I once had the opportunity to travel to Berlin in 1988 but decided against it for the usual reasons we don't do things we should. Besides, my thoughts were that Berlin was not going to change anytime soon and the Berlin Wall would still be there when I returned for another visit at some yet to be determined date in the future. I was wrong. Of course, it was the summer before my seventeenth birthday, so I was often wrong about lots of things.
In 1998 I finally made it back to Germany, but did not go to Berlin. In fact, it never crossed my mind. Instead, I traveled north into Denmark and Sweden. After all, what was there to do and see in Berlin? The wall was down and everybody was living happily ever after.
In 2008 I went to Berlin for work. What I found was a place where the Cold War was both forgotten and lived everyday. Capitalism and the German work ethic have allowed the former West Berlin to absorb the eastern part of the city. In fact, one would have trouble distinguishing where the border between east and west actually was, were in not for the various landmarks, tourist attractions and bits and pieces of the wall to remind you.
Potsdamer Platz, formerly a barren spot on the east side adjacent to the wall, is now home to the ultra modern new train station (Bahnhof) and numerous modern office buildings. If you want to see a long stretch of the Berlin Wall in all its sinister glory, you have to do some exploring further into the former East Berlin. As you go deeper you see that the East has still not fully recovered from its previous life under communism. It just looks a little more dilapidated and, for lack of a better word, poorer.
As always, people, not sights, left the greatest impression upon me. Sitting beside a Berliner of the same age as me on the flight to Berlin, reminded me how the past lives in the present. He was a boxer living in East Berlin during the Cold War. He told how, in 1988, he was allowed to go to Finland for a fight. He subsequently defected to West Germany via Finland, leaving his family behind. Luckily, the wall came down a year later and he was reunited with his family. None-the-less, he had committed, at the age of seventeen, to risk it all and leave everyone behind simply for the opportunity to live a better life.
My reasons for not getting to Berlin in 1988 now seem even sillier.