The Wall Is Down, Hope Is Up
IN the rather spartan dining car on the eight-hour train ride from Frankfurt, West Germany, to Berlin there is a lunch menu offering ``lemonade, still'' or ``lemonade, fizz.'' I order the fizz. I sit and watch through the windows.
As the colorless, dreary little towns and villages of East Germany slide by, I sip the sparkle and conclude in the wisdom granted by the train's rhythm that communism failed because it denied basic human fizz. It disallowed so much that there was an inevitability to its failure. It was only a matter of time - and fizz denied - before the collective human spirit would demand the heart's right to sparkle.
Now I sip the fizz. I sit and watch through the window, measuring the difficulty of reunification of two dissimilar halves.
The train rumbles across some lovely countryside. Along the tracks are windblown birch trees, pines, maples, fields of grass. Spring planting is under way.
But the East German towns are heavily gray and sad. The main streets, seen quickly as the train slows, look utterly depressed. People don't wave back. Rust on metal seems to be everywhere. Flowers are there, but not in the abundance of gardeners looking forward to color. And hard as I look, I can find not one colorful sign posted anywhere. What is missing is the evidence of delight in basic human fizz.
As we ride slowly through an industrial town, with smokestacks shooting out a sickly yellow smoke, a foul, bittersweet odor fills the train. A gray haze has been pulled over the town and factories, like an unwashed blanket. It takes 20 minutes for the train to rid itself of the smell and only five minutes to pass through the town.
When the train reaches the outskirts of West Berlin it is as if a ringmaster has snapped his fingers. Suddenly here is vitality, bustle, houses bright and clean, color everywhere, streets bumpered with cars. And when the train stops in Berlin at the noisy Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten, it feels and looks like the dynamic crossroads of the world, basic human fizz at work and play.
The energy and multicultural prosperity of the city are genuine. At the Brandenburg Gate (now covered with scaffolding), the Berlin wall is down, a strip of rubble. Only a portable steel-mesh divider is there. Just a little to the north is the historic Reichstag, the old German parliament. Where the wall curved near it, entrepreneurs sell pieces of the wall along with Russian army hats, medals, T-shirts, and buttons with pictures of Lenin and Gorbachev. Hundreds of people mill about, talking, looking, taking photos.
If you follow the path of the wall a mile or so to Checkpoint Charlie, all the way you can see into the gloominess of East Berlin across the no-man's land that was lit at night. The wall sliced through buildings, cut off streets, divided hearts.
At Checkpoint Charlie, West German soldiers give sleepy waves to cars going in and out of East Germany. Here the wall still stands, but is pockmarked by thousands of people who have taken chisel and hammer to it for a chunk to take home. What used to be the focal point for political tension is now curiously lightened, with a sense of relief evident.
Just next to Checkpoint Charlie is a small restaurant with a menu offering a bitter-lemon soft drink. I buy a bottle. I raise it to the East. Beyond ideology and symbolism, here's to the encompassing return of basic human fizz to those denied so long.