Goslar, West Germany
By Renee Ertl
Goslar, West Germany, November 19, 1989
It was a Sunday. The tiny town of Goslar, West Germany, was buzzing. Cars lined the streets, people crowded the sidewalks, and every store had its doors wide open.
In West Germany, stores are not open for business on Sundays. On a Sunday, you usually walk along the cobblestone streets of a small town, peering into the dark store windows, wondering if anyone really lives or works in the seemingly deserted pace. So what in the world was happening on this particular Sunday? Goslar, West Germany was stretching out its warm, friendly, and giving arms to its brothers and sisters from the East.
The borders had only been open for a few days. And of course, being the international group, “Up With People,” we went to Goslar to experience this Sunday, November 19, 1989, that would be unlike any other.
We left the southern part of Denmark early in the morning, before sunrise. The plan for our day was to arrive in Goslar, a small town about twenty miles from an open border crossing, do an informal show outside in the marketplace, and then have some time to live, feel, see, hear, and breathe the atmosphere of this Sunday.
As we got closer to Goslar, I sat up in my bus seat and watched for DDR (Deutsch Democratic Republic) cars on the highway. They were easy to spot. They were like tiny boxes, a bit old fashioned, and thin. They went half the speed of all the other cars on the road too. Each time I spotted a car, I watched it intently until we passed it. I couldn’t help but stare at the people inside. I felt such excitement, and happiness for every person in each car. And how I wondered what their thoughts and feelings were. I would have loved to be a passenger, sitting alongside of them.
As we arrived in Goslar, we parked our buses on the edge of town. We all couldn’t wait to get to the center to be a part of it all. When we were finally given the go-ahead, we walked at a quick pace. The excitement was building. As we got closer to the marketplace, we started passing all of these DDR cars parked along the side streets. We were like little kids. We touched them, looked inside, and took our pictures standing next to them.
There were many people strolling the cobblestone streets and in the open marketplace. This was unusual for a Sunday. It was so easy to pick out the East Germans. They looked different. I can’t say exactly what it was? Maybe their hair, clothes, shoes, or maybe the glow on their faces or awe in their eyes? Maybe it was a little bit of everything?
I so enjoyed watching the families or couples look with amazement in the stores at the merchandise. They were like children at Disneyland. As I went from store to store, I tried to put myself in their shoes – experiencing this western life for the first time. I began to realize the wealth of choice we are accustomed to. The variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, in everything from kitchen pots and pans, to watches, turtlenecks, and cereal boxes.
I saw one lady try on a pair of jeans while her daughter felt every fuzzy sweater sitting on the shelves. I’m sure she didn’t have the money to buy the jeans, but that probably didn’t faze her one bit. The thrill of being in the West and trying on the fashions for a few seconds, was probably all she needed.
We all assembled in the marketplace for quick instructions for the informal show. Our director had to be hoisted on some shoulders so that we could see and hear him over the rumble of the crowd. On one end of the big cobblestone marketplace was a small stage that would hold maybe thirty of us. But that was okay, the other one hundred of us could be out performing in the crowd. Our music started playing and we ran on and in front of the stage from wherever we were in the marketplace. We didn’t wear costumes, we just performed as we were, all bundled up against the bitter cold.
Immediately an audience started to gather. In no time there were probably five hundred people standing in front of us. To me, this was the ultimate Up With People experience. I can’t even count the number of times that chills curled up my spine, or how many times I had to grit my teeth to hold back the tears. The words that I had sung so many times throughout the year, now became so much more meaningful and intense.
“Too many weapons,
too many walls,
the problem is mine,
the problem is yours.
Everybody, everywhere, beginning to see,
it’s a family matter and we’re all in it together!”
The crowd was dancing and clapping along to this up-beat tune. I’m sure many of them couldn’t understand a word that we were saying, but they could feel the meaning through our eyes and faces.
Seeing their joy was just an incredible feeling. Feeling it, would make it a thousand times more.
Our last song, “The Heart’s Still Beating,” was the most powerful, and the most touching. The tears streamed down our faces, and the faces of almost every person in front of us. We all stood there, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, hand in hand, swaying back and forth to the slow moving beat of the music.
“…And there are those moments,
when we can forget who we think we are,
with our stripes and our ammers,
suns, crescents, and stars.
We can’t find a barrier anywhere.
We can’t find the enemy we thought was there.
For a moment we can trust, for a moment, it’s only us.
The Heart’s Still Beating,
and the fires still burning.
We may be feeling,
that the wind is turning.
And the pain is healing,
though the memory may be long,
The Heart’s Still Beating… strong.”
Even now as I write, I can vividly see those faces. The joy. The hope. I have to hold back my tears again.
This Sunday was unlike any other. It was a part of history, and a part of my life. The impressions and feelings of this Sunday will be with me forever, and with my brothers and sisters from the East.
©1990, Renee Ertl