Tuesday, February 21, 2017


There's been a lot of talk lately about a wall. Let me tell you about my experience with a different  one.

The Berlin Wall.

Berlin, Germany.

I used to live in Berlin.

My father was in the Air Force and that's why we moved there. It wasn't the first time we lived in Germany. When I was little Mark we lived in a town called Zweibrucken. That's German for "two bridges" and my younger sister, Karen, was born there.

Some of my earliest memories are of that time. Think hard of your first recollections. It almost hurts. It's like seeing everything through a haze, through a curtain. At least that's how it is for me.

So, Berlin.

We moved there in 1962.  There were six McEwens when we arrived. When we left there were eight, I had two new brothers.

Talk about a stranger in a strange land.

Some streets were cobblestone, I had never seen that before. The mark was their dollar and when I was there it was four of them for one dollar of ours. My allowance was a dollar a week. Guess who was always converting dollars to marks? I would spend all my allowance on gummi bears and sweet treats from the bakery.

Television was new and we didn't have one. That's where reading took hold and I read everything. Well not everything, things that a kid would read. Mad magazine, the Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, Tom Swift.

Don't tell anyone but I even read Nancy Drew books.

I read "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London. It's set in Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush and introduces you to a dog named Buck. I know, I know, too much information, but I remember shivering from the cold, in July, because of that book.

It was the first time I played baseball in little league.

There was a German kid named Roman in my school. His mom would give him a Schmaltz sandwich for lunch every day. Schmaltz is chicken or goose fat used as a spread on bread and he hated it.

I did not.

I bet you know who ate his lunch every day.

There was a park behind our apartment building, Berlin was full of pretty, green, parks. People would walk through it holding hands sometimes, deep in conversation at other times, or just saying nothing. You weren't allowed to ride your bikes there, you were supposed to walk them.


We would ride ours, laughing the whole time. The older park ranger would shake his fist, yell at us in German, and chase us on his bike. It was on. Great fun for us kids.

The Wall.

You know the story. One day there was no wall the next day there was. People who just happened to visit their boyfriend, their girlfriend, their family, and spent the night in what became known as East Berlin, were trapped and could not go back home.

I'd never heard of anything like that.
The Brandenburg Gate

People in a state of shock that their brother, their mother, their good friend, was on the other side of that wall. I do remember going to the Brandenburg Gate on a field trip from school.

There were wreaths in places along the Wall where people had been shot trying to escape.

They had wooden platforms where you could look over the Wall into East Berlin and I did.

I saw nothing moving as far as the eye could see.

I remember thinking, even as a kid, "How could the streets be empty, how could nothing be moving?"

Not even a bird flying.

An image that has stayed with me forever.

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