04 June 2012

Before I was free. An honest society.

Our first day in Berlin was a deeply moving one. Our host was kind enough to drive us to downtown Berlin and point out key historic sites. He started by showing us the remaining parts of the former Berlin wall, old Soviet buildings, and areas that were rebuilt after the American bombers destroyed just about everything as they stopped Hitler's bloody reign. During the time that Berlin and Germany were divided he lived on the eastern side of Berlin, which was the communist side. He explained to us that Germany itself was divided by a wall that stretched thousands of kilometers. Armed guards stood in towers every few hundred feet or so. On the eastern/ communist side of the wall laid the capital city Berlin which was also divided in two, by a wall. If you can visualize this west Berlin stood as an island in a sea of communist run territory. He talked about the amazing day that the wall came down. That day there was no violence, no fear, no killings. The soldiers that guarded the wall just left peacefully and the citizens themselves took down the wall that had divided them for decades with their own hands, piece by piece. He even made us laugh as he described how surprised the East Berliners were to see that there was a river on the other side of the wall! It was a total surprise to them! I remember seeing the video footage of The Berlin Wall coming down in 1989; I was twelve, at that time our host was 30. When he speaks to us about his life he refers to the first thirty years of his life as "Before I was free...".
Before he was free, he like many others, planned an escape to the other side of the wall. He was allowed to move to an apartment near the wall so he planned to dig a tunnel under the wall and even had a secret area to dump the dirt without getting caught. Before he was free he was not allowed to make any major life decisions without the government's permission. Before he was free much of his family lived on the other side of the wall and communication with them was forbidden. Before he was free he could not say the things he wanted to say, travel abroad (only with special permission he could go to other socialist countries), he was not allowed to own anything, or read a long list of forbidden books. Life was not all bad before he was free , however, he was able to begin a career as a radiologist and marry the woman who is now his ex-wife.
Hearing our host talk about his life is like sitting in the presence of a deeply peaceful part of a violent history. I've experienced this feeling talking to my 80 year old neighbors as they describe to me how they desegregated our neighborhood, schools, and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hearing these stories of oppression and separation make me even more determined to live a life that promotes unity, love, bravery, and compassion among the people on this planet. We are forever grateful for our Berlin host not only for sharing his home but for also sharing his life experiences in a way to teach the vitality of peace.
After our historical tour our host took us to the heart of Berlin and we all shared a meal of CurryWurst. Wurst is the German word for sausage. This meal is prepared as sliced sausage sprinkled with curry powder and covered in a tomato sauce. You could chose a side of bread or a side of pommes frites (French fries).
After our lunch, our host left us downtown and went on to run errands. We walked around, took pictures, and visited the Berlin TV Tower, the tallest building in Germany. After picking up take out for dinner we made our way to the metro train station, we knew which train to take but we had no idea how to buy our tickets or where to swipe them. It literally took us 35 minutes to figure it out and that is only because once again we talked to strangers. We were so confused we decided to step aside from the tickets machine and think. The couple who we let get in front of us were American and explained that they themselves had just figured out the machines the day before. You could buy a variety of tickets. Single fare, two hour unlimited, 10 stop fare, two day unlimited, 1 month pass or a one year pass. Our next question was after you buy the ticket and put on the validating stamp where do you swipe it? Well, in Germany it is trusted that you will do the right thing a pay fairly as everyone else does. Random ticket checks are performed, but not often. This is definitely not how things are done in Atlanta, or anywhere else in the US, that I've heard of. I tried very hard to think of anything at home that is somewhat based on a system of honesty. Can you think of anything? We boarded are train proud that we were getting around independently. Dude fell asleep on the ride home and This time Zane led the way on the walk from the train station. He was confident that he could find his way around in a foreign land and foreign language, He was right. Once we got home to our homestay, I also knew that we were right for taking all the risks to get here.

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