From 1979 to 1981, my family lived in Germany on military housing not far from Ramstein Air Force Base where my dad was stationed. Sometime in the winter or early spring of 1981, I went on my very first adventure without my parents. My Girl Scout troop would be taking the train to spend a couple of days in Berlin, Germany. At nine years old, I thought it was no big deal going away from mom and dad for a few days. (Now as a parent, I know what a big deal it is.)
One of the biggest thrills on the trip was taking the train because we would be in sleeper cars. After giggling in our bunks, we all managed to settle down and get to sleep. At some point in the night, though, we were awakened by the train coming to a stop. We were entering East Germany. We kept our lights off and whispered, afraid that an East German soldier, an evil communist, would come and take us away. With nervous anticipation and quite a bit of fear, we waited until the train started up again before crawling into our bunks and going back to sleep.
Our arrival into Berlin was non-eventful. We went to a home or community center where we would all stay as a troop and sleep in one large room. From there, we walked to some places in Berlin and we took a bus tour of the city at some point. I had my little Brownie camera ready to take pictures of whatever caught my attention (of course most turned out blurry and uninteresting). The city fascinated me, from its beauty to its history. It was unlike any other city in Germany I had been, especially because this city had something unique. A wall. The Berlin Wall.
At certain points we would catch glimpses of the Wall as the tour guide told us about Berlin’s history. We did actually get out and see the Wall up close. I remember being surprised to see so much graffiti on it. It wasn’t what I expected. Some tour guide told us tales of attempted escapes, some successful and some not so successful. We learned about Checkpoint Charlie. The original plans for the trip involved us going into East Berlin, but the Checkpoint was closed, I believe, because of an attempted escape (it is possible that had nothing to do with it, but that my young mind created that as the reason and it has stuck with me since that time).
I wish I could say I remember more about the trip, but I don’t. Unfortunately, it has been over 30 years and my memories of the trip have faded. Beyond the wall, I do remember going to a museum and seeing a mummy and Nefertiti’s Bust. I also remember a trip to the Berlin Zoo. I believe we saw a panda, but that did not compare to seeing an elephant pee for the first time. Being nine, that to me was more fascinating than any bear.
I do remember getting to spend time with my friends, particularly my best friend at that time, Jennifer. We would walk and giggle, like young girls do. Our troop leaders and chaperones kept a close eye on us, but let us explore and learn on our own.
Years later, in the fall of 1989, when the Wall came down, my memories flashed back to my trip to Berlin. I knew in that moment that I got to see a part of history that my future children would never know except through history books.
Some day, I know my daughters will have opportunities like this one. I hope I remember to be supportive and allow them to go on similar adventures. It is my fervent wish that I give them a chance to travel and experience history for themselves.