Twenty-seven years ago this past week (Oct. 3, 1990) is a date I won’t soon forget. It was the “reunification” of Germany. East met West or rather East reunified with the West.
For the world, it was a huge celebration — The Wall Fell — it was a strike for freedom, it meant democracy for millions and yes, even the hope of world peace.
Closer to home, as someone who had been living in Europe for 17 years, an American married to an Englishman living most of that time in the former “West” Germany, it was a personal devastation.
It led to the end of my life, my job as an international photojournalist freelancing full-time for seven German newspapers and my family as I knew it. Not that day. Not that month. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but that was the end result.
We had a small scientific instrument manufacturing company employing 10 Germans with customers throughout Europe and beyond. Small companies like ours were left to fend for ourselves, competing with the lucrative “East” for business. The end result was that we lost our home, our business, our retirement and while we didn’t officially go bankrupt, we lost “everything.” Our marriage did not survive the strain.
I’ve always wondered why I’ve never read anything about the hundreds, if not thousands of small companies that went out of business as a result of the Wall falling. After all, the East became an instant investment gold mine.
By 1994, I was back in Minnesota after 20 years (nearly three in England and over 17 in Germany), starting my life over at the age of 50.
Fast-forward to today, I’m a happily married, “refired” —versus retired — photojournalist as busy as ever with a Cuba photo exhibit that opened Friday at the Evansville (Minn.) Art Center and another one scheduled for the Edina (Minn.) Art Center in January.
Last Monday, I spent several hours going through hundreds of letters I’d written to my family, mostly to my mother and two sisters, during those 20 years in Europe, in preparation for writing my memoir. I didn’t stop to read most of them, but in realizing that Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, I set aside a handful written during that time to read.
In one letter, dated Jan. 1, 1990, I was commenting to my mother about the political situation. “The financial drain on the West is enormous at the moment. It’s fabulous that the East is loosening it’s tethers, but it’s costing! There is resentment here and there. But basically, people are breathing easier.”
Only a few weeks later, in February 1990, I wrote of “changes in Germany and Europe.”
On June 23, 1990, my letter reads, “Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled on Friday, that’s really something.”
Then in a letter from my daughter, Andrea, 15 years old at the time, to her grandparents, she wrote, “East and West are joining tomorrow, people are already out tonight and celebrating. On AFN (American Forces Network, the American Army radio station we listened to), they said tons of people are at the Brandenburg (Gate in Berlin) tonight.”
The letter had a Deutsche Einheit (German Unity) stamp on it and was mailed the day after reunification.