Die Wende, latest version of a play

I’ve been working on a play for the last few months. I call it Die Wende. It’s about the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m still working on it, but I think it’s at a point where I can share it with the public. So, for your consideration, I present Die Wende.

Die Wende
by David Tertipes

Characters:
Stefan – 20 year old kid
Dad – his father
Lady – older East German woman he meets at the Wall.

Stefan
I was born the day the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe that’s an omen or something. In any case, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Especially considering the fact that I’m half German. My mother was born near Berlin and lived there until she met my dad. They married and moved back to the States, where I was born. On the day the Wall fell. Mom says she was in her hospital room, the TV was on and of course every station was showing special reports. It was the happiest day of her life; I like to think that it was at least partly because I was born, but you never know.

It’s funny, really. The Wall has always been an almost important part of my life. It’s always been there, looming in the background, even though it now no longer existed. My birthday turned into a double party, celebrating my birth and German freedom at the same time. One year mom even put a miniature Brandenburger Tor on my cake! But I’d never actually been there. I’d never seen it. And it wasn’t until I did that I realized just what it meant.

(Enter Dad, carrying suitcase)

Dad
(sets suitcase down next to Stefan)
Are you sure you really want to do this?

Stefan
Yeah. I think so. (beat) I’ve got to do something!

Dad
You know what I think about it?

Stefan
Yes. I know. You’ve told me a hundred times, you don’t want me to go.

Dad
I’m your father, I’m supposed to be concerned about you. I want what’s best for you.

Stefan
I know, I know. It’s just … I think I know what’s best for me. I gotta do this myself.

Dad
Stefan, … No. Fine. You’re grown now. You’ve got to do this your way.

Stefan
Thanks —

Dad
–But have you thought about what you’re going to do? How you’re going to make a living, support a family someday?

Stefan
Dad!

Dad
Right. You’re young and you don’t think about those things.

Stefan
I’m only 20 years old. I shouldn’t have to think about those things yet!

Dad
Years pass by so quickly, you’d be surprised at how soon you’ll have to start making plans for the future. You’ll have to go to college, decide what you want to study, what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. You’ll find a girl, and have to decide if you want to spend forever with her, raise children with her.

Stefan
That’s all way too much right now. I don’t want to commit myself to anything I can’t be sure of yet. I will settle down sometime, dad. Just not yet.

Dad
You don’t have to know everything now. You could at least go to college. Get your general classes out of the way, take some random classes and see what interests you. That’s how I did it.

Stefan
That’s how you did it! That’s not how I want to do it. I’ve thought about this, I’ve talked to Opa, it’s gonna work. At least for a little while.
(Picks up suitcase, prepares to exit.)

I’ll call when I get there. I’m sure Opa’ll want to talk to mom at least.

(lights down to spotlight on Stefan. Dad exits in the dark)

Stefan
And that’s how I left home. Dad wanted me to go to college. Get a degree. Get a job. Get a life! But I didn’t want to yet. I liked the way my life was and I didn’t see any need to make any drastic changes. Other than hopping on a plane, flying halfway around the world and moving in with my grandparents, that is. My grandparents who still lived in Berlin. Germany. Where the Wall had been.

(exits with suitcase, reenters with phone in hand, dials. Hesitates before pushing Talk, finally does and puts the phone to his ear.)

Stefan
Mom! Hey, how are you doing? I guess it’s only been about a day and a half since I left, but still … (beat)

Yeah, I landed alright, Opa was at the Flughafen to greet me. (pause)

Yeah, I’m fine. Oma made Rouladen and Rotkohl for me, it was amazing. How could you have ever left this country? (pause)

Oh, okay, sure. I’ll talk to dad. (pause)

Dad, hi.

(exits, still on phone, as Dad enters from the opposite side of the stage with a phone to his ear)

Dad
How are you son? (beat)

Good to hear, good to hear. You get in alright? (beat) Good.

Listen, you know I don’t really want you gallivanting around Europe … No. Let me finish.
I may have been a bit harsh. Maybe it’s a good thing that you’re staying with your grandparents. Germany has a long history and a rich culture, you could really learn something, even if you’re not going to school. I know I loved my time in Germany with the Army. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.
(pause)
No, I guess you don’t to have to visit all of the museums in Berlin! (small laugh) Just … just be safe. Know that I love you.
(beat)
Thanks, and don’t forget to call every once in a while. Your mother will want to hear from you.
(beat)
Goodbye. (hangs up)

Dad
My son was growing up, I guess. Well, he was leaving home, at least. I don’t know what happened, what went wrong. No, I don’t mean wrong, I mean … I don’t know, unexpected? He was supposed to have left home after he graduated high school, or at the very least he should’ve had a job by now. I don’t mean to push him away, I just want to push him forward, towards something, towards a successful life. I love him and I do want to take care of him, but he’s got to get out on his own sometime, he’s got to start planning for his future. I don’t want to coddle him forever.

