The turboprop plane made a bumpy landing at Berlin Tempelhof late in the evening on Thursday, November 9, 1989. West Berlin’s airport was deserted. At the cab stand, I climbed into a Mercedes driven by an economics student named Rolfe, who spoke good English. He was listening to the car radio intently: something really big was happening. The Ossis—the East Germans—were massing at the crossing points in the Berlin Wall and walking into West Berlin. Incredibly, the Berlin Wall was open.

We headed north, to Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse, with Rolfe translating the radio news. It was clear that events were moving fast in the East, yet it was unthinkable that the Wall would simply open without warning, without years of negotiation and some kind of treaty—and until we clambered out near Checkpoint Charlie and saw the crowds surging over the famous white line painted in the road at the checkpoint in 1961, we didn’t wholly believe it.