Life Lessons from the wall

I was born in the 80’s in Berlin, at a amazing time when the world was undergoing significant changes. The cold war was coming to an end, the re-unification of Germany, music television and technology were making massive strides forward. Some of the best cult films were being made and while all of this was happening, I often had my nose stuck in a book.

Cue 80’s montage!

I might be a nerd and a techie these days but I was always a curious child and that came from the stories I read. My fascination with great stories was especially strong and I guess that has shaped me into the journalist I am these days. I grew up reading books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Chronicles of Narnia, Winnie the Pooh, Lord of the Rings and Alice in Wonderland.

This was my favorite thing growing up!

To be clear though, I wasn’t an introvert that spent all my time indoors, quite the opposite. Spending my time outside playing Pooh sticks, getting lost in climbing trees, hiding in closets and exploring forests. For me, it was about trying to recreate those stories from the pages into the real world. My days of playing Pooh sticks are fortunately, well behind me.

Now you may be thinking this is a vanilla childhood, that everything was perfect and it’s a story you’ve probably heard a hundred times, over right? Well I can assure you it was far from it. The world was changing around me and while I was extremely young I always had a sense that there was always something bigger going on around me. To give it some context, Germany in the 80’s was far from a perfect place, in fact there was a lot of danger in and around the country.

A prime example of the dangers includes Checkpoint Charlie which separated the East and West sides of Germany. People would be shot trying to escape from the East, along with citizens being smuggled across the borders. As a child, I had no idea about these things but that’s not to say I didn’t always have that sense of something bigger going on. The first time I really realized it was during the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. While I don’t remember the celebrations and the festivities a great deal (I was only 6 years old), I do remember as a family visiting the wall a few days later.

I had a chance to walk along the low sections of the Berlin wall and collecting pieces of history (I still own some pieces somewhere in my family’s house). During the visit I remember picking up a piece that had some extraordinary graffiti upon it. I was then approached by a German man who I had never met before. He began to shout at me in German and I hung onto this heavy piece of concrete. My dad rushed to my defense before persuading me to part with the piece of wall. The German man was so passionate about preserving history and the piece of wall he had carved out that looking back now in context, his reaction was understandable.

Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense:

While I didn’t understand much about what was going on, I was okay about relinquishing this beautiful piece of wall I had acquired. I had spent all my time up till this point reading about fantastic worlds and stories. Imagining all the heroes their own stories.I’d never before considered there are often two sides to every story.

I don’t remember much about the German man and how he looked or what we as a family did for the rest of the afternoon. All I remember is holding my mum and dads hand as we walked off. I turned and glanced backwards and saw the Germany man pick up his tools and head through the dust cloud back towards the wall.

Credit: David O’Leary

Though I don’t remember much, I still feel I learnt a lot from that experience as a child. Even today many years later, I don’t always understand what is going on around me but I always know that it is something that cannot be explained simply. Life is complicated and complex and there are different sides to everything. I think the difference between that learning experience as a kid and now is that I actively try to understand those complications and understand both sides of the story. The German man will never know the impact of the lesson I learnt that day and I guess it is why I am so interested in the human aspect of stories as a journalist today.

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