The Berliners turned reflective on this Reunification Day. The newspapers were full of people’s stories of where they were when the wall fell, retrospectives filled the TV channels. Our new hosts, Heinz and Heilweg, reminisced for us. They had lived in West Berlin for years and had never imagined it could be any other way. I never considered until they described it, but they were the ones who were geographically limited. The East Germans always seem trapped and deprived and drab, but it was West Berlin that was walled in.
H and H said they seldom felt hemmed in. West Berlin has lakes and woods and was always a vibrant city. They rarely wanted to leave, thankfully, because crossing the Wall was quite an undertaking. One Easter, Heilweg said, they waited five hours in the line at the border to get out and visit her parents. Eventually, they gave up and went home. Heilweg said every time they did cross the Wall, she felt nervous and one never knew what the East German officials would do.
One of the subway lines traveled a few stations through East Berlin. Of course the trains did not stop at those stations, but the Western passengers could see the darkened platforms, attended by armed guards to make sure no one got in or out through the tunnels.
So, as conditions were changing in Berlin, Heilweg was lying in hospital near the French border, eight months pregnant. She was on bed rest for the last eight weeks of her pregnancy, and their daughter, Hannah, was born Oct. 30. Heilweg desperately wanted to get to Berlin to truly grasp what the newspapers and her friends were telling her was happening there. But she couldn’t fly so late in the pregnancy, and her doctor wouldn’t let her drive because the East German roads were ill-maintained and he worried they would jounce the baby right out. “Then you’d have to go to an East German hospital, and this would not be good,” he told her. Heinz was still working all week in Berlin and visiting on weekends.
Once Hannah was born, Heinz drove them back to Berlin in early November, after the Wall came down Nov. 8. They were focused on their new family, and never really came to terms with the reunited city. They said they still have a clear sense of East and West. Heinz said at the time Germans all agreed on reunification, but he pondered that if the West had known how much it would cost to rebuild the East, they might have had more debate. Even today the East has a sores economy and many educated young people move to the West as soon as they get a chance. The Easterners also have their regrets. A survey showed 49 percent of East Germans think their lives are no better under unified rule, and 9 percent think things are significantly worse! Perhaps it takes a generation for the memory of the separation to fade.