This week marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I guess to most Americans this is somewhat of of a monumental occasion, but for a few AV Geeks (me included) this week brought me memories I’ve never forgotten.
You see, the day the so-called WALL came tumbling down in Berlin, there were a bunch of the aforementioned AV Geeks there, in Germany, working the floor of the bi-annual Photokina show in Cologne (Koln), Germany. And, what a show it was. The weather was awesome for this time of the year in Germany and the Photokina show organizers were expecting us to easily have over 120,000 people attend the week-long photo, video and AV show. Yes, this was a huge show – in fact, it took up over 12-exhibition halls – so, to put it in perspective, it was about 8-times the size of InfoComm 2009 in show floor square footage.
For a couple of weeks prior to our arrival, there was talk of all the controversy over the wall and it’s need to come down in the face of the German revolt against communism. But, who’d have thought it would happen WHILE we were there for Photokina. In fact, it happened on a Thursday – about 5-days into the show. The day it happened, virtually no one (attendees) showed up for the show. In fact, most booth staff bailed too. It was eerie – a giant show with virtually no people.
So, what did us American’s in 1989 in Koln, Germany do when we realized the show was all but over and we had nothing left to do? Road Trip!
That’s right, we piled in cars and headed towards Berlin to watch it all unfold – we figured if it was that close (heck, we were in Germany) we might as well go witness it, live!
So, I jumped in Bob Brockman’s rental car. Who’s Bob? He ran General Electric’s Talaria Projector group (yes, GE used to be in the projector market) and many people infamously marked the lumens of GE Talaria projectors with what they called “Brockman Lumens”. That may be a separate blog one day – maybe Bob will even write it – he’s out if the industry now; long retired. Anyway, we drove and drove and drove – I guess we drove for about 3-hours – until we hit the inevitable traffic. Then it all stopped. We sat there – without moving for probably 2-hours.
But, what was interesting – and why we stayed awaiting the traffic jam to move- was that there was NO traffic coming from the other direction. Literally none. Not a single car for at least an hour and a half. And, then they came.
They were in tiny cars called Trabants. Wikipedia defines these as “an automobile that was produced by former East German auto maker VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Zwickau, Sachsen.” It was basically a motorcycle engine inside a 4-wheeled vehicle. And, they came and came and came. Thousands of them – one behind the other – all heading into West Germany. English wasn’t as prevalent in Germany as it is today in the sense that, for example, there were no English radio stations. So, we didn’t’ totally understand the impact of this at the time, but apparently, these were the first trabants to invade the West, ever. And, we also understood that each East German who crossed into West Germany was given the equivalent of about $100.
They were driving, smiling and even cheering. It was an amazing sight to watch. And, even now I will always remember the looks on their faces as we sat there across the highway as they SLOWLY drove by us sitting in all that traffic. What must have they been thinking? “Hey, check it out, we just escaped East German Communist rule and look at all the people heading towards it.”
It must have been totally confusing and exhilarating at the same time. That it was.