The last time I took a train from Frankfurt to Berlin was in the late autumn of 1982. The cold war was not as hot as it had been but it was still smoldering. Because any train into West Berlin had to travel through the DDR and I had a security clearance, I had to travel on the US troop train.
We traveled slowly overnight, stopping along the way at these brightly lit ghost stations. No one got on or off, and the platforms were full of East German and Soviet soldiers at high alert. I remember sitting awake by the window around 2am. A full moon shone over empty landscape as we pulled into one of these stations. I inadvertently made eye contact with one of those soldiers – the “enemy”. He was just a kid. (From my 2018 vantage point so was I.) But he somehow seemed so young to me even then. I really understood in that moment that the iron curtain and the wall were there to keep them in – even more than to keep us out.
I arrived via train this afternoon into a long reunited Berlin. I don’t recognize much from the early 1980s West Berlin I knew. I traveled easily into the eastern part of the city where I had not been before.
I visited the remnants of the wall, now an internationally recognized art installation.
I met the artist who created the entire installation and this particular mural, Kani Alavi
and visited his studio.
Tomorrow I’ll get a tour of an area of the city I had never heard of in 1982, Neuköln, from a Syrian refugee and have wonderful Syrian food for lunch. I’ll finish the day seeing a Bundesliga match at the Olympic Stadium.
I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it all.