WITNESS: Back in Berlin to remember the Wall

Wed Nov 4, 2009 9:09am EST
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Martin Nesirky was a Reuters correspondent in East Germany and West Berlin from 1987 to 1991. He is now spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, based in Vienna.

By Martin Nesirky

VIENNA (Reuters) - Back in Berlin this October for the first time in a decade for a reunion with correspondents and diplomats, I joined the inevitable tourist hunt for the Wall, scraps of which remain against a backdrop of glitzy new buildings.

East Germany's asbestos-clogged Palace of the Republic parliament, known to caustic East Berliners as the Ballast of the Republic, has long since gone.

There's also not much left of the press center where I worked and where East German media chief Guenter Schabowski seemed to surprise himself with the cryptic announcement that blasted the Wall wide open.

Yet what I think I came in search of was still there -- echoes of conversations and observations, 20 years removed but vivid nonetheless.

At Checkpoint Charlie I stood in the rain facing what used to be the crossing and recalled watching the first East German walking into West Berlin, his arms stretched in the air and his eyes fixed in disbelief.

I had edged across the checkpoint from East to West some time before the guards started to allow East Germans through. It was a crossing I had made dozens if not hundreds of times -- twice with an undiscovered cat in the boot and the radio up loud. Needless to say, the crossing on November 9 was even more nerve tingling.

Much of the rest of that night passed in a frantic, exhilarating blur of conversations and scribbled notes, the search for phones in that pre-mobile era and the realization that the city of my forefathers was being reborn.   Continued...