Mein Berliner Freund
Every time I walked by the old Berlin Wall, I wanted to talk to a woman who’d lived through it and listen to her stories of growing up in Communism. What was it like to be a child in East Berlin? Go to school? What did she know about the world? Did she want to get out?
While our flat was in the former East Berlin (and we were surrounded by East Germans), no one I met spoke English—the GDR government required students to take Russian in school instead of English. The few German words I can mispronounce would hardly start a friendship. And my Russian…
We left Germany blessed with wonderful new friends from the former West Berlin as well as from around the world. But I’d REALLY wanted to befriend someone from the former East as well. I was disappointed, but what could I do?
Jump forward a few months and here we are in Southern California. I’m at a park a mile or so from our home and Karly decides to borrow sand toys from a little boy three days older than her. The boy’s mom and I start talking. When I lean down to say something to the child, his mother says,
“He speaks German.”
“Really. Vas es du namen?”
“Johnny. You know German?”
“Very little. We just moved here from Berlin.”
“I’m from Berlin,” she says.
“Where in Berlin?”
“The East side.”
So we start talking about the great city that was divided for fifty years. Our five months living there. Her years growing up. The wall came down when she was ten, but she remembers. She tells me that people have no idea what life was like in East Berlin—and most people don’t care.
Our conversation was interrupted by our kids—and the darkness that had settled over the park. Time to go home.
But it turns out we live in the same neighborhood, one street away, so we met back at the playground a few nights last week. The kids play. We talk. I love it.
I had to move from Berlin to California to meet a former East Berliner who speaks fluent English. And now a wonderful new friend. A small world? Maybe. A God plan? I think so.