Shelby County Teacher Shares Personal Memories of the Fall of the Berlin Wall – 30 Years Later

Geoff Wymer at the Berlin Wall photo
Geoffrey Wymer next to the Berlin Wall while stationed in Germany.

By: Geoffery Wymer – Math teacher at New Direction

One day shy of a month after graduating high school, at the age of 17, I said goodbye to my parents and my four younger siblings and left for Air Force basic training.  A month into basic training, I turned 18.

Going into the military, I already knew that I was going to work as a cryptologic linguist specialist. I would spend the next year-and-a-half in tech school, one year in language school, and half of a year in “intelligence” training, but I did not know yet what language I would be training for.  One day in basic training, they pulled a small group of us for a meeting where they announced that they had 48 slots for Russian and two slots for Romanian language training.

Then they asked, “So who wants to learn Russian?” I spent the next year in Monterey, California at the Defense Language Institute studying Russian. Five days a week, I had six classes and several hours of homework in Russian. Six months later, while doing my intelligence training in San Angelo, Texas, I got my orders to go to Sembach, Germany where I would work from the back of a reconnaissance C-130 plane. I was ecstatic at the chance to fly.

However, a couple of weeks later, I received a welcome packet for West Berlin, Germany. I threw it away, thinking it was a mistake. Not long after, I found out that my orders had been “red-lined” and I was needed in West Berlin.

Berlin Airlift memorial
Berlin Airlift Memorial

My home in Berlin was to be inside Hitler’s old airbase – Tempelhof.  Pointed high in the sky in the park in front of the airport stands the monument for the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift.  Every workday, I was to drive to a large mounded hill made from WWII rubble that overlooked a section of the Berlin Wall. It was a highly fenced and guarded site decorated with big signs that in English and German read “No Trespassing, Deadly Force Authorized”.  It was known as Marienfelde.

1989 was a strange year at my job.  The Russian forces located in the eastern block countries started behaving peculiarly.  This meant lots of extra work for us. People and units started popping up in places they had never been before. Soviet training began to look and act differently. To those around me, we came to the prediction that war was coming. 

Wymer in East Berlin photo
Wymer in East Berlin

On the morning of November 10, 1989, after working a “mid” shift–midnight to 8 a.m., I returned to my dorm in Tempelhof. My roommate was drunk and talking crazy. He mentioned Brandenburg Gate, Tom Brokaw, and the Berlin Wall. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to get at. Then he turned on the TV. There stood Tom Brokaw, holding a microphone in front of hundreds of people at Brandenburg Gate, announcing that the Berlin Wall had fallen. 

Geoff Wymer hold Berlin newspaper photo
Geoff Wymer holds a copy of the Berlin newspaper from November 10, 1989, documenting the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I quickly changed out of my uniform, got in my car, and drove the few miles to Brandenburg Gate. Thinking back, I remember the night in Texas before I did my first skydive jump, people sat around trying to explain what the feeling of jumping out of an airplane was like. A variety of suggestions were offered, but the conclusion was – there is nothing like it. The “party” that day at Brandenburg Gate was like that.

I have been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve. I have been to college fraternity parties at the University of Michigan. Nothing in my experience compares to that day in Berlin.  There is no way to quantify the emotions that happen when after 28 years of being “caged” in, separated from family and countrymen, the door is opened.

With the backdrop of columns, horses, and chariot, I spent the morning on top of the wall, pulling people from East over to West. To this day, when people ask me if I got pieces of the wall, the answer is, “of course”.  It is funny though to look in a box where there lies a pile of broken concrete and know that what I see there is so vastly different than what any outsider would see. When I look in that box of rubble, I see families reunited, hatred dissolved, and freedom from oppression.

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