November 9, 1989. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was studying for my High School finals and had the TV on as background noise. All of the sudden, the movie was interrupted for the breaking news that changed the history of Germany and the entire Europe.
Only a few weeks earlier I went to Berlin using an overnight train from Stuttgard to Berlin, now no longer an overnight journey due to the ICE High Speed Train. Nothing fancy, a 2nd class couchette cabin which had to be shared with 5 more travelers.
The train ride was not different to other overnight train rides to Italy or France until we reached Hof, the former border crossing between West and East Germany. There, East German border police boarded the train and after the locomotive had been exchanged to a Deutsche Reichsbahn (the former East German Railroad) locomotive the train continued its long non-stop journey through the rail corridor to West Berlin. In the meantime, the police officers inspected our passports and stamped them with the GDR immigration stamp. After that, one police officer was placed at each of the car ends for the remaining trip until we finally reached the check point between East Germany and West Berlin. After a short stop to drop off the agents the train continued to Berlin Zoo, the former main train station of West Berlin.
I experienced similar border crossings between Hungary and Austria or West Germany and Czechoslovakia before but this time it was a lot more emotional considering that this border crossing took place within the same nation.
The trip became even more emotional while in Berlin. As FRG citizens we had free range, could get on all S-Bahn trains, whether they went into East Berlin or other parts of West Berlin. We were able to cross check-points whenever we wanted but were also confronted more often and had literally “hands-on” experiences with the wall. At that point, nobody imagined what will happen just a few weeks later.
On that November evening I told my parents that I will go to Berlin right after my finals were over and one day later I went to the travel agency to make a reservation for a couchette berth.
The second trip to Berlin, was a historical trip as well, without knowing it. Though there were still two Germanys, there was only one or two border patrol agents on the train who quickly looked at our IDs (no more passports were required) and got off the train a few kilometers later in Plauen. The remaining trip was uneventful until the conductor woke us shortly before we reached Berlin Zoo Train Station.
Like before, I was able to cross check-points without being asked what I want or will do in East Berlin and even was able to chip off a small part of the wall as my own little souvenir.
One morning while I was there, I woke up to the news that as of that day, no IDs or border crossing papers were needed any more to travel between both parts of Berlin or Germany. I changed my plans and the first trip that day was by S-Bahn to Alexanderplatz, a wide open place with the tall TV Tower as landmark and a major border crossing point between East and West Berlin. When I arrived there, there were no passport control lines to queue up at, all gates were open and all booths were unstaffed and for the first time we had the feeling to travel within one and the same country.
For somebody who grew up in a divided country and family in both parts of it, a remarkable day which will be never forgotten.