With the gunfire came hushed, nervous conversation
between her parents. Eight-year-old Sandra was supposed to
be in bed early, as were most second-grade school children,
but she’d feign sleep and strain to listen. It frightened
her even more to hear her father and mother talk of escape.
Escape? Escape from what?” she wondered.
The Wall, one of the greatest symbols of
political tyranny in the modern age, fell 15 years ago this
month, part of
effect of the movement toward democratic government that swept
a continent and ended Communism in Eastern Europe.
The Berlin Wall was actually part of a series
of obstacles and barriers that isolated what was formerly Communist
and the rest of East Germany, or the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische
Republik/German Democratic Republic) from the democratic West
Berlin. It consisted of approximately 166 kilometers of fences,
turrets, concrete walls, mine fields, and active patrols by both
soldiers and dogs. On the East German side of this barrier, there
was an illuminated “death area” in which would-be
escapees were shot without warning.
When the Soviet Union took control of East
Germany after World War II, the DDR quickly became isolated
from the rest of the
world. The new government created a constitution for a “Republic
of workers and peasants.” The people soon began to rebel
against the forced collectives and socialist policies. In the
summer of 1953, the government ordered production up by 10 percent.
Workers held demonstrations and several hundred died in the Soviet
crackdown. Tens of thousand fled over the years, and in 1961,
there were more than 160,000 East German refugees fleeing west.
The “Wall” was built, in the words of the DDR’s
Communist government, “To keep spies, provocateurs, and
subversive elements of the West from impeding Socialism.” In
reality, the Communists created a prison where the inmates were
the citizens of the state.
One day in November 1989, Sandra and her
mother sat in the small living room of their modestly furnished
one of the two channels of the DDR’s state-run television.
Sandra fidgeted as her mother watched the newscast. The people
reading the news always seemed so emotionless, but today she’d
noticed a change in their usually monotonous demeanor. Their
faces remained stoic, but their voices and emotional delivery
hinted at something unsaid. Then Sandra’s mother began
The bridge is open, the bridge is open!”
The bridge was the Glienicker connecting
Potsdam to West Berlin, and Sandra and her mother excitedly
waited for her
come home. Sandra was astonished. She’d never seen
mama behave like this. The little girl urged, “Calm
as they waited, Sandra’s excitement began to match
Father came home, and soon after, the young
family walked across a previously forbidden bridge, past the
Brunke will never forget that moment.
We crossed the bridge and entered a fantastic celebration,” recalled
Brunke. “It was as if we had walked into a new millennium.
We were greeted with flowers and hugs and cheers. It took
us about 20 minutes to walk from our home in Potsdam’s
Babelsberg district into West Berlin, but after we crossed,
I felt like
I was in another world. I’ll always remember, there
was this huge bus, and people inside had cases of chocolate
the West’s chocolate. They were throwing the chocolate
out the windows to the people coming across. I must have
grabbed at least 20 bars, it was so great.”
Brunke, a senior travel industry management
major and a three-year player on the school’s nationally
volleyball team, plans to continue at HPU, working on an
MBA degree. On the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin
she stopped to reflect on the journey that started that
crisp, autumn day in 1989.
“Before the Wall fell, I don’t think anyone in
my family knew where or what Hawai‘i was,” Brunke
East Germany, we were taught to focus on our country
as the center of the world. We were given a narrow view of
the outside world
and taught only what the government wanted us to know.”
Government control couldn’t erase
all signs of outside civilization. Government markets furnished
the staples only,
nothing fancy, especially no exotic fruits. But Brunke
remembers a special day that could be seen as a precursor to
life in paradise.
“One day, back when I was in kindergarten, my mother
managed to get a banana, a real banana,” Brunke remembered. “Wow,
it was really a special treat. I remember seeing it
in her hand and my heart leapt. So did my stomach.”
The Wall was more than a barrier to physical
movement, it was also a barrier to thought, to dreams, to ambitions.
these that Brunke’s mother, Ingrid, thought about
as she raised her daughter behind the “Iron Curtain.”
“When Sandra was born, I hoped she could live the life
I could only dream of,” Ingrid said. “I wanted
my daughter to be healthy and confident, independent,
and responsible. In
the DDR, that wasn’t possible.”
Brunke’s mother explained that the
state school system took the role of parent. The state decided
a child had and what career the child was suited for. Individuality
discouraged. But a mother always hoped for a better
life for a child.
“Sandra lives the life I always wanted,” said
her mother. “She
is exploring, seeing other countries and cultures,
growing and learning, discovering all the creative possibilities
When she was younger, I never could imagine a life
for her beyond the Wall. I felt the Wall would always be
there. I would never
imagine her living her life the way she does now.
My daughter is living a dream.”