William Frances Buckley
The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Before the wall, aspirant refugees from all over East Germany made their way to East Berlin intending to continue their journey over to the western part of the city. After the wall, although East Berliners continued to venture to the West, Berlin was no longer the magnet it had been. Those who sought to go west gravitated now to other parts of East Germany, where the barriers were less intensely guarded.

One family used a homemade balloon for a twenty-eight-minute flight across the East-West border to Upper Franconia. Munich attorney Heinz Heidrich hired Barry Meeker, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, to fly his clients to the Free World in a helicopter. Meeker gave a wry tribute to the complicated machine he had used in Vietnam: 'I thought, "Here's a really good thing to do with a helicopter."' A symphony orchestra percussionist was permitted from time lo time to four abroad, but his wife had to stay home as hostage. Finally, the percussionist fitted her into a kettledrum, and over she went to the West.

Herr Heidrich also used horses to get people out of East Germany—not by mounting the refugees on horseback, but by creating a horse van with a hidden compartment that would hold five people, no less. Of course, for verisimilitude, he had to transport real horses along with his real refugees. 'What those horses cost!' he complained to the American journalist Peter Wyden. (Unlike Fuchs and Spina and other early saints of the movement, these second-generation escape helpers charged expenses plus; $10,000 to $12,000 was considered reasonable, and some charged considerably more.)

In the early days of the wall there were frequent scenes of painrully distant reunions, many of them captured on film, since the wall and its implications never ceased to be a magnet for photographers. A daughter hands her mother flowers across the barbed wire, wishing her a happy birthday. Wedding parties gather near low places in the wall to wave to their separated families. A West Berlin woman climbs up a ladder, helped by her husband and young daughter, to show the face other new baby to relatives in the East. Whole buildingsful of people, some with binoculars, wave handkerchiefs at the windows in the buildings opposite, whose inhabitants wave back.

But even such attenuated intimacies became more difficult and eventually impossible as the wall grew to thirteen feet tall, with a death strip and a second wall behind it. And then, once it was permitted (though it was never easy or cheap) for West Berliners to travel to the Fast for real reunions, the long-distance trysts faded out. But a different sort of reunion persisted, as simple crosses were placed near the wall, with flowers and wreaths frequently renewed, in memory of those who had tried to come over and failed.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.