Today, marks 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell and it seems like yesterday.
I had been in Berlin a short time before that, busking around Europe, and marveled at how it was the only modern, walled city on Earth. I visited both the East and the West and was shocked, like countless others before me, at the stark differences between the two.
Several months after that, I met a couple named Rolf and Beate Sieker. They came over to Nashville and we made a bluegrass album together featuring our own original material and dobro wizard, Jerry Douglas, and we planned for me to come over weeks later to start playing some shows and touring Europe.
Between the time we finished the record and my arrival in Berlin, The Wall had fallen. November 9, 1989
After flying over there and settling in, I began to explore the city and found it already to be quite different. West Berlin was no longer an island. Scores of eastern immigrants and entrepeneurs had set up kiosks and were selling everything from ghetto blasters to West German Marks on the streets. The wall was coming down piece by piece as enterprising Turks were chiseling it down to small boulders, spray painting them and selling them to tourists as historical souvenirs. (I, myself, bought a hammer and chisel and sent home a bunch of the concrete chucks to friends and family and a large piece still rests on the bookshelf in my living room.)
Everyone loved everyone in those first brief months before the honeymoon had to come to an end. I met lots of Easterners including an American who had met a young East German and married her in 1961, taking up permanent residence in East Berlin and raising their daughter there. They were thrilled to have contact with westerners but were unsure about their future and what the new government and reunification would bring. (And, I must add, it was not entirely smooth sailing for them in the years that followed.)
But, I really had the time of my life and knew that history was being made and I, in my miniscule way, was getting to participate in it.
In a couple of months I will be returning to Berlin, after a 20 year absence, and I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve seen photos of the glimmering new buildings which stand where the old wall once stood. I hear tales of the art scene and the culinary scene. I imagine what it’s like and the changes that have occurred.
But today I marvel at the miracle that spontaneously happened two decades ago today and am reminded that people can do the right thing, go against the odds and bring real revolution not to mame or kill or seek power but to spread freedom and live their lives the way that they choose.
Even though John F. Kennedy’s poorly translated cry to the Berliners, “Ich Benn Ein Berliner!”, (which he thought meant “I am a Berliner,” and actually means, “I am a jelly doughnut,”) thundered through the assembled German crowd almost a half century ago, we can rally with JFK’s sentiments and raise our glasses and our hearts to the fine, proud citizens of that capital and rejoice for what happened on that November night 20 years ago.
Today, in my heart, I am a Berliner!
But tomorrow I may be a jelly doughnut.