Twice in my life I have landed in the middle of history, first time by chance, second time by chance and by decision.
The first time I was thirteen, going home from school in Berlin, by the Russian Embassy, which was situated on Unter den Linden avenue. I was walking to the S-Bahn and was swept by the crowd surging toward the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). The crowd was so thick, I couldn't break through them to move in the opposite direction. I had no choice but to go with them. It was November. It was chilly. It was drizzling. On the podium by the gates important people stepped up and made speeches, and gradually I understood that I'm about to witness the opening of the Berlin Wall, or more accurate, its fall. Dread filled me. I knew that if someone found out I made it to the western side of Berlin, my family would be deported back to Russia, my father would lose his job as a journalist; his career would be over. And it would be all my fault. But I couldn't move. I experimentally tried lifting my feet, and I hung, squeezed between bodies. Then the bodies rushed through the gates. I thought my ribs would break. Somehow I found myself on the other side, and everyone was chipping pieces off the wall with hammers and chisels. One man thrust a camera into my hands and posed with a hammer. I took a picture. He gave me a piece of the wall—a little stone—and I finally found a break in the surge of people and rushed home, terrified out of my mind but also excited. I witnessed history! Nothing bad happened, of course, and I don't even remember when and how I told my parents what happened, because I was guilty of sneaking into West Berlin by simply not getting off the S-Bahn train at the Friedrichstrasse station, and riding a station or two to the other side, staring out the window, then quickly making it back.Read More