20 YEARS SINCE THE BERLIN WALL FELL AND I, TOO, AM A JELLY DOUGHNUT! (11/09/09)
(I wrote this a couple of months ago as a blog and I'm re-printing it here because I am returning to Berlin in a few weeks. Thanks for reading!)
Today, marks 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell and it seems like yesterday.
I had been in Berlin a short time before that, busking around Europe, and marveled at how it was the only modern, walled city on Earth. I visited both the East and the West and was shocked, like countless others before me, by the stark differences between the two.
Several months after that, I met a couple named Rolf and Beate Sieker. They came over to Nashville and we made a bluegrass album together featuring our own original material and dobro wizard, Jerry Douglas, and we planned for me to come over weeks later to start playing some shows and touring Europe.
Between the time we finished the record and my arrival in Berlin, 'The Wall' had fallen. November 9, 1989
After flying over there and settling in, I began to explore the city and found it already to be quite different. West Berlin was no longer an island. Scores of eastern immigrants and entrepeneurs had set up kiosks and were selling everything from ghetto blasters to West German Marks on the streets. The wall was coming down piece by piece as enterprising Turks were chiseling it down to small boulders, spray painting them and selling them to tourists as historical souvenirs. (I, myself, bought a hammer and chisel and sent home a bunch of the concrete chunks to friends and family and a large piece still rests on the bookshelf in my living room.)
Everyone loved everyone in those first brief months before the honeymoon had to come to an end. I met lots of Easterners including an American who had met a young East German and married her in 1961, taking up permanent residence in East Berlin and raising their daughter there. They were thrilled to have contact with westerners but were unsure about their future and what the new government and reunification would bring. (And, I must add, it was not entirely smooth sailing for them in the years that followed.) My purest musical jams to this were at their flat in the old East Berlin. I truly hope that I can find them.
But, I really had the time of my life and knew that history was being made and I, in my miniscule way, was getting to participate in it. I played and sang tons of bluegrass on those city streets and bars and met some amazing musicians who are still performing to this day. I hear that people still go out and listen to live music and participate in social gatherings surrounding all kinds of music there. One is reminded of a certain popular Broadway song from the 1970's, from a musical set in Berlin called 'Caberet', "What good is sitting alone in your room, time for a holiday, life is a caberet, old chum, come to the caberet". Berlin is still a caberet, old chum. Even after a 20 year absence, trust me, I know that it's still that. I have faith.
In a couple of months I will be returning to Berlin, after a 20 year absence, and I don't really know what to expect. I've seen photos of the glimmering new buildings which stand where the old wall once stood. I hear tales of the art scene and the culinary scene. I imagine what it's like and the changes that have occurred.
But today I marvel at the miracle that spontaneously happened two decades ago today and am reminded that people can do the right thing, go against the odds and bring real revolution not to mame or kill or seek power but to spread freedom and live their lives the way that they choose.
Even though John F. Kennedy's poorly translated cry to the Berliners, "Ich Benn Ein Berliner!", (which he thought meant "I am a Berliner," and actually means, "I am a jelly doughnut,") thundered through the assembled German crowd almost a half century ago, we can rally with JFK's sentiments and raise our glasses and our hearts to the fine, proud citizens of that capital and rejoice for what happened on that November night 20 years ago.
Today, in my heart, I am a Berliner!
And, tomorrow, I will still be a jelly doughnut.