It was in 1968 that my father and I had a chance to talk about his last will and testament. He lived in East Germany, I lived in Canada. East Germany was a communist country with strongly fortified borders, rows of barbed wire fences, mine fields in front of those and guard towers with sharp shooters present around the clock. Within the country you could move freely as long as you always registered with the police after arrival when visiting relatives in a different city for more than a few days. You also had to de-register when you left and register again when you came back to your permanent home. It was practically impossible to get a visa to visit relatives in West Germany – unless you were a 65 year old male, or 60 if you were female. Younger people were kept “in” since too many had escaped before the Berlin Wall had been built. Now, at the end of the sixties older people had a chance; – if they didn’t come back, no loss and one person less to pay a pension to.
Father would never get a visa for Canada but he got one to visit his second daughter, my sister in Hamburg, West Germany. I sent a flight ticket to her, she got him a West German passport in exchange for his East German one and he came to Winnipeg for three glorious weeks. He asked “Wouldn’t it be better to take the train from Hamburg to Frankfurt instead of flying? I am afraid I’ll be late and then I’ll have to hang on to the straps and stand all the way to Canada.”
We talked about a will. He did not have one since he did not know how to do it. His youngest daughter stull lived in East Germany close to them, one daughter lived in Hamburg and I, his oldest, lived in Canada. I tried to convince him to leave everything to the youngest since she would be the one to look after my parents when they were getting on and needed help. He thought it not fair and thought we, the two in the “West”, should have something as well.
“Dad, we don’t need it. We are both established and we couldn’t spend it anyway.”
Eastern money had to stay in East Germany. Even if we came to visit we had to exchange West money one to one for each day we stayed there, so any inheritance would be useless.
With a guileful expression he looked at me and whispered ironically: “My girl, you will see, it will change one day. The way things are going at home can’t go on. Sooner or later the wall will come down.”
“Dream on, Dad that will never happen.” I did not believe him. But I did convince him to make a will leaving me out and my sister in Hamburg agreed to it as well. He never felt comfortable about it but eventually he did leave us out of his will.
On the evening of November 9th I was resting on my couch in my cozy home in Vancouver reading and listening to a Mozart concert when my phone rang. It was my son:
“Mom, do you have the TV on? They are dancing on the Berlin Wall! Mom, hurry – switch your TV on, this is history in the making. You ought to see this! The East German Police have put their guns down, hundreds of thousands are streaming through Check Point Charley into West Berlin, people are hugging and kissing, dancing and singing and drinking champagne, they are hacking away at the wall, Mom, you ought to see this!”
My son in Winnipeg and I in Vancouver, connected by the telephone, sat up long into the night, ran up a huge phone bill, but it did not matter. The wall was coming down! The wall that had divided thousands of families for nearly thirty years, ours included. We shared these first hours and laughed and cried. I had taken him to Berlin when he was about twelve years old and we had looked over the wall from a platform built on the west side, almost twenty years hence.
My father had been right. Oh, how I wish he could have lived to see the day, I know that his tears would not have stopped running down his beloved face. He died in 1983, six years too soon.
Now we are close to November 9th, 2014 celebrating:
“Twenty-five year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Here is a link to an interesting program exploring life in Berlin both before and after the Wall came down. It provides an interesting analysis.
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