The coming week marks the anniversary of the division of Berlin, Germany. On the afternoon of August 12, 1961, leaders of the German Democratic Republic signed an order to close the border between East and West Berlin, and erect a massive Wall dividing the city. Later that evening the order was put into effect.
Roads that ran into West Berlin were destroyed. Barbed wire and land mines were put into place. Apartment windows that overlooked the forbidden side of the city were enclosed or barred. Concrete and steel were piled into place along the twenty-seven miles of city border.
Guards were stationed along the Wall with orders to shoot anyone attempting to escape to West Berlin. And shoot they did. While thousands succeeded in scaling the Wall, scores of would-be defectors were shot and killed over the three decades the Berlin Wall stood, often in plain view of the West’s television cameras.
But this Wall, like all things evil, did not last. On November 9, 1989, following weeks of unrest, the East German government announced that its citizens would be allowed to visit West Germany and West Berlin.
The border guards, unable to control the huge crowds who were eager to exercise this new freedom, abandoned their posts altogether. Ecstatic East Berliners cascaded over, around, and through the iconic Wall that had separated families, friends, and a country for a generation. They were met on the other side by their brothers and sisters, who received them with open arms.
The Berlin Wall didn’t fall down all at once, neither literally or figuratively. In the weeks that followed that revolutionary November night, people from all over the world came to Berlin with picks, shovels, and sledgehammers to knock a piece of the Wall down.
Some came for souvenirs. Some came to participate in a historical moment. Some came simply out of curiosity, to get in on the action. All came to do their part in tearing down one of the ugliest symbols of restriction, oppression, and injustice ever created.
I remember watching these impromptu demolition teams at work on the “new” cable news networks. I was a college student, just like the young men and women marching joyfully through Checkpoint Charlie, singing songs of freedom, and taking their swings at concrete and steel.
It was years later that I learned the nickname given to these unnamed, unknown people who tore down the Berlin Wall piece by piece and blow by hammer blow. They were called the “Mauerspechte.” They were the “woodpeckers on the wall.”
Those who crow the loudest and make the most noise may not be the ones leading the action, or actually getting things done – then, or now in our own country. More often than not, it is those who have no name, an unrecognized face, a small place in the world who actually knock the walls down.
Bit by bit, year by year, with blood and tears, suffering mistreatment and injustice they stay at it. They believe in those things that last longer than tyranny, unfairness, domination, greed, violence, and power as brokered by the forces of this world.
With their work gloves on and their hammers in hand, they believe in and work toward peace, hope, justice, non-violence, and the brotherhood of all God’s children. They believe “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
In short, they believe in love, and the eternal truth that love conquers all, in the human heart, in the streets of Berlin, and eventually this world, when the kingdoms of earth are transformed and renewed into the kingdom of God.
We may have never thought of the word “woodpecker” as a compliment, but reconsideration might be a good idea. God knows this world could stand a few on the wall today; those who will persistently and defiantly chip away at what stands in the way of peace, justice, and mercy.