By Mrs. Shirley Thompson, London, England (c) 2000 Shirley Thompson all rights reserved
25th November 1989 – Watching the BBC News it suddenly struck me that I too could be chipping off a piece of the wall! Why not? On impulse I turned to my husband John and said, “Let’s go to Berlin next weekend and walk along the wall.” “That’s a marvellous idea,” he replied, and so he made the necessary arrangements through the NHS Holiday Club which existed at that time (a service much appreciated by the Civil Servants working at the Scientific & Technical Branch in Russell Square in central London).
Thus very early on the morning of Saturday the 25th November 1989 we set off from our home in Northwood for Heathrow Airport and the flight to Berlin. We were served with the Wall breaker Cocktail as we had breakfast at 8 a.m. on the outward flight- and we certainly needed the vodka inside us, as it was minus 6 degrees with a light fall of snow when we stepped off the plane at the end of our journey. Walking was rather hazardous but the freezing conditions were alleviated by the bright sunshine and the excitement we felt at the prospect of knocking down a small piece of that great barrier between East and West Berlin. We were both politically minded and felt that this was a very big event in the history of Europe and we both wanted to feel part of it – you will probably remember the words “Perestroika” and “Glasnost” that were very prevalent at that time.
We took a bus from the airport to the centre of Berlin and then another bus on to the Reichstag and there we were at our intended destination. A rather uneasy feeling to stand in that vast space in front of the Reichstag and recall the newsreel pictures of Hitler addressing the massed crowds. It certainly sent a shiver down my spine.
We then proceeded to walk the length of the wall to the Brandenburg gate and what an exhilarating experience that was. Groups of people all along the length of the wall were chipping away with hammers and chisels, screwdrivers, and one young man even had a sledgehammer! Parents had brought their children to see what was happening, and as one German couple (who had come from Potsdam) said to me (in broken English as I do not speak German,) they had brought their two sons to see what was happening as they never thought they would witness such scenes in their lifetime but hoped that their children might. Eager to let me have a go, they lent me their hammer and chisel to strike a symbolic blow against the oppression of the wall and I really did come back with several small pieces to prove it! Being made of concrete it was extremely difficult to chip even small pieces off but that did not deter anyone. All one could hear were the buzz of excitement and the sound of people chipping away with various tools to get the wall down.
In a carnival atmosphere we waved at the East German guards in their watchtower – and they waved back! Incredible to think that only a few weeks ago they would have been prepared to shoot at would-be escapers over the wall.
We proceeded on to the Brandenburg gate, and again onward following the wall to the now famous Checkpoint Charlie. Still more groups of people chipping away and peering through the now quite large holes across the no-man’s land to the second wall beyond and into the Eastern Sector of Berlin. Nothing stirred in that area except the guards and their vehicles still patrolling but in a different manner than previously.
The West German Art students had made posters that they were selling in aid of the impoverished East German Art students and we bought three for our family at £3.50 each.
We visited the famous museum at Checkpoint Charlie and saw the many ingenious ways in which East Germans had tried to escape to the West. Hot air balloons, cars altered to accommodate bodies underneath and even shooting arrows with rope tied to them from buildings in the eastern sector close to the wall to the houses close to in the West. Of course, there were many tragedies and deaths and we had passed several memorials along the length of the wall commemorating the death of would be escapees who had been killed by the East German Guards.
We caught our flight back home to Heathrow that same evening and it surely was a day to remember, I should say so. I still get a thrill to think that I actually hacked a piece off the great Berlin Wall and have it as a treasured memento in an enamelled box in my suburban lounge. We felt that we had truly captured a piece of history – at least in our minds.
Mrs Shirley Thompson. (c) Shirley Thompson 2001. You have permission to copy and use this article.