How Do You Inspire Your Grandchildren?

When I was in elementary school, my grandmother started a bank account for me.

It was dedicated to helping me go to Europe when I was old enough.

East Germans drive their vehicles through Chec...

East Germans drive their vehicles through Checkpoint Charlie as they take advantage of relaxed travel restrictions to visit West Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was nearly an adult before I found out I could have taken out the money at any time I wanted.

Instead, I put most of my baby-sitting money in it from the age of 12 through high school.

At 20, in 1967, I spent the summer in Europe using that bank account.

I lived in Switzerland for eight weeks, studying French.

I finished up with a three-week tour by train of Germany, Austria, Belgium, and France.

What Was Berlin Like in 1967?

I stayed in Berlin for five days.

Berlin, that city of intrigue, in the middle of Soviet-controlled East Germany.

Going out to nightclubs felt like I was mixing with spies.

At Checkpoint Charlie, we crossed into East Berlin.

Magazines and newspapers were collected from the bus before we crossed so East Berliners wouldn’t be jealous of the Western lifestyle.

A mirror on a rolling stand was run under the bus to make sure no one was hanging from the struts on the way back.

One of my fellow passengers asked our East Berlin guide, “So, why did you build the Wall?”

“Well, you can’t have a country without people.”

We knew she was admitting that her country was a prison and wondered if she’d be punished for her candor.

History of The Wall

The Wall had gone up overnight on August 13, 1961.

Between the end of World War II in 1945 and 1961, 3.5 million East Germans, 20 percent of the population, had left for the West.

President John F. Kennedy came to Berlin in the summer of 1963, speaking to a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 450,000.

He is remembered for the famous line, “Ich bin ein Berliner. I am a Berliner.”

But, perhaps