for ourselves.

There were people everywhere and barricades and television crews. On top of the wall, a lone East German guard stood, forlornly, looking at everyone. He was wearing a forest green winter jumpsuit. In his hands he held an automatic rifle. He looked confused.

We walked down the length of the wall. She translated the graffiti. Far down the wall, away from the crowd, we passed two young boys. They had a small pick and they were taking turns hitting the wall. She spoke to them. They laughed and the one with the pick handed it to her and she said it was a great gift to say thank you.

She hit the wall and the metal echoed in the crisp winter air. She hammered out two pieces of the wall. She smiled and handed the pick back to the boys.

Here, she said, this is for you.

She handed me a piece of the wall.

A gift, she said, from history, to you.