Keeping the People In

Posted by on Jul 3, 2010 | No Comments

East German Guard Tower Through Hole in the Wall

The East German snipped off a one foot section of barbed wire and passed it to me through a hole carved in the reinforced concrete wall. That wall, was the Berlin Wall. I stood on the West Berlin side of the wall only a few yards from Checkpoint Charlie. He sat on a stool in East Berlin, in an area that was only a few months before no-Man’s land.As he cut off another section of the wire he said, in his heavy German accent, “You see this wire. Is many years old, but looks like new. But if I go to store to get wire for my house, I can only get old, rusty wire.”

Then he waved the segment for emphasis. “But to keep the people in, only the best!”          

From 1988 through 1991 I was fortunate to serve as an American Air Force officer in what was then West Germany. That period turned out to be an historic one for millions of people who had lived under Communist rule. After over three decades of living behind the Iron Curtain of Soviet influence, a trickle quickly became a torrent, and whole nations threw off their shackles and declared their independence.      

When I visited West Berlin in the Spring of 1990 a briefing officer at Templehoff Air Base talked about the recent events. He said, “Basically, people decided they wanted to go shopping.” He told about how television signals reaching into Eastern Bloc countries exposed to the people the lie they’d been told of how superior their life was to that in the West. In the East people stood in line for basics like toilet paper and fresh fruit. In the West we picked it up from piles in the grocery store. Finally a tipping point was reached and droves of East Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, and other Eastern Europeans pushed their way through the now rusted Iron Curtain to “go shopping.”  

Yes, that is a pretty simplistic view of that time on the world stage. But when I stood on Bismarckstrasse in downtown Berlin and watched hordes of people push shopping carts loaded with electronic gear onto tourist buses bound for former Eastern Bloc countries, it seemed a pretty compelling argument.

Berlin 1990: Free to Shop

I was blessed to be born in a country where men and women of courage declared their own independence on July 4, 1776, in a world where most countries were ruledby monarchs or despots. While my nation is not perfect it has proven to be an inspiration to millions of people who have sought their own liberty. Shopping may not have been the ultimate goal, but it is a nice side benefit.  

On this Fourth of July thank you to those who brought us our liberty. Thank you to all who help us keep it. And happy Fourth of July to all who love freedom.


  1. Deanne Gribble
    July 3, 2010

    Look forward to more. Thanks

  2. Rebecca Stuhlmiller
    July 6, 2010

    I was fortunate enough to visit East and West Berlin in 1980 – before the wall came down. It was a fascinating experience, even for a 17 year old. Thanks for sharing some more background on the city and the fall of the wall.
    so it was all about shopping 🙂 Last night we stood on an Army Base watching fireworks and listening to “Proud to Be an American.” More moving than you can imagine.

  3. Connie Mace
    July 6, 2010

    Thank you Dennis for the wonderful reminder. Let us choose to be thankful and dismiss the urge to murmur, grumble or complain.

  4. Krichelle Groth
    July 6, 2010

    Dennis, thanks for sharing the story of serving in Germany during the Berlin Wall falling. I lived in England during that time and moved to Japan soon after, due to the Air Force, so I remember the impact of that event. I visited Berlin for the first time in 2002 when they were building their new city in the middle. Fascinating.

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  8. Jack Meteyer
    July 2, 2011

    Dennis: I do not write stories so I therefore believe you to be the very best. “Keeping the people in” is expecially meaningful. I went to serve in the Occupation of Germany in late “47” and remained there until August of 1950, then went to Korea. I was present in Germany when the Russians closed the roads and the “Berlin Airlift” fed and clothed the people of Berlin. That was an immense undertaking and one of which I am most proud. To me that was the beginning of the end of the Russian Communist Empire. We defeated a cruel enemy without a shot but with determination and sacifice.

    • Dennis
      July 2, 2011

      Jack..The fall of the wall was a great victory for people who love freedom on both sides of the wall. I wish that all the people who made sacrifices to make that happen could have stood on the wall and chipped away and shared in that moment. I know that it made all the drudgery and pain of alert duty worth it to me. I was just blessed to be there to see the results.

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  11. tnealtarver
    September 28, 2012

    Thanks for the referral in your email, Dennis. Interesting experience I’m sure. Shopping in Russia definitely was an experience. If you saw something one week, it might be gone the next. You didn’t think when you saw an item you wanted. You just bought it. Ellen and I walked into a Walmart after a year in Russia and went down every row looking for things. We left with two maxed out shopping carts full of stuff. After significant time in Russia, we had no let’s-think-before-buying brake to apply to our impulse shopping.

  12. Dennis Brooke
    October 7, 2012

    Tom…It’s tough to imagine how bad things were in the Soviet Bloc if you didn’t visit it. MIG PILOT about the Soviet pilot who defected in the 70s was a real eye opener. Our country may not be perfect, but it sure beats the alternative: