Twenty Years Later: Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Where Were You When the Wall Fell?

by   Posted on November 12th, 2009 in Uncategorized

On November 9, 1989, I was the Patient Care Information Systems . . . computer training coordinator, providing hospital computer training for all levels of staff in all departments, including physicians and physicians’ office staff at California Pacific Medical Center, a 425-bed acute care hospital in San Francisco, California.

I found out by TV news. My first reaction, having been born and raised in Nurnberg, Germany (1951-1969) was that it was incredible and just the beginning of great change in the world.

Can you imagine living under the cloud of Communism for so long and then have it evaporate overnight? I was excited for people but also worried about the adjustment they would have to make (and it was hard for everyone on both sides of the Wall at first).”

– Odette Willis, assistant professor and coordinator for Academic Excellence in the School of Nursing. RN, MN, MBA

I remember exactly where I was. I was sitting in the living room of my mother’s summer house in Newport, Rhode Island, a place where my brothers and sisters and their kids all converge for two weeks each summer. We were watching the TV, not really focusing until we realized that we were watching the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. It 
was coming down in front of our eyes! I couldn’t believe it. I had spent the summer of 1974 in West Berlin, when I was an art history graduate student, and had had the best time. But the Wall had always been a looming presence. It was as though everyone on West Berlin was determined to make the best of life – I remember lots of parties, late night carousing and drinking in bars set up in bombedout churches left over from World War II.

When some U.Va. friends [and I] went to East Berlin to visit, we could not believe the difference between the two parts of the city. East Berlin was empty and sad, and the people were downcast. So that day in Newport, when I saw the wall come down on theTV, I was elated. I still am. There are so many Germans now who will grow up with the freedom that their grandparents never knew, and to which their parents are now just becoming accustomed.”

– Louisa Woodville, adjunct professor of art history

As for the Berlin Wall, I know I was living in my first house in Arlington. I remember watching it on the news, but more as a symbol of the culmination of a process that had been long in the making in Eastern Europe. Certainly the awareness of the Berlin Wall was part of our lives in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s [in] Scotland and news reports of people escaping successfully, but more often unsuccessfully were frequent. For me, I suppose the most important aspect was German reunification and the chance to travel to places like Leipzig and Dresden.”

– John Burns, associate professor of religious studies

I was a White House correspondent for United Stations Radio Networks. In the White House on Nov. 9 there was a lot of buzz about Berlin, but I believe the press office had put on a ‘lid’ for the day (meaning ‘No more news expected.’) and the press corps had gone home by the time the East Germans opened the gate. The next day was a different matter. I was in the traveling press corps when President George H.W. Bush flew to Dallas for a speech before the National Association of Realtors that no one paid attention to. Berlin was the story. The president seemed as surprised as the rest of the world when he said, ‘I was moved, as you all were, by the pictures of Berliners from East and West standing atop the wall with chisels and hammers . . . To be honest, I doubted that this would happen in the very first year of this administration.’

I was remembering a day two years earlier when I stood in a crowd in West Berlin and watched President Reagan say, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I knew the line was coming because it was in the advance text of the speech that the White House had passed out. I remember thinking it was a nice publicity stunt, but nothing more. I guess that demonstrates that, even with history, you can be so close to something that you can’t see it happening.”

-Stephen Taylor, adjunct professor of communication

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