The Berlin Wall –1983

November 9, marks the 21st anniversary of the dismantling of the infamous Berlin Wall
By Chandra Wickramasinghe

In the tired conscience of the world
You are almost a forgotten thing,
Sweeping into the news
With each spectacular escape,
Or tragic failure to make it.

At eye level,from the street,
It is singularly unimpressive,
A somewhat low wall –
For one that divides so decisively,
With razor-sharp concertina wire
Adding height and warning.

You climb the ramp
And confront a cemetery-like
No man’s land,
With massive tilted concrete crosses
And other varied obstacles
Strewn haphazardly,
Complementing the rich minefields.

Beyond the ‘cemetery’ –
A wall of wire netting
Through which one sees,
Wolf-like hounds,
Scurrying along the edge tirelessly,
With a wilful animal earnestness.

Watch towers loom at regular intervals
And statue-like soldiers
With automatics,
Mount a sharp vigil.

To cross the divide,
So many have paid the supreme price.
Is it the challenging quest
For elusive freedoms
That urged the sacrifice?

To me and my compatriots,
To cross and recross.
Cost only the price of a rail-ticket
And a piercing look,
From a steely-eyed border official.

Once across,the contrast was striking,
The gaiety of the Western sector gives way
To an austere aspect.
The buildings are stately and impressive
Yet fewer automobiles are seen,
With more people walking,
Looking rather severe and preoccupied.
At the marketplace,it is more relaxed
With people hawking their sparse wares,
While old women,dowdily dressed,
With very little to sell, look on resignedly.

We were witness to an intriguing incident,
In the form of a motor car accident,
If one could call it that!
An elegant yellow Mercedes bumped into
A common garden Trabant
And out jumped a swanky female
Who could well have been
From the pages of Vogue,
Dangling fashionably, a cigarette
In a long-–stemmed holder.
Two policemen materialised
And looked eagerly at the dent
On the yellow limousine.
The female, looking superbly incongruous
In the staid setting, spoke rapidly to the cops
Who seemed more anxious not to spoil her poise
Let alone blame her for the mishap.
We watched her speed away on screeching tyres
Leaving the other forlorn motorist
To make a statement to two impassive cops
Suddenly turned aggressively investigative!

Even in high Socialism,we reflected ,
There was class with the unmistakable stamp on it –
Demanding distinction and favour.
Power and position, we mused,
Shaped class elitism which we again felt,
Was necessary fuel to propel
The Permanent Revolution!

Germany so divided
Is like a schizophrenic nation,
The cure simply is
A healthy unity.

You cannot divide hearts and minds
Let alone a nation’s soul.
Two generations have kept alive the yearning;
My fervent wish,
The third will achieve it!

(The above lines were written in 1983, when the writer, as Additional Secretary / Ministry of Industries at the time, was on an official visit to West Berlin. The Berlin Wall, built in 1961, was finally dismantled on 09.11.1989 by the ordinary citizens of Germany, reuniting West Berlin with East Berlin,
once again.)

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