Tuesday, January 24, 2017

CoachT on the Berlin Wall in 1989

(Disclaimer: I was not actually on the Wall. In fact, I have not as of yet ever been to Berlin. However, the story is interesting, anyway.)

In 1989 I was teaching Modern American History (1945-the present) at Lawrence County High. I don't recall all of the small details of this story so, students, feel free to correct me if you remember a particular thing better than I. But, here is the gist of it.

In November, 1989, an event occurred halfway around the world that had a major impact on us but, most of all, on Europe. I had with confidence told my classes that it would probably take a war at some point to bring down the Berlin Wall. I was absolutely wrong.

My wife, Elaine, was expecting our third child, Katie, with the due date being December 6th, 1989. I left school one day and didn't return for several days because Elaine started labor and then it suddenly quit so I stayed home with her until we decided it was OK to go back to work.

On the day I returned to school I walked into my first class and before I could say a word a student got up and said "I know where you were!" I replied "You do?" Then she handed me the Newsweek magazine and said "You were in Berlin!" My reply was "I was..." and then the wheels started turning. The guy on the front of that magazine looked just like me! The hair, the glasses, the, let the lying begin!!

I preceded to tell them the biggest lie anyone can imagine, with the lie growing exponentially each class period. It went something like this:

"When I saw what was happening in Berlin I felt like I just had to go. I caught a plane in Nashville, flew to New York, to London, and then to West Berlin. I got to Berlin in the middle of the afternoon and, of course, the airlines had lost my baggage. I didn't have any warm clothes on so I stopped at a thrift store and bought some jeans, which were way too long for me, and a jean jacket with a few holes in it. You can see those in the picture there.

"I walked along the infamous Wall, saw where JFK had made his famous speech, and then noticed a crowd gathering so went to see what was going on. They were climbing on the Berlin Wall! Someone on the Wall offered his hand to pull me up, and then we helped others up as well, and soon there was a crowd up there celebrating as people began trying to tear it down.

"People had begun arriving with tools in hand and someone handed me a pick axe (as you can see in the picture) and I began chipping away at the concrete. I remember at one point there was a bright flash, and I knew someone had taken my picture, and there I am on the cover of Newsweek!!!"

Now, I am not normally one to lie to students or to condone others doing so. But, this was just fun. The students paid close attention that day as I brought out maps, etc, to show them my "journey". They learned something that day, I hope, with that lesson being either about the Berlin Wall or the fact that their teacher was both crazy and a liar. Either way, it was fun!

The next day (or maybe the same day, not sure) I broke down and told them the truth and, guess what...they wouldn't believe the truth. Some preferred to believe the lie and others thought that I was afraid I would get in trouble for skipping school and taking off to Germany. To this day some of them may be telling people than I was on the Berlin Wall.

Later that night I received a phone call from a friend of mine that I coached with for a year in Charleston, S.C. His comment- "Hey, I saw you on the cover of Newsweek!" I never told him the truth and that magazine is probably still on his coffee table.

I told the same "lie" for the rest of my teaching career but the last ten years or so it was more a story about what I told those earlier classes instead of how I was actually there. By that time my gray hair, etc, had made the story much less believable.

PS On November 24, 1989, Katie Lynn Thompson was born. You may notice that the date on the magazine was November 20, 1989 because magazines postdate their issues in order to make them appear to be "new" longer when on the store shelves. That makes it hard, along with my poor memory, to remember exactly when these classroom events took place. The Berlin Wall "officially" came down on November 9, 1989.
Posted by CoachT at 8:30 AM · 4335 Views · COMMENTS