A wall to remember

We’re walking parallel to the monster, or the remains of it, during one of our travels in the summer of 2015. We’re at Berlin now. Just as we walk past a road cross over, the first cracks are visible. A little further and there’s a gaping hole. A hole that could fit a big dog. Or a small boy/girl. As I begin feeling goosebumps in my body, there’s this eerie sensation which I find difficult to explain. After walking 100 yards, I recollect something I read in a novel a few months back, about how a man and woman climbed to the terrace of a building from the East side of the monster, trying to slide their way to the west side through a wire! Of course in the story, there are soldiers from the East side who have orders to shoot on sight, while soldiers from the West side offer morale boosting cheers that we find in sports stadiums! Tragically, the woman reaches the West side without much damage while the man is shot, injures his back and loses the use of his spine. Interestingly as we took a free walking tour that morning, the guide narrated a similar story, supposedly real minus the novel drama. Perhaps there was a couple after all, with the possibility of a child or two, who did heroically cross the monster from East to West through some wire. At that point nothing sounded unreal!

As my wife and I walked further at one of its ends, we reach a building. Now a historical museum, but once a place of torture. People were brought for no reason, questioned, tortured and the story goes on. We immerse ourselves in the history of Berlin. Of what all its people experienced for decades. When we stop to read a small narrative in one of the tomb stone like structure, I feel sad, a deep sense of sorrow and above all compassion for the poor souls that had to endure such trauma. To be separated from your loved ones. To be humiliated, to live in fear every moment. To not know who is what. We finish our visit and come back to the monster. We trace back our steps. At the other end, there’s a check point. We arrive at check point Charlie.

We are at the East side. It was a little hot, I was exhausted physically and a little mentally. I wanted to recharge myself. We enter Starbucks for a cup of coffee. As we enter, my thoughts go back to years. I wonder what structure was present in place of the Starbucks where I was using the free Wi-Fi now. We finish and come out. We go back to the check point. There’s this picture of an angry American soldier asking us to stay where we are. We ignore him, go to the West side. We turn back. Now, there’s another soldier from the East who is giving a sterner look that coincides with “I’ll shoot you at sight if you even look here”. In reality, there were some folk dressed as soldiers for tourists to take pictures. But my mind is still with the two soldiers that I saw from both sides. My mind then races back to the day there were tanks on both sides. Arsenal bound soldiers awaiting orders from superiors. At any moment World War 3 might break loose. As I look around, there are tense soldiers who probably want to do nothing with anything at all and are merely following orders from someone above. For what they do not know. Thankfully, nothing happened that day and the war was averted. After a few moments, we choose to go back.

As we take a final stroll near the monster, my thoughts race to November 9, 1989. I was a 2 year old toddler likely running around at home while my mother was holding another infant, my brother, in her hands. But my thoughts revert back to Berlin. A tense city. The people have finally chosen their plan of action. On the East side, there’s a big mob near the monster. The soldiers do not know what to do. Do we stop them? Shoot them? The look on their faces probably mean, “You know I’m probably as sick as you”. A little boy not much older than 10 comes forward. One step. Two steps. Now it is ten. He is on par with the soldier. No one says or does anything. A woman, probably 80 years old slowly walks up. At that moment another 20 of them come forward. While all of this is happening, there is another anxious mob on the West side. They know something is coming. They’re as tense as their families on the East. They wait. There’s not much sound. But they sense the tension. The silence is killing. The little boy throws a small stone on the wall. The soldier does nothing. Encouraged, 10 people immediately take small steps, but giant leaps forward. The next 10 follow. In the next few minutes, all hell breaks loose. From the west side, what they initially heard as a rattling sound has now turned into an orchestrated cacophony. In a matter of minutes, the monster has been slain. Everywhere, there are hugs. A lot of hooray. Beyond everything, profound tears of joy threatening to flow like a river. The Berlin Wall has been finally broken.

– Aravind

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