Monday, July 4, 2011


A few hours after the Concert at the Berlin Wall was over, the Hard Rock Café bar set up backstage was emptying out, the open bar was closing, and the rock stars were waiting for limos to take them back to their hotels.

I went outside to get some fresh air and stood with my back to the wall as a big, thin man, with a handlebar mustache closed the back door of a limo and saw it drive off.

Straight ahead, about thirty yards away, was the real Wall, you knew was right there because you could hear the hammers and chissles clipping off souvenir pieces, a continuous noise that never seemed to stop.

The tall man with the handlebar mustache looked over at me and smiled, and without another limo to deal with at that moment, he came over and said hello in English with a thick German accent. His name was Henri, and he recognized me as an American.

Without prompting, he started to tell me a story.

He was a young boy during World War II, he said. In the last days of the war Hitler’s bunker was just over there – he pointed to the area of Potsdam Platz where a half million people had just departed, a few stragglers still walking around. The entrance to Hitler’s bunker was a few hundred yards in front of the stage, but there was no historic plaque to mark the spot.

Henri was a young man in the last days of the war, as the Russians converged from the east and the allies from the west, and planes rained down bombs and machine gun fire. All the buildings were ruined, he said, but they had to defend the Fatherland, so he helped man an anti-aircraft gun, right over there, just a few city blocks away, he said.

He was just a young boy fighting along side a bunch of old men, all that was left. At first he handed the old men the ammo, but after they missed, one plane after another, they asked him to try shooting the big guns. Sitting in the chair, he maneuvered the gun around, and figured out how it worked before the sound of an approaching plane could be heard before they could see it.

Aiming the gun he began to fire as the plane came over the horizon. It was a P-38, an American made plane with two tails – and two engines, but had British markings.

He kept shooting and watched as the plane caught fire and they could hear it crash nearby. The old man cheered, and picked him up and carried him to the crashed plane. They put the fire out, and climbed up on the wing, and pulled back the cracked glass canopy to see the pilot, who was dead.

All he could think of, Henri said, was that it was “another mother’s son.”

Henri said that the sight of the dead pilot made him sick and he vomited, then ran away and cried.

Then Henri looked at me and smiled to sounds of hammers and chissles banging against the Berlin Wall.

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