STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Germans today are celebrating 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall that divided the city and served as the symbol of a divided Europe. For days now, there have been celebrations leading up to the anniversary, including a concert featuring U2's Bono.
(Soundbite of song, �Sunday Bloody Sunday�)
BONO (Lead Singer, U2): (Singing) I can't believe the news today. I can't close my eyes and make it go away.
INSKEEP: This morning, MORNING EDITION starts a series marking the anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe. We're going to meet some of the people caught up in the events of 1989. We're going to hear their reflections on those revolutions, and we're going to learn how they see their countries today. NPR's Eric Westervelt begins our series in Berlin.
ERIC WESTERVELT: The spark that led to the wall's fall happened almost by accident. Weeks of mass protests had put enormous pressure on the East German communist government, the GDR, to ease travel restrictions, a key demand of demonstrators.
At a press conference on November 9th, a spokesman for the GDR announced prematurely and mistakenly that visa restrictions would be eased, effective immediately.
Freedom and fatherhood is how Oliver Karsitz remembers that night. He was 19 years old, and had fled to the West two years earlier. He was sitting in his apartment in West Berlin when he heard that people in the East - where his father still lived - were starting to flood across Bornholmer Strasse Bridge, a former main checkpoint in the Berlin Wall.
Mr. OLIVER KARSITZ: (Through translator) I was sitting in front of the TV watching this East German press conference, and when my girlfriend came home, I said, get this: The wall has fallen. She couldn't believe it, but she had just come from the doctor and she suddenly said, well I have news of my own: I'm pregnant.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) Suddenly, I was so overwhelmed. I could hardly process the news about the wall because my personal news was bigger and more significant to me in that very moment. We were both - oh, how do I put it? We were completely bewildered by it all.
WESTERVELT: On a recent night, Karsitz is revisiting Bornholmer Strasse bridge. Except for a small plaque, there's almost nothing in this dreary corner of East Berlin to indicate the bridge's historic significance. The weather that night was the same: cold and a bit rainy.
Mr. KARSITZ: And I remember on this place here, it was totally overcrowded with people and cars.
WESTERVELT: Was there still some fear when you come up to the border?
Mr. KARSITZ: Yeah. There was a kind of mixed emotions. It was between fear and, yeah, happiness about the situation, of course.
WESTERVELT: I wasn't really aware of it being an historic moment, he says. We were all just dumbfounded the wall was falling.
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) It was pure emotion, completely surreal. I even saw some rather embarrassing things that night and in the following days. I saw my fellow countrymen lining up diligently to get the money the West was offering as a welcome greeting. After standing in lines all their lives in the East, the first thing they did in the West was join another line, instead of enjoying the moment. I found it mortifying.
WESTERVELT: Karsitz and his pregnant girlfriend quickly set off for East Berlin to tell his father all the news. Karsitz hadn't seen his dad since he'd fled to the West two years earlier. That night, they were among the very few heading East, pushing against the throng heading the other direction.
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) It was actually very difficult for us to work our way through the streams of people who were naturally going to the West. People with champagne bottles in their hands kept shouting to us: The West is that way.
WESTERVELT: Karsitz replied, I know where I'm headed, thanks. I'm going to see my father.
But he wasn't sure his father would be home. After all, the wall was down. It was becoming clear that the communist German Democratic Republic would never be the same.
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) We all thought every single East Berliner would be at the border that evening. But my father's nature was fairly laid back, and lo and behold, he was at home, waiting for us.
WESTERVELT: What was your dad's reaction when you came to the door and said the wall's down and you're going to be a grandfather? I mean, it was quite a greeting.
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) My dad is rather reserved and he doesn't show his emotions easily, but I could see it touched him deeply inside, just as it did everyone that evening.
He was, of course, overjoyed to see me again, but also to meet my girlfriend for the first time. So much news in one go. We were all so speechless about the wall. We hugged, and then we told him he was going to be a grandfather. He was completely floored.
WESTERVELT: Karsitz and his dad drank some champagne into the early morning hours, and then he and his girlfriend headed back across the open checkpoint to their apartment in the West.
Karsitz, who works as an editor for German television, is unsentimental about that night. I always try to look to the future and live for today, he says.
His daughter, who's about to turn 20, is training to be a Web designer. His relationship with her mother didn't last. Karsitz says my generation lived with the East-West tensions every day, but those tensions are pretty meaningless to my daughter and her friends today.
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) My daughter has no inkling of what it was really like then. Our generation is still working through it all, to some extent. East and West come together everywhere in this city now. At your job, for example, you work with people from both sides of the wall, and you notice the divisions a little bit, the different outlooks. But for her, it plays no role whatsoever.
WESTERVELT: Karsitz says in the early �90s, when young people rushed into East Berlin for the cheap rent, the art and the party scene, he kept his distance. East Berlin was suddenly the place to be. Everything seemed possible, he says. There was space to live out your ideals, be creative, and life wasn't as orderly. And, of course, he adds, there were loads of fabulous parties. But it took Karsitz a decade before he could move back to East Berlin.
Mr. KARSITZ: (Through translator) East Berlin still held too many oppressive memories, and I could still sense the shadows of the old regime. I still experienced the numb feeling of sadness, and I couldn't shake it off. Without wanting to sound too melodramatic about it, it took me some time to shake off the dust of the past, until I was able to say, okay, I'm going back.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
WESTERVELT: Today, at key plazas in Berlin where the wall once stood, there are faux border guards in period military uniforms hawking toy passports for tourists, complete with a fake East German border stamp - nostalgia at 2 euros a pop.
That kitschy commodification of dictatorship and a once-deadly border is seen as a moral outrage to many who lived with the wall, including Karsitz. But, he concedes, it's also something of a sign of normalcy.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Tomorrow, we'll go to Poland 20 years after the Iron Curtain fell.
Unidentified Man: My daughter is constantly asking me about what was going on then, and she's very keen to listen. But, of course, they cannot understand the life under communism, because nobody can understand it. It was so stupid.
INSKEEP: Now we'll look at that country two decades later.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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