An Excerpt from Stumbling Stone
Today’s newspaper has a story about the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here is an excerpt from Stumbling Stone that describes police officer Karl Schmidt’s reaction as he and reporter Sarah Stern watch from Berkeley, California as the wall comes down.
“One night while we were having an after-dinner cocktail at Brennan’s, the television suddenly flashed to a shot of the Berlin Wall.
“My God,” said Karl, pointing to the screen. We could see swarms of people standing on the top of the Wall, attacking it with sledge hammers, tearing holes in it. The camera angle shifted and we saw men with steel cables pulling whole sections of concrete to the ground. Not one East German soldier could be seen. Men, women and children were dancing on the Wall and in the streets.
“They’re tearing the wall down,” Karl said in disbelief. I looked at him as he watched the action. While he looked elated—smiling and pumping his fist—he also seemed almost dazed at times.
At one point, he looked down at the table and said in a sad voice, “As a young child I would always hear my grandparents talk about the reunification. ‘It will happen someday,’ they would say, adding, ‘But not in our lifetime.’”
He would always tell them, not really understanding what he was saying, that they would live to see the country be one again. They hadn’t. Later, as a teenager and young adult, Karl said he never repeated those reassurances. Instead, he agreed that a united Germany would be dangerous, and that keeping the country separated was the best plan.
“When I moved to the United States, I realized that if I said that, it reassured people, made them understand I wasn’t a power crazy warmonger, or a Nazi.”
But watching the Germans dancing for joy on the crumbling Wall, Karl said, “I really believed what I told my grandparents. Germany did belong as a single united country. You can’t keep 17 million East Germans imprisoned, deny them the vote and the right to travel.”
In the days that followed, we watched many such scenes, people climbing onto and over the wall, chipping away pieces of the wall. And in the weeks that followed, it seemed that the two Germanys almost catapulted toward reunification, exhilaration on both sides….
Suddenly Karl was talking about his East German cousins, whom he had seen rarely in the past decades, and the two trips he’d made to East Germany to visit his grandparents. Letters from his family these days included news of the East German branch of the family and how quickly they were seizing the opportunity to cross the border freely.
“Greta brought us schnitzel from their farm,” wrote Karl’s mother, describing the trips relatives were now free to make to the West. Commenting on the food shortages and poor conditions in the East, Ingrid said, “We realize we’ll have to give them money,” adding, “I guess since we started World War II, it’s only right that we should pay.”
But if Karl was obviously happy about the fall of the Wall, I knew that most of the Jewish community was not. People feared that a reunified Germany would become once again a nationalistic Germany. Cartoons began appearing showing reunification as the path to the revival of the Reich.”