The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

42 NOVEMBER 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL he simply returned with deutsche marks in hand to reimburse me for a visa fee I should not have paid as a diplomat. Things got funky when we arrived at Berlin’s train station and there was no sign of Matt, who had made all the arrange- ments for our visit. With no cell phone or way to reach him, we just waited anxiously until he came running, screaming: “They are tearing down the wall, they are tearing down the wall!” My immediate thought was that Matt must have been drinking. But, lo and behold, as we approached the Brandenburg Gate, you could hear the pounding of hammers against that hideous wall. Without much thought, two American diplomats joined the young West Berliners on top of the wall. The West Berlin- ers were taunting the East German guards, jumping onto the east side and then climbing back up on the wall as the guards, machine guns in hand, approached them. Thankfully, the East German guards did not fire as they had been prone to do previ- ously when East Berliners daringly tried to flee. I recall the lengthy lines at automatic cash dispensers as East Berliners collected the 100 DM they were entitled to upon arriving in the West. At border crossing points you could see Trabant car after Trabant car among crowds of people walk- ing into the West, many with joyful tears streaming down their cheeks. As we strolled the streets, we ran into perhaps the only German we knew, another Fletcherite. Overcome with emotion, he uncharacteristically hugged us. That is the kind of day it was. On Nov. 11, we had planned a dinner in East Berlin with our ambassador to East Germany, Dick Barkley, who had been a mentor to our A-100 class—the Fighting 44th! We called him to say we would understand if dinner was off, but he insisted we come over as his wife, Nina, was already preparing dinner. We crossed through Checkpoint Charlie, and as we looked at the endless stream of people crossing to the West, we worried howmy wife, then an Icelandic citizen, would get back to the West. After dinner Amb. Barkley had to excuse himself to appear on “Nightline” to discuss the dramatic events. We took that as our cue to leave. We sensed that the opening to the West would be permanent when we reached Checkpoint Charlie and saw that now the lines were of East Berliners returning to their homes, with virtu- ally no one crossing westward. That night, the stench of cheap champagne flowing through the streets of Berlin was the smell of freedom—and how sweet it was! I will admit to an uncomfortable moment when I returned to Copenhagen and shared my slides with the embassy com- munity. The deputy chief of mission stopped me at one of the slides—an unobstructed view of the Brandenburg Gate?!—and asked where the photo had been taken. I quickly moved to the next slide, not wanting to dwell on the imprudence of exuber- ant American diplomats risking an international incident by climbing on top of the wall in celebration. Michael Hammer was a first-tour Foreign Service officer in Copenhagen, on a vacation in West Berlin when the Berlin Wall fell. He is currently serving as U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Cold War, a young West Berlin couple talks to relatives in an East Berlin apartment house (see upper window open). They have climbed to the top of the wall to have their brief conversation. GETTY IMAGES/BETTMANN