It was 20 years ago today that the Berlin Wall was yanked down by East and West Berliners in a symbolic fall of communism. It doesn't seem like it would be that momentous to a teenager in rural Idaho, but like most important news stories of the world, somehow we all feel affected and connected by great human events.
Ever since I was very young, I remember our family praying in our nightly prayers that "the Iron Curtain" would come down. My mom explained to us that freedom existed for one side, but not the other. Countries, cities, and families were torn apart because of this curtain. My mom explained that the Iron Curtain was a border made of high fencing of barbed wire, and anyone caught trying to get over it would be shot and killed.
My mom, who would like to sneak in educational films into our diet of completely inane cartoons and movies, once rented a movie about a family who escaped over the Iron Curtain in a hot-air balloon. It was based on actual events. That movie made it more real for me, and I had a fascination with the Iron Curtain for many years. I'd wish there was a way I could find a hole in it and sneak people across.
In late 1988, my oldest brother was called to serve an LDS mission in Hamburg, Germany. About nine months into his mission, we received a telephone call that he would be transferred to East Germany. East Germany? That's communist. They're letting missionaries into East Germany?
Within another year, the wall came down. When Doug returned home, he told us of the stark differences between East and West Germany. East German people had met relatively few Americans and were eager to talk with him. They loved giving stuff to the American missionaries, and a lot of the stuff they gave was communist medals and World War II medals. He picked up a lot of interesting souvenirs. Because in communist East Germany, rather than bonuses for good work, they got medals.
And the people lived more simply and poorly in East Germany, Doug told us. In most houses he usually had to shovel coal to feed the furnace in order to have hot water.
I remember watching news events of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the joy on the people's faces as they braced each other once again; brother to brother and sister to sister. An Iron Curtain hadn't existed in their hearts. It was like a huge dam had been broken and love came gushing out. And through prayer, I joined them in a long-distance bear hug.
Doug even brought home pieces of the Berlin Wall. It really just looks like a chunk of sidewalk. Symbolically, of course, it means much more.