A new PBS film about the Berlin Wall, The Wall: A World Divided, has brought back memories of my German penpal. Read on to learn more.
My Pen pal Helga Hosch
In the 7th grade, nine years before unrestricted access between East and West Berlin was granted, Helga Hosch became my pen pal. She lived in a village in West Germany. I still remember her address: 13 Oberfellendorf.
Helga and I wrote to each other many times over a four-year period. I vividly recall photos she sent of her Lutheran Confirmation. She was wearing a black vest and skirt and little white flowers in her hair. “I can’t talk openly about my faith,” she wrote. This always confused me since she lived in West Germany.
Helga used perfect English and complained that my penmanship was poor. “I can’t read your handwriting,” she wrote. The last letter I received from her was in 1983, and I always wondered if it was because my cursive was so atrocious. I wrote to her for the last time in 1985.
Monday night was the world premiere of a PBS special, The Wall – A World Divided. I was lucky enough to catch it on Oklahoma’s OETA. The 60-minute program can be viewed online.
Generation X and the Berlin Wall
Like most Gen Xers, the Berlin Wall held great significance for me throughout my youth and childhood. It created an awareness in me at a very young age that not everyone enjoyed the freedoms I enjoyed. There were times in 1979, when I first started writing to Helga, that I worried she might accidentally slip through the Berlin Wall, forever lost to the East and the Communist enclave.
It occurred to me for the first time while watching The Wall – A World Divided, that all that mortar was poured onto the streets dividing East and West Berlin just as a new generation was arriving on the planet. Generation X, by the broadest definition, begins in 1961. It was in August 1961 when construction on the wall began.
Germany’s Generation X was born with the wall and grew up with the wall. It ran not only 100 miles in length, but the duration of the Gen X childhood and most of its youth. The wall effectively came down in 1989.
You always hear Generation X has no heroes, but what about the East German college students who joined the opposition to bring down the Berlin Wall? They were all born after 1961. You will see some of their faces and hear some of their voices in parts of this documentary.
Update: In 2014, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Click here to see a Google Doodle marking the occasion.