The Day the Wall Came Down

Mignon & Wolf Naegeli
The Wall, detail. Copyright © 1989 Mignon Naegeli

It was the ninth of November, 1989.

The Female and the Wolfman had lived in the United States for more than twelve years when the pivotal event occurred; a foretoken of the end of the Cold War.

My humans lived in a town in Tennessee that was built in the early 1940. The Secret City, as it now is lovingly called by its Convention and Visitors Bureau, might have, in its own ways, contributed to the complex European situation.

The Shadow MakersLittle Man and Fat Boy were manufactured in Los Alamos, New Mexico, but far more people of Tennessee’s secret city were involved in the project called Manhattan.

In August 1961 East Germany began to build a wall all around West Berlin. After the completion, the city’s only access to West Germany was by air. Twenty-two months after the erection of the Berlin Wall, on 26 June 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin. Before an audience of 450,000 he declared in his Ich bin ein Berliner speech, the support of the United States for West Germany and the people of West Berlin.

One day in the mid 1970s, when the Wolfman and my Female worked for World Wildlife Fund, a serious coworker, educator, and environmentalist, discussed the world’s political situation with the Female. Herr Theo Gull referred to America as the nation who helped the Swiss maintain their freedom.

Soon thereafter, my humans went on a trip to Berlin. There, they had an opportunity to take a brief sightseeing tour of East Berlin without a visum, but only on East German busses. Armed guards would ride along on the busses, and the tourists were strictly forbidden to exit the bus, except at three historic sites that were intensively guarded to prevent ordinary citizens from mingling with the tourists. As they waited at Checkpoint Charlie for a bus to take them into the GDR, a communist official spotted the Swiss passport in the Female’s sweaty hand. She never felt totally comfortable in a big crowd. And, it was a big one, eagerly waiting to board one of the many busses. When a soldier led them away her hand almost started dripping. But the man took them to a much smaller group, who turned out to be American citizens.

The difference between the two divided parts of Berlin was shocking. The West, bustling with people, looked like the rest of European cities they knew. The East felt grey and empty, the buildings reminding of the immediate post-war time. The only traffic seemed to be the tourist busses. The few pedestrians on the streets walked with their heads bent, ignoring the loud visiting bunch.

As the years went by, the Wall was successively reinforced and became an elaborate system of restricted-access zones, barbed-wire and electric fences, trenches, an interior wall, and a very tall exterior wall with a wide death strip between them. It also became a paramount symbol for the separation of a nation and the loss of freedom. The western side of the Wall was turned into a canvas for graffiti, long before it became an art form. No copyright sign yet, as it was used much later for his personal signature by the genius talent I’m named after.

In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! More than two years later, twenty five years ago, the Wall finally crumbled.

IMG_1714,
Checkpoint Charlie, November 9, 1989 (Bundesarchiv Bild)

Whole nations with their populations and their musicians and artists paid tribute to the incredible event. My female created an abstract wire sculpture, one of the few she ever sold. Her “Wall” found its way back to us. Apparently the slightly unstable buyer got rid of his art collection by throwing it into the trash, where the sculpture was found in a town near the Smoky Mountains by a fellow artist who returned the piece to its maker.

Germany’s official reunification didn’t take place until October 1990. Among the first politicians from the former GDR to be elected to the Bundestag of the reunited nation was a young woman born in Hamburg in 1954. Shortly after her birth, her father, a Lutheran clergy, received a pastorate in East Germany, where the girl then grew up and where she graduated from Leipzig University.

Her name is Angela Merkel.

Basquiat, November 9, 2014

One Comment on “The Day the Wall Came Down

  1. A fascinating story – I didn’t know you had such first hand experience with the Wall. And what a turn of events to get your sculpture back – a good reason to think about your own journey!

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