This November marks the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. In November 1991, or 18 years ago, two years after the Berlin Wall was brought down to merge the two Germanys, I left the former East Berlin after staying for six weeks to take a journalism course in a school that was in a middle of a forest. The International Institute of Journalism-Berlin (IIJB) hosted me and 11 or 12 other young journalists, and our teachers from different countries who--along with IIJB’s own German journalism professors--taught us students the ins and outs of the trade that we would bring back to our organizations. Our organizations were mostly in the development and co-op field as our course was aimed at young co-op journalists. Students were sponsored by different agencies, and I was sponsored by my employer the National Confederation of Co-operatives (NATCCO) in the Philippines, the Canadian Co-operative Association (ICA), and the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), along with other event organizers, including the IIJB itself.
Where we came from
I was the only student from the Philippines, and only one of two students from Asia (India was the other Asian country). The rest of us came from Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Egypt, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia. It was my first trip abroad. It was a wonderful and lesson-filled experience. It was also tiring but had lots of fun moments (or we students managed to have fun although we were pretty much left on own at the school’s dorm especially at night, with a radio in each of our rooms to keep us company). We had good interaction with our teachers--Dr. Claus, Dr. Janke, Mr. Williamson, to name a few, and I’ve continued to keep in touch with Mr. (Iain) Williamson via e-mail to this day. He’s based in Britain. My classmates and I gave each other great company throughout our stay in beautiful Berlin—Geoffrey, Nathan, Phil, Serina, Shahira, Monica, Sethu, and the others.
I met an old German couple in the small church near our school. The couple invited me to their home every Sunday after Mass, for lunch and afternoon treats. German-English dictionaries helped in our random conversation. Berlin was beautiful. Old architecture blended well with new structures. Our boat ride along the winding Spree River was a pleasure, seeing old those old bridges and well-manicured riverbanks. Even if I emerged from the boat ride shivering as my two jackets failed to keep out the cold. And knowing that just up to two years ago before I arrived, the area where I was gave very limited access, if at all, to “outsiders” gave me a different kind of feeling and an urgency to explore the location, even though I had quite a limited time to do so. But Berlin and my experiences while I was there will always have a special place in my memory and my heart.