It was November 1989. I was standing in front of the Brandenburg gate in Berlin just a few days after the wall had been overrun by thousands of East Germans. The TV trucks were all there from NBC to the BBC. Hundreds of people were milling around talking and laughing. The mood was very upbeat…the Berlin wall was coming down.
I felt blessed that I happened to be there at this exact time in history. I’d heard we had just missed Crosby, Stills and Nash doing an impromptu concert in this same spot a few hours before. People were walking up to the wall with all kinds of tools, beating on it, trying to knock pieces off to take home as souvenirs. I was no exception. The man we were with had a small hammer that I used to knock a few small pieces of wall loose.
There were many uniformed officials milling around also, but they didn’t seem to care. Once in a while someone would get a little too aggressive and the officials would ask them to calm down but they were very courteous.
It just so happened that we had booked tickets to Berlin several months before that timed out perfectly with the wall coming down. I really shouldn’t say perfectly because we got there a few days late, but close enough. It was impossible to get airline tickets at that point because of the events of that time.
We had been teaching at some of the underground seminaries in East Germany and we were taking periodic trips. We were aware that freedom was starting to take hold in the eastern block but this was totally unexpected. The experience we had was mostly secrecy and very low profile. When we did our work we did it at the strict direction of our handlers.
The citizens however were feeling the freedom and were apprehensively saying things they hadn’t been allowed to say for 40 years. We also took a few liberties to speak about the gift of freedom. I have to admit, that although this new found freedom was starting to gain momentum, there was a low grade fear that the Communists would somehow make a resurgence.
We so take for granted our freedom. I recently asked one of the kids at our youth group if they knew what the Iron Curtain was and they said no, they had no idea. Things have changed so much in the past couple of decades that our memories get cloudy. The things we had to do just to get into the country of East Germany were very restrictive. The corruption was also out of control. The whole experience seems so surreal now, but there was a time that fear held people in bondage and the Wall was just a manifestation of it.
They told us many times to keep our comments benign because the secret police would be in our meetings. They probably wouldn’t bother us but they could come back and do things to the leaders of the church. Fear is a terrible thing to have to overcome. The Communists were masters of fear.
One of the things the Soviets did was buzz the locals with fighter jets. There was a Soviet air base near the small town we were teaching in and they would fly very low over the towns. I asked the dean of the school what was happening to which he replied. “It’s a show of strength. They want to keep the people afraid.”
So…standing at the Brandenburg Gate at that particular time in history, in that particular place is one of the most memorable events of my life. It showed me the power of freedom and the stifling effect bondage has on people. One of the most powerful things we have is the power to choose. That was taken away in the Eastern block countries. But when the people started getting a breath of freedom, nothing could stop it.
What’s your Iron Curtain? What’s keeping you in bondage and fear? You have to become like the East Germans and climb over it, go around it, tunnel under it. Become determined to beat it no matter what it takes.