The wall I thought would never fall
I left the then-Federal Republic of Germany with my wife and three young children in the summer of 1969 firmly convinced that the 87-mile wall that encircled West Berlin, separating it from East Berlin and all of Germany, would be with us for the rest of our lives.
It’s still hard to believe that today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For me, the wall with its guard towers, barbed wire and police dogs graphically represented why the U.S. State Department posted me at the American Embassy in Bonn from 1966 to 1969. In buildings on the other side of the wall, East German secret police and their Soviet advisers plotted against the American embassy, U.S. consulates in West Germany and the U.S. mission in West Berlin. My job was to keep them from getting their hands on what they wanted most: U.S. secrets or, failing that, someone on the inside who could be recruited to surreptitiously bring those secrets out.
There was hardly a time when I flew into West Berlin on official business that I didn’t find time to visit the area of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse, the location of Checkpoint Charlie, where foreigners and Westerners were allowed to cross into East Berlin. It was where East and West unsmilingly came face to face.
I also traveled, with my wife, Gwen, on the duty train that ran from Frankfurt through East Germany and into West Berlin. The operation was intended to demonstrate the West’s right to travel through the region. Even so, the train could run only at night, and we were asked to keep the blinds closed.
I thought President Reagan’s June 12, 1987, call, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” was a stirring challenge to the Soviet regime and a memorable rendition of "Cold War" rhetoric. But secretly, I believed that the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic and, most of all, the Berlin wall would always be with us.
And to think, a piece of that infamous wall is here in Washington on display at the Newseum.
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