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Disheveled Theolgian: The 10,316 milestone

10,316 days. Or, read another way, 28 years, 34 days. That’s how long the Berlin Wall stood.

It’s also how long it has been gone.

Monday of this week marked the 10,316th day since the Berlin Wall no longer divided West and East Berlin. Yes, there were more days than that before people could easily cross over from one half of the city to the other, but from that day, Nov. 9, 1989, the wall was breached. The city that had been divided for more than 28 years was whole.

I was in college at the time, in Oregon, far away from my parents and the city I had called home for the previous three years. Never in my life did I want to be elsewhere as badly as I did that day, that week, hearing the news I never really thought I’d hear, that the wall was open. I didn’t have a television in my dorm room but I remember being glued to the radio, snatching up newspapers, waiting by my mailbox to receive TIME magazine. I phoned home — at a dollar a minute I didn’t do so very often — to get my parents’ first-hand account of the happenings in Berlin. I could hardly wait for the term to be over.

I flew home for Christmas. At first glance nothing seemed very different in Berlin, which was disappointing. I half expected the air itself to resonate at a different tone. But then my parents and I — and my cousin, visiting for Christmas from her State Department assignment in Nigeria — hopped onto the U-Bahn (the subway) and made our way over to the Brandenburg Gate. If I hadn’t seen much change prior to that moment, I sure saw it then, walking up out of the station and beholding The Wall — or rather, what remained of it.

We still weren’t allowed to walk through the Gate at that point, but we stood and gaped at the beleaguered wall, watched as people all around us pounded away on the concrete structure with hammers in one hand and bottles of wine in the other.

My mother had brought a hammer, but it wasn’t much use against the incredibly hard cement. We found a hole — maybe three feet wide and roughly two feet high — and there, on the other side, was an East German guard, still patrolling but really only to keep the peace rather than to shoot to kill. At first glance he seemed to carry a rifle over his shoulder, but it was only a broken piece of rebar from the hole in the wall. He bounced it on his shoulder as we chatted in broken Deutsch beside the broken wall.

I have written about this event before, I know. Please forgive me. It looms as such a monumental time in my life, though my parents only lived in Berlin for four years. I had been outside of the United States before moving to Germany. I grew up within sight of Canada, after all, and I’d visited numerous times. But Berlin was the first time in my life that I was able to immerse myself in a completely different culture. The first time I couldn’t speak the language. The first time I mastered a subway map, the first time I encountered guards with guns and ideologies with which I disagreed wholeheartedly and who had, should they have chosen to take offense at me, the right to detain me or kick me out of their country or listen in on my conversations. Not that I would have had anything much to say that would interest them. But the fact of their power … the sheer fact of their control … was enough to make me detest visiting East Berlin the two times that I crossed the border.

Berlin was, in short, a new beginning for me. In many ways. Some good and some bad. Some necessary, and some ill-advised. I was coming of age. In a time and place full of history — both ancient and modern. And I am ever so grateful to have had the chance to have been a small part of those 10,316 days.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2:14 NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is