Honoring service and its impact on history

Arlington, VA

Free Air Berlin: Of a Wall and a Walnut Tree

A Synopsis

The beginning of the Berlin Wall story occurs in the aftermath of World War II. All of Germany is in ruins. Millions of Germans have been dislocated and are trying to relocate. The victorious Allies are not in agreement on how best to govern the sectors into which Germany has been divided. A Cold War erupts and an Iron Curtain divides East and West. The communists encircle West Berlin with a wall. The years between the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall see the inhabitants of West and East Berlin caught in an environment of clashing cultures, mystery, fear, depression and an almost mutual despair of the status quo ever changing for the better. Everyone knew that the Allied Command in West Berlin was quite small in numbers and firepower compared to the 21 communist divisions surrounding them. We now know that the Berlin Wall ends with an “Ode to Joy.” Yet the history of the Berlin Wall cries out for more than factoids. It is an epic that frankly requires a poetic touch to attempt an expression through the very real feelings of the time and its people.

Richard Eric Johnson soldiered, worked and lived in West Berlin between 1968 and 1974. Before West Berlin he served in Vietnam, 1966-1967, as an M.P. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Germanic languages from Indiana University and is a long-time student of history in general, but quite specifically in German history. Having published four volumes of poetry to date, he decided to embark upon a poetic journey through the history of the Berlin Wall. He has revisited Berlin many times in recent years, researched the newly available archives of both East and West, visited the historic sites and museums, and interviewed many citizens from both sides of the Berlin Wall. His takeaway from his poetic endeavors is: air is always free.

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