November 9th, 2009
05:26 PM ET

An old man, an angry crowd and the Berlin Wall

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/europe/11/09/berlin.wall.anniversary/c1main.berlin.wall.afp.gi.jpg caption="World leaders gathered in the German capital Monday to mark 20 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall." width=416 height=234]

Sean Yates
AC360° Senior Producer

Before I was a TV producer, or had even thought about making journalism a career, I was a 20-year old exchange student in England spending a semester abroad at Reading University, outside London.

My friends and I had started the weekend early and we were on a Friday morning train, heading from London to the beach in Brighton, when the businessman across from me opened his newspaper with the headline, “Berlin Wall Falls”.

I slumped in my seat to get an angle to read the details of his paper until finally in a very proper, and very annoyed, British accent he said, “Would you like to read my paper?” (It still makes me laugh thinking about it.)

At the next stop I got off the train, headed back to London, threw some clothes in my backpack and flew to Berlin with no idea where I was going to stay or what I was going to do but I recognized a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of history.

One memory stands out.

Apart from the huge crowds of hugging and cheering and crying Germans from the East and the West there was an old man standing by himself working slowly and methodically with a worn hammer and chisel at a small crack in the wall. I stood to watch. He paid me no mind.

Eventually three young German men surrounded him and started yelling at him. I don’t speak any German so I had no idea what they were saying but it was clear they were angry at what he was doing and were demanding he stop.

The shouting attracted a much larger crowd who then started yelling even more loudly at the three men who were yelling at the old man. It escalated to the point where the larger crowd physically pulled the three men away from the old man, who had never even acknowledge the ruckus around him, much less stop doing his symbolic part to tear down the hated wall that had torn his country apart.

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