Paul, Nia and I went to the Newseum (news+museum=newseum) yesterday. This was my first visit and I have to say I had an unexpectedly emotional experience. The Newseum is one of my husband’s favorite museums and he’s been there a number of times professionally (he used to be a journalist). We had been thinking about taking Nia there but weren’t sure if she was old enough to appreciate it. And since it’s one of the few museums in D.C. that are not free (it’s actually quite pricey at $22 for adults, $13 for kids) we were a little bit hesitant.
Our fast-approaching move overseas and a fortuitous 50% off Newseum admission offer from Groupon pushed us over the edge and there we were on a frosty morning looking at newspapers from all over the world and discussing our first amendment rights with Nia. There are a lot of really neat things to see at the Newseum, more than we had time (or some of us - patience) for yesterday but one thing really tugged at my heart.
It’s one of the first things you see as you enter the Newseum - a large chunk of the Berlin Wall together with a three-story East German guard tower that loomed near Checkpoint Charlie (Berlin’s best-known East-West crossing). To most people that’s just another historical symbol. To me, apparently it was a lot more, as I was about to discover.
I had been to Berlin before the Wall fell. I remember looking at the Wall and over it and trying to imagine what it must be like to live on the other side. I had also been to Berlin the year the wall fell. A Bulgarian friend and I visited an East German friend of ours shortly after the Wall fell. I remember standing where the wall used to be and looking at the rubble in disbelief. I picked up a piece thinking “It looks just like any old piece of concrete, yet it brought misery to so many people over the years…” I thought about taking the piece I was holding and keeping it as a souvenir for a moment but then I changed my mind and dropped it. I did not want to remember what it stood for.
All those memories flooded over me the instant I saw the chunk of the Wall at the Newseum and I suddenly realized that my life unfolded the way it did because the Berlin Wall fell. Had it not fallen, there would not have been Peace Corps in Bulgaria, Paul and I wouldn’t/couldn’t have met and our family, including our precious children, simply wouldn’t exist. I had never thought of it that way but that realization came out of nowhere and hit me pretty hard. I was choking up. A lady told us they were showing a short movie near the Wall exhibit and the three of us went in to see it. The movie was about news in general but it included a few images of the Tiananmen Square protests that happened the same year the Berlin Wall fell – two similar events that happened the same year - two very different outcomes. To think that our protests may not have succeeded was almost too much for me in that instant (especially now that we are reminded of the events that shook Europe to its core more than 20 years ago by the Arab Spring and the most recent violence in Syria.) I tried to explain to Nia what was happening in the pictures and found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I just lost it for a few seconds there but she and Paul seemed to understand.
We went back out and looked at the Wall for a while. We told Nia some of the history behind it. Interestingly, Paul had been to West Berlin the year his brother married a German lady. He told Nia about looking over the Wall from the other side wondering what life was like for the people in the East. I decided that we needed to take a picture with each of us on either side of the Wall and Nia in the middle. We had to ask a stranger for help with that and it was kinda tricky with the way the Wall is laid out in the Newseum but the lady did her best (Thank you stranger lady!).
The picture didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it in my head but it’s what we have for now and it means the world to us, quite literally. Perhaps we can go back with Max when he’s older and take another one with both kids in the middle. Maybe, we’ll even be able to stage it better next time.