Last Saturday I went to a concert at the Sophienkirche, a relatively small and un-prestigious place to host an event, or so one would think. I had talked with my host dad a little bit about it before we went, and it turns out that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at this church in 1964. He was officially visiting West Berlin to deliver a speech in honor of JFK, who had given his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech one year prior, on the invitation of West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. What makes his visit to this church particularly special though, is that it is in East Berlin. MLK crossed through Checkpoint Charlie, using his AmEx card as an american ID and entered East Germany, crossing both the Berlin Wall, and the Iron Curtain. The East German news didn’t report on MLK but the rumor of his entrance spread. The reverend ended up speaking at two churches in East Berlin,(Which he entered against the will of the US government, who had held his translator in West Berlin.) the St. Marienkirche and the Sophienkirche. He had visited the spot where a person was shot trying to cross the wall by swimming across the river Spree. His sermons in Berlin spoke of how the Wall does not change the people on either side, and he spoke of civil disobedience. East German press never reported MLK’s visit, it was too disruptive to the East German state to allow citizens to hear. One of MLK’s listeners was a young Joachim Gauck, who would become President of Germany between 2010 and 2017.
It’s crazy to sit in a place with living history like that. It’s way different here then it is in the US. When I went to DC you couldn’t even get close to the White House, but here walking down the street I can walk up and touch the Reichstag. I can walk under the Brandenburg Gate. I sat in a church where MLK spoke. Around the corner from where I live is an abandoned building from during the war that my host mom told me used to be a movie theater. It’s as crazy as going to Paris and being on the Eiffel Tower. It’s as crazy as me going to Venice, Rome, and Vienna in April. It’s as crazy as me being here at all but dial that up to 11.