Czech emigre shares emotional memories of fall of Berlin Wall

Photo: CTK

World leaders past and present on Monday gathered in Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The celebrations, which are expected to culminate with the toppling of a symbolic wall of dominoes, have attracted more than 100,000 people. One of them is Štepán Benda a Czech émigré who has lived in Berlin since 1968 when he emigrated from communist Czechoslovakia. He was there when the wall came down and earlier today he shared his memories of the historic event.

“Twenty years ago today I was in the cinema. Suddenly someone told the audience that the wall is open, so we stopped the screening and went on the streets. I went to Checkpoint Charlie first and later I went to the Brandenburger Tor, and there was already people there greeting the people from the East.“

What was the atmosphere like in Berlin that evening?

The Berlin Wall in 1989
“The day the wall was opened it was really a once in a lifetime experience, it was really fantastic, the people were greeting the people from the East, paying for them, giving them bottles of champagne.

“But for me, it was a special experience because I was the Czech refugee living in Berlin. I could never go on the other side of the wall, it was completely hermetic to me. I felt that something happened that will change my life, after twenty-two years in exile, and I believed that day, that I will go home, that I will be allowed to go home.”

Can you tell me in detail what you did that day at the wall?

“Of course we got some drinks, I can tell you that at the end I was completely drunk. We spent the night at some pub I knew with complete strangers.”

What is your favorite memory of that day?

“I was living in Berlin for 22 years, and once, I was crying at the wall, six years after my emigration. I met my sister at the wall but from the other side. I climbed those steps, and I could see her for ten minutes, and we spoke but then the Volkspolizei came and she had to leave.

“And that night, I went by subway, it was full of those people from East Berlin, it was unbelievable, they were looking around like little children, like babies, they were laughing and they couldn’t believe what was going on.”

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, photo: CTK
Are you going to celebrate tonight?

“Yes! We have a party. Of course I will go and see those events in the street, but at 9 o’clock we have a party in the Czech Embassy. There will be a rock concert with one of the members of the Plastic People of the Universe, a famous dissident underground band from Prague. The group is called Garage, I think. And I believe this is the first time that there will be a rock concert in the Czech Embassy in Berlin. And I hope it won’t end until three in the morning."