Maybe he is growing up, though, in his own way, by going to stay with his grandparents. I just hope he isn’t running away from responsibility, instead.
Who knows, maybe Germany will do him as much good as it did me. Berlin is an amazing place.

(Exit Dad)
(Enter Stefan)

Stefan
Berlin is an amazing place! I just love being here. And despite what dad thinks, I have actually been to a few museums. He was right, there’s a lot of history here.

But it didn’t matter, whatever I had planned each day, I inevitably ended up somewhere near the Wall, like I was drawn to it. Now maybe that’s not really so surprising. It did run almost 100 miles directly through the middle of the city. Very little of it still remains, though. The only thing left, in most places, is a line of cobblestone marking where it once stood, and a little bronze plaque every few meters, “Hier stand die Berliner Mauer 1961-1989” Here stood the Berlin Wall.

I really was surprised at how little of it was still there.

(Enter Lady, older, about 70)

Lady
Your first time?

Stefan
What?

Lady
Is this your first time in Berlin, visiting the Wall?

Stefan
Yeah. Well, not really. I mean, yes this is my first time being in Berlin, but I’ve been here a month already. I’ve seen the Wall before.

Lady
What do you think of it?

Stefan
I don’t know. It’s not quite what I was expecting. I guess I thought there would be more of it. There’s hardly anything left, just a few slabs of graffiti’ed concrete here and there.

Lady
It wasn’t always like this, there used to be miles of Wall, and guards with their towers and their dogs and their guns.

Stefan
I know, I’ve read the books, seen the movies. But it’s different actually being here and seeing where the Wall was … and where it isn’t anymore. It’s a little eerie, in a way. Like I can’t really believe all of the history books, because I don’t see any proof of it anymore.

Lady
Can you blame us? That Wall was a constant reminder of everything that we couldn’t have. It was a sad time of our histoy and we wanted to forget it. We were so happy to finally be free, to not have the Wall anymore stopping us from going East or West. We wanted to destroy that Wall, that symbol of our imprisonment, of our confinement. We tore into it with hammers and chisels and whatever we could get our hands on, anything to destroy it.
And then it was that we realized that we should keep some of it as a memorial, as a reminder that it should never happen again. A little too late.

Stefan
What was it like? Living here when the Wall stood here? I mean, look at this. This looks like a pretty major road, and there’s the line. The Wall went right through here in the middle of the road, ending it.

Lady
The Wall ended a lot of things. (beat) But it wasn’t all oppression and evil. There are many who feel that things were better back in the GDR, behind the Wall. From your point of view it must seem like a harsh life, but everything we needed was provided for us. Very few luxuries, though. I had to wait eighteen months before I could get a car, and the car I got wasn’t exactly a Mercedes! It wasn’t even as good as a Volkswagen. But it was a car, and it ran and it got me where I needed to go.
And I had a job, and I could buy food for my family and my children went to school, got good jobs, were able to raise families of their own.

Stefan
Why did they build the Wall, then? If things weren’t so bad, Why did they need a Wall to keep you in, and why did they kill those who tried to get out?

Lady
You talk like a Westerner. Someone who sees the Wall as a prison Wall built by our oppressive Communist government keeping us in. But it was built as a protective Wall to keep us safe from the demoralizing influences of Western Capitalistic society. (beat) Well, that’s what they told us.

Stefan
Of course they did. They didn’t want to admit that they had to keep their citizens in by force! Just look at what happened as soon as it was rumored that there was a possibilty of travel to the West. I saw a news report about that night. Millions of Berliners stormed the crossings and overwhelmed the guards, and made it into West Berlin!
You had the ability to tear that Wall down all along, and the only reason you didn’t was that they kept you so demoralized that you never had hope enough to unite and tear that Wall down.

Lady
You think our strength and ability to ‘tear down that Wall’ came from our hope of Freedom? You think we were like animals who were caged, straining against our chains, how is the phrase, ‘yearning to be free?’
Stefan
Then, where did it come from?

Lady
From the one thing we were really denied. Sure, we were denied certain freedoms, but we weren’t enslaved. We still had the freedom to live where we wanted, within the GDR, of course, to work where we wanted, to eat or drink as we wanted. We did not enjoy as much freedom as our Western brothers, but we were still free.
What was denied us was the ability to see our families. Many of us had loved ones in the West we could not visit. I had not seen my mother since 1961. She had not seen her grandchildren. We wrote letters back and forth, sent pictures each time one was born, at each birthday and holiday, but they had never met, had never held each other in arms.
(beat)
Do you know what announcement was made that night that caused so many to gather at the checkpoints to ‘overwhelm the guards’ as you say?

Stefan
No. What was it?

Lady
Gunter Schabowski announced that as of that moment all border crossings between East and West were immediately opened to allow people to visit their relatives. This came in response to years of protests, people begging to be allowed into the West to visit family and loved ones. They announced the opening of all border crossings and people flocked to the Wall to be let through.

