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One December night in West Berlin, my travel buddy Justin and I were walking behind Checkpoint Charlie looking for a good place to take a chunk out of the Wall.

It was late, we'd just arrived...we basically figured out where the most famous place was and walked straight there...

It was quiet and cold...the celebrations were long over...and the wall was looking pretty pockmarked and haggard from all the souvenir takers.  We had the long alley on the Western Side all to ourselves.  So Justin and I got about 200 or so yards from the checkpoint and picked up some pieces of metal and just started wailing on the thing...flailing on it...

big pieces fell off, little pieces fell felt illicit...not really political at all...kind of just this bizarre, slightly after-the-party, history-witnessing/souvenir grab all rolled into one...two guys wailing on a wall one silent December night in West Berlin...

We walked around Berlin that night with these chunks of the "Mauer" in our pockets...past the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate, past drunken East Berliners partying on their Freedom Marks...basically, we were fucking oblivious Americans...entitled, priveleged, open-eyed...

I only later learned that our chunk of the wall came from a spot almost directly over the site of Hitler's Bunker...buried somewhere under all that weight...rubble, history, war, loss, genocide...

I came back to the United States with some small chunks of the wall and promptly gave them all away.  I was pretty much embarrased to have been a looter. I felt sheepish.

I ended up with this one chunk.  Which, since I was home in Minnesota, I thought I'd give to my grandfather.  My Grandpa loved Ronald Reagan.  At pretty much every family dinner for the last decade of his life, he talked about how much he hated the Communists, not that the Russians were bad people...but...they had an Evil Empire. dinner (midwest-speak for a meat and potatoes hot lunch) this Minnesota farmhouse, smack in the middle of snow-swept prairie, my Grandpa predictably asked me about the Communists and East, I had actually been over there...upon which I dramatically slammed the chunk of the wall on the table.

"Guess what that is Grandpa?"

"That's the End of Communism, right there!"

So I gave my Grandfather my last chunk of the wall.  He put it in this plastic display case and kept it on his desk.  I know this because after he died it was still there.  Like an artifact from a museum.  But a museum for one person.

Except, by that time, the rock had totally changed meaning for me.  Sitting there next to the radio that he listened to all his favorite right-wing anti-Communist talk shows.  Pristine.  Like it was from an alien planet.  

This little worshipped rock that I gave to a man I loved but whose politics I loathed. know, ain't it just like that?


This year is your story. Is our story. Is many stories.

And in the midst of all the crap and malarky and crisis, remember that everything from the mundane to the profound is a part of your history...our history.

I firmly believe we will make history this November.  I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it was so. And, I guess, this diary is, in a way,  a kind of time out from that to reflect on something that I feel the need to remember:

I firmly believe that we share this nation with people who don't agree with us. It's all of ours. Together. Hell, some of us are related. And, right now we are all just trying to figure how better to run our government.

History is weird.  We might have one perspective on things now...and see it changed by events outside our control.  

The one thing we do our integrity...staying true to ourselves and our values.  Standing up for our principles.  Paying authentic witness to our times, no matter who we are or where we find ourselves.  Our stories, collectively, are what make history.  And we must never forget that, because, in a way, that is the basis of our politics.

I want you to know something tonight.  Though my grandfather passed away and can no longer cast the ballot for George Bush I'm sure he would have.  His wife, my ninety-two year old Grandmother is following this election like a hawk.  She's  going to vote in Minnesota the way she always has...true blue, Democrat.


{This post was written on October 14, 2004. Re-posted today in honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and my grandparents, Richard and Blanche. Blanche is now 97 years old and, like 69 million of her fellow citizens, voted for Barack Obama in November, 2008.)

Originally posted to kid oakland on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 11:55 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'll never forget seeing the wall (10+ / 0-)

    My friend was living with her boyfriend in West Berlin in 1989. She took us on a fantastic tour of the city, and then she started going down a little alley which led us to the wall, in a hidden place that had - no graffiti! She opened her backpack and reavealed - a small can of paint and a brush! We each wrote something. I wrote "Do not despair, This wall will fall" and lo-and-behold, five years later it did!

    In a democracy, everyone is a politician. ~ Ehren Watada

    by Lefty Mama on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:01:29 PM PST

    •  it was very scary (5+ / 0-)

      to live through that, it has made me both more fearful and more hopeful about what people can do.
      It has made me value the tranquility of normal peaceful times.

      it was the night when the long people´s prison of the east finally opened but also out came all its hidden zombies that had been suppressed from view.

      It is a good thing to have lived through revolutionary times because that makes one aware how much of the usual self-important "stability" is changeable facade, but that´s at the same time also the fearful edge of it.

      Ici s´arrète la loi.

      by marsanges on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:09:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the awesome memory.... (5+ / 0-)

    some of us old farts cried a lot that night.

    The only thing you get from sitting on the fence is splinters in your ass. My Granddaddy!

    by SallyCat on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:07:17 PM PST

  •  BTW, Michael Jackson had more to do (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with tearing down the wall than Reagan

    "If we can't be free at least we can be cheap." Zappa

    by Zwoof on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:41:43 PM PST

    •  Jacko and the Stasi (0+ / 0-)

      "If we can't be free at least we can be cheap." Zappa

      by Zwoof on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:44:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Heh. Yeah, I spent almost a month (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aggressiveprogressive, mango, Zwoof

      in the "USSR" in 1977, and I brought Stevie Wonder and Elton John and other popular albums over there and left them with regular folks that I met up with, including hotel staff. We were warned ahead of time that you would be expelled from the country for bringing in Playboy mags or bibles... well, I didn't even have those in my house.

      The Iron Curtain was real. It was so weird getting off a plane in Leningrad and Moscow and Kiev and other cities, and "being covered" by men with machine guns. They did have an ongoing problem with airplane hijackings, but that definitely let you know that you weren't in Kansas anymore.

      So, I traveled around as an ordinary American citizen with my own itinerary that I got from a travel agency in Beverly Hills. I was pre-registered, ahead of time, with Intourist, and had to surrender my American passport every time that I checked in at a hotel. As soon as I got to Moscow, I went to the American embassy and registered with them in case anything happened to me.

      I know that I was followed. I know that I was harassed when I chose to sleep in, and not go on the "official" tours offered by the hotels. Instead, I chose to go on my own self-led tours in the cities that I visited because I had a limited knowledge of Russian and had studied their politics and history in college. I really didn't want to hang out with American tourists.

      So, I had an interesting experience. No one really believed that I, as an American office worker (that really was my job at the time) had enough income to travel around Russia. It was my dream since I started studying Russian in high school... so I saved up until I could afford it.  

      So, I was harassed a bit, and followed, but I still managed to meet interesting folks on the Trans-Siberian RR, and in the cities, and ended up encountering many people who were critical of, and working against the government in their own small ways. I even helped one guy by carrying some mail out of the country with me, and mailing it from a Los Angeles post office.

      My point is that there was so much resistance behind the Iron Curtain, aided and abetted by many people throughout the world. I get sick of hearing about this being a result of Reagan standing up and making a speech. Please don't be so gullible that you buy this GOP nonsense.

      Oh, not you Zwoof... I liked your comment. It reminded me of my own experience. I agree that our pop culture can be subversive to oppressive regimes.

      Landscape, with its basis of aridity, is both our peculiar splendor and our peculiar limitation- Wallace Stegner

      by blindyone on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 01:09:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a timely re-post. Cheers to your Grandfather's memory and cheers to your Grandmother as well.

  •  I've been thinking alot lately (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    about our stories - our narratives. There is something in me that wants us to change our gaze every now and then from thinking and talking so much about other people's stories (particularly politicians) to writing our own story. It is in our own story that we discover our power rather than give it away to others.

    So I thank you for this beautiful offering.

    Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by NLinStPaul on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:47:43 PM PST

  •  Great to read this again, KO. (0+ / 0-)

    Many younger Kos folks don't realize the impact that day had on us, on the world.  The exposure of the monolithic USSR as just a bunch of economically ravaged, provincial and rather backward countries made the Cold War seem both asinine and misplaced.

    When in doubt, tweak the freeqs.

    by wozzle on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:56:41 PM PST

  •  The Des Moines Register printed an (0+ / 0-)

    "Extra" that day. I believe it was the first since WWII.

    I remember my mom calling to tell me, I bundled up three little girls to run to the corner store and got three copies to put in keepsake boxes for my daughters, and their children.
    Thanks for the diary ko, always good to see your posts.

    "Our history is greater than any man. In a democracy, it is up to us. It is always up to us." Senator Edward Kennedy

    by Oke on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 02:35:32 PM PST

  •  Memories (0+ / 0-)

    The sister-in-law just found the "registration of birth abroad" for the spouse who was born in West Germany to Army and CIA parents.

    Who could have imagined that a unified Germany would have a female scientist who studied in Leipzig as the newly re-elected Chancellor.

    Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices--François-Marie Arouet

    by CA Berkeley WV on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 02:54:50 PM PST

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