In May, 1988, Berlin was still firmly divided, and for a young Canadian visiting the historic German city, alone, without knowing the language, I found it somewhat intimidating.
I walked through Checkpoint Charlie, from the American Sector into the Soviet Sector, knowing that I was entering this repressive district with a plan to explore back alleys, away from the tourist areas. I had a micro-cassette recorder in my camera bag, and I would use it to make notes about a novel I was working on.
It was a spy novel, with Roland Axam as the main character.
It was only on my return to West Berlin, as I was smuggling the unused West German marks in my shoes, that I realized that had the border guards decided to listen to my recordings, they would hear me speaking about alcoves in apartment buildings that could hide entrances to a tunnel to the west. About names of defectors.
Not knowing that one-and-a-half years later, the wall would come down, I sweated over the possibility of being held in a Communist country on charges of espionage.
But if Roland could bluff his way through Checkpoint Charlie, why couldn't I?
On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I couldn't help but think about the song, ÜBerlin, by R.E.M. I only discovered the band's final album, Collapse into Now, in 2011, a few weeks before the group called it a day and disbanded. As a big fan of R.E.M., I was at first saddened to hear that they were breaking up, but also surprised that they were still together in 2011. While I loved their sound and had followed them since the release of Lifes Rich Pageant (1986), I was disappointed in Monster (1994) and took a break from listening to them. Only every once and a while, I would hear them on the radio and tell myself that I should start listening to them again.
I finally did so in 2011. And then they broke up.
ÜBerlin is a lovely song, and when I looked up the video on YouTube, I was happy to see that it was set in Berlin (though no real discernible landmarks are shown). The video features British actor, Aaron Johnson, dancing while he walks through a graffiti-spattered, run-down part of the town. His almost spastic-like dancing looks very much like how I dance around the house when I do my weekend chores.
Another reason to like the video.
With Berlin's historic anniversary, I couldn't help but remember my experiences in the city when the wall was still up, about my main fictional man, and a band that I loved strongly in 1988.
(And now you can think of me dancing on Saturday afternoons.)
Enjoy the video.
(If you want to see more of my photos from Berlin, click here.)
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