Stefan
But how do you know it was all about family? They announced that all border crossings were open and everybody swarmed the crossings. That says nothing about going to visit family, it just says they wanted out of East Germany. Isn’t that what the crowds chanted? “Wir wollen ‘raus!” We want out?

Lady
Yes, they chanted that, at first. But that gave way to other chants, “Wir bleiben hier!” We’re staying here! There were so many who wanted to go West to see family, to look around, see what it was like. But they didn’t want to leave their homes permanently. They still had strong ties keeping them in the East, stronger than anything. They didn’t want to leave, they wanted to make the East as free as the West.
And then they started chanting “Wir sind das Volk” We are the people, which became ultimately, “Wir sind ein Volk!” We are one people. And that’s what the Mauerfall means, that’s what the Fall of the Berlin Wall means. To me, at least, and many others. It meant that we were no longer a people divided into East and West, we were one people, one Germany, one family reunited.

Stefan
Is family really that important? That powerful? Powerful enough to collapse a regime that held power for over forty years? Without bloodshed?

Lady
You don’t know? (beat) Tell me, do you have a family? A family that you’re close to? Have you ever been away from them for a long time?

Stefan
… I have a family, of course. But I guess, we weren’t all that close. Especially with my father. He doesn’t like what I’m doing with my life, or not doing with it, according to him. (beat) Actually that’s why I’m here in Germany, I’m staying with my grandparents, hiding from him, I guess.

Lady
Ah. Stay here long enough, though and you’ll feel the kind of pull a family can have on you. It’s what kept us strong when the Wall separated us and it’s what gave us the ability to walk through that Wall when we decided we had had enough. But I guess it’s different with you. You know that you can go home at anytime. Can you imagine being walled off? Not knowing when or if you could ever see your family?

Stefan
No. I can’t imagine that. It seems unthinkable that any person or government should have that kind of power over another. Should that belong to that list of inalienable rights of man? The right to have a family, to see your family?

Lady
You’re beginning to understand, I think, why the Wall came down so easily. It just took us 30 years to realize that fact.

Stefan
So. This Wall means a lot more than I thought it did.

Lady
Yes. It is much more than that. Much more.

Well, it is getting late, I must be going. I hope you enjoy your stay in Berlin.

Stefan
Oh, okay. It was nice to meet you.

Lady
And you. Auf Wiedersehen.

Stefan
Thanks. Tschüß!

(Lady smiles, and Exits)

Stefan
Berlin. It is an amazing city. American Presidents have given speeches here to overwhelming crowds. Two spoke in front the Wall. I sat in front of the Brandenburger Tor and watched videos of their speeches on my laptop, pretending I was actually there. Wishing I had been there. What an experience it would have been to hear Reagan’s “Open this gate. Tear down this Wall!” Why does this city half a world away mean so much to these American Presidents? Why do they feel the need to proclaim “Ich hab’ noch ein Koffer in Berlin” I still have a suitcase in Berlin, as Ronald Reagan did, or as John F. Kennedy famously ,”Ich bin ein Berliner” ? There is a power here, a rich history, a spirit that you can feel infused in the very stones of the streets.

I used to think that the Berlin Wall was merely a symbol of oppression and freedom. It stood for a people who had been denied their rights and it fell when they realized they had more power than the concrete and steel. Until I came here and stood where it was and spoke with those who had lived with it. JFK said in his speech, “this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace.” That is what the Wall stands for, … or fell for, I guess.

(Enter Dad)
Dad

He spent two months living in Germany with his grandparents, and then he called me one day, out of the blue, just wanting to talk. (beat) I hate to admit it but we had never really been all that close. Of course I love him, he’s my son, but we never really had all that much in common, no real shared interests that allowed us to bond on a deeper level. But in that phonecall, which lasted all of fifteen minutes, we came to a higher understanding of what it means to be family. There was no weeping, or professions of love, or any of that cheesy, mushy stuff. We talked, as adults, as equals, and in that moment I watched my son grow up. And I realized that he is my son and I am his father and there’s nothing on this green earth that can change that. (beat) I guess his visit to the Wall did him good. And me as well.
(pause)
He applied to and was accepted at the Humboldt University in Berlin starting that fall, where he studied history, focusing mostly on the latter 20th century and the effects that the Berlin Wall had on Germany and the world. (beat) I flew out in November and on the night of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Wall, we stood at the Brandenburg Gate with millions of Berliners, East and West, and celebrated Unity.
I am so proud of him, more than I have ever been.

Stefan
It’s funny, you know. We talk in America about the Fall of the Berlin Wall as if it were one event, but it was more than that. There were so many small events that grew bigger and bigger, as ripples in a pond, or dominoes toppling. We tend to think of the Berlin Wall as a single giant structure that fell when enough people pushed on it, but it was merely the last and largest of a long line of dominoes that had been falling for a very long time; almost form the very day the Wall was built. All of those events leading up to November 9th and the events of almost a year after that until Germany’s official Reunification Day, October 3 are all referred to by Germans as “Die Wende.”
It means a Turning Point.

END

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