One Day That Changed My Life

On July 25, 1971 I was a 22 year old economics graduate of Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.  It was a Sunday morning as I walked into the infamous shack on Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse with my friends Les Blanchard and Greg Savage.  We got our final instructions from US Army forces before crossing the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie.  We would be in East Berlin only 6 or 7 hours, but it would be a day that would change my life forever.

Once we passed through the wall we had to enter the office of the East German (DDR) authorities.  They checked our passports and told us that it was illegal to exchange money with East Berliners.  They also told us that we could not take photos of any military installations or military vehicles of the DDR.  There was only one spot where it was legal to photograph the Mauer (wall) from the East German side…a non-intimidating, grassy field that was void of the usual tank traps, barbed wire and guard towers.

While showing our passports at the border control building, I asked the DDR authorities if they had a restroom.  They did.  Being 22 years old, naive and a bit foolish, I went into the restroom and, in an act of defiance, took my first illegal photo of the wall through the restroom window of the DDR border control building.  Due to some posting problems, that photo won’t appear in the blog today, but it will appear on November 15th, when I tell the full story of my day in East Berlin.  That photo DOES appear in my Sunday morning subscriber email.  If you want to see the photo today, just email me at and ask to be added to my Sunday morning email list.  There is no cost, no obligation, no passwords, and you may unsubscribe any time.

On Monday, November 9, 2009 we will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin wall in Somsen Auditorium on the campus of Winona State University.  The event starts at 7pm, is open to the public, and there is no admission charge.  Joining me will be Foreign Language Professor Lilian Ramos and Physics Professor George Bolan who crossed at Checkpoint Charlie in 1971 and 1964 respectively.  Marie Grunz, who grew up in East Germany and survived the Nazi’s and the Russians, will complete our panel, along with award-winning photographer Chops Hancock, who took two famous photos on the day the Wall came down.

On Monday the ninth of November, there will be stories; personal reflections with a lot of emotion.  Lilian will tell you about her friend who was on the last subway train to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin before they tore up the tracks.  I’ll tell you about young East German Art student I met on the bad side of the wall.  Trapped in a totalitarian prison, he had never seen the Louvre or the British Museum of Art and wouldn’t until the Wall came down 18 years later.  By then he was a 44-year old man.  George and Maria will have their stories too, along with Chops, who was shooting photos for National Geographic when the Wall fell on November 9, 1989.

That Monday evening, I’ll share a story you’ll never forget, but I’m not going to blog it until November 15th.  If you’re in or around Winona, Minnesota on the evening of Monday, November 9, 2009 please come to Somsen Auditorium.  You won’t forget that night, just like I’ll never forgot that Sunday Morning when I crossed from the bright, colorful city of West Berlin to enter a drab, black and white hell known as East Berlin.

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