The Berlin wall stood for 10316 days, and tomorrow is 10316 days since it is gone.
That’s an incredible stat. This wall and the iron curtain was very much a part of my life growing up in Germany in BAOR. It felt like the whole reason we were there. My Dad once explained to me that if the Russians (Warsaw Pact) came, Berlin would fall within 2 hours and then NATO would try and hold them back for as long as possible across the North German plains. In the meantime, we (Forces Dependents / families) would be evacuated back to the UK and the British Army would fight a retreating battle and then cross the river Weser and, as my Dad put it to me back then:
“That’s when we ‘push the button’.”
I knew what that meant. All out nuclear war. I was ten when this was explained to me. It was a very real thing.
(The reason he told me all of this was because he had lots of pieces of A4 paper scattered over the living room floor. I asked him what they were and what he was doing with them and he told me they were evacuation papers for sending the family back to England in the event of the Cold War becoming a real war.)
Back at school in Germany in the 70’s, the possibility of the Berlin Wall / Iron Curtain coming down was as likely as sending a man up to play golf on planet Jupiter is today. It was never going to happen. In 1989, when I watched the news and saw the pictures of people standing on the wall, I was shocked.
It was like watching the end of my childhood. If I go back to Germany today and visit or go past some of the places I used to live, the schools I used to go to and the places where the military barracks used to stand; most of it is gone. It’s like it’s been rubbed out and was never there in the first place, like it was all some kind of Bobby Ewing 70’s technicolour super 8 dream.
You stand in front of a place where there was a huge military establishment with tanks roaring about inside and soldiers on the gate and four ton trucks and now there is just a field in front of you. As you stand there contemplating this empty space, the memory of what it used to be like starts to quickly evaporate. It’s strange. To remember what was there, you have to leave the site and consult the pictures in your mind to recall what actually was there.
I went to Dortmund about ten years ago and took my kids to show them where I used to go to school and where I used to play pinball in the soldiers canteen at lunchtime with Soumo Simpson and Mark Moron. When I got there, I was looking at a modern housing estate where Suffolk Barracks used to be.
I was gob-smacked at how quickly they had razed it to the ground and built a housing estate which engulfed our entire old school field, large parts of the school, the Naafi, the Sally Bash (short for Salvation Army, which was our version of WH Smiths), the Cinema, the guardhouse, the soldiers swimming pool and all of their living quarters. Everything had gone and been replaced with houses and new streets. All I could say was: ‘Sorry kids, it’s all gone!’ I had to get out of there quickly as I felt my memory of it was evaporating the longer I looked at it.
I was staying with my friend Frank (in Dortmund) at the time, who I knew from those days. When I went back to his house that afternoon I told him that I couldn’t believe it had all just gone and all he said was:
“Ja Chris, the Tommy’s are no longer here.”
It’s just like an old football stadium. They knock it down and build a housing estate on top of it and when you go there, it’s hard to imagine all the thousands of people that buzzed about and what went on there. It’s why I did the Football stadiums book. We were going to get the World Cup and they were going to knock a lot of the stadiums down to build new ones. I had the idea for the book and the pictures for a long time but what really prompted me to get started on it was when they said they were going to knock Anfield down. Imagine that. I’m glad they didn’t.
Here is what some of the old stadiums look like today. See what I mean about how the memory of something can totally evaporate when you are standing in front of the changed landscape.