It's the 20th anniversary of an emotional day.
Do you remember where you were the day the Berlin Wall fell? A student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, I stood in my dorm room and watched in incredulous disbelief on our tiny black and white television set as people stood on top of the biggest symbol of oppression of my lifetime, tearing it apart, piece by piece. And I cried.
When I was a little girl, our family moved to a tiny town in Bavaria called Wetzell, population 100. My brother and I attended West German schools and became fluent in the language, and to some degree, the culture.
When I was about eight years old, we went on a car trip to Berlin. It left quite an impression. After a long drive we came to a checkpoint staffed by East German guards. After taking our American passports they disappeared into their guard station, eventually returning and allowing us to pass. (If you've ever been in an Eastern block country and have someone disappear with your passport, it's a pretty unsettling feeling).
Once we arrived in West Berlin, after seeing the remnants of bombed-out churches and buildings, walking the wall and seeing the museum dedicated to East/West escape attempts, we took the subway to the Eastern part of town. The subway system left no "gray area" as to when you hit the wall: the walls abruptly go from being roughly 5' out on either side of the car to mere inches. (Presumably to not allow anyone to hold on to the side of the car to escape). A few old stops in the "no man's land' were empty, except for the East German army guards with loaded machine guns.
Arrival on the East side meant a required exchange of money, and we could finally get out to see the city. Having just left the bright lights, honking cars, and big traffic of the West side, we emerged into a gray, dreary, dark place on the East. Evidently they had just had some sort of uprising… there were armed soldiers on every corner with loaded machine guns standing at attention. My brother Drew was fascinated and proceeded to talk to one until he finally talked back out of the corner of his mouth. A small victory of humanity in an otherwise alienating, depressing place.
Even as a little kid, seeing the disparity between what it looks like to live in a place were people get to vote (REALLY vote) vs not made a big impression on me. I vote whenever they let me.