GRANITEVILLE — Personal memories and political reality from 30-plus years ago in Germany were the focus of a Tuesday presentation at Aiken Technical College, with emphasis on the Berlin Wall.
The featured speaker was Lt. Col. Sascha Blankenburg, who works at Fort Gordon as the liaison officer for Germany's armed forces, and who faced the wall – a fortification, as he called it – as a physical and political entity during his years as a child and young adult.
Blankenburg, who was born in 1968, noted that most of his listeners appeared to be under the age of 30, which would mean they would have no memory of the decades when the wall (1961-89) was one of the most graphic symbols of the Cold War. He shared maps, timelines, statistics and videos with his audience.
"The strange thing ... is, most of the fortifications that I know are intended to keep somebody out. That fortification was intended to keep everybody in. Just bear that in mind," he said. "I was on the lucky side – on the western side – so I have definitely a different view than some people, or the people from the east."
After World War II and prior to the wall's construction, Berlin residents were relatively free to move back and forth to visit friends and relatives. "Berlin was ... divided, but you could still walk, or people could live – like here, you live in North Augusta and you work in Augusta. No problem. That was the same in Berlin."
The 660-mile wall, which was entirely in East Germany and encircled West Berlin, was supported by 30,000 border troops and was known officially in that country as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart." East Germany, with the Soviet Union's help, capped the flow of western-bound travelers and wound up relying on a massive network of up to 2 million informants to maintain control, conducting surveillance of schools, families and society in general.
"East, west, socialism, communism or Nazi – they all use the same techniques, maybe for a different cause ... and they work with fear and terror, and the terror goes down into the families," Blankenburg said, recalling how confused he was when visiting East Germany and recognizing the lack of free, open conversation about things of substance.
"We talk about everything. You talk about politics. You can be for the government, against the government. You can have a third opinion. That's normal for us and it's normal for you, and be happy about that, but if you're not able to say what you want or what you think, then we are in danger," he said.
Blankenburg showed his passport, including stamps from his visits in East Germany, and also had a pocket-sized piece of the wall on display. The wall, he added, did not simply "fall," as if due to gravity or decay.
"They built the wall because the people left, and who's leaving? Those people that have something in their brains. They left," he said, pointing out early 1989, when Hungarians took advantage of newly created fence openings to travel into Austria and eventually into West Germany. Some East Germans also joined the exodus.
Mass demonstrations occurred in East Germany a few months later, and the wall was being chipped away by November of that year. German reunification and the wall's official demolition both occurred in 1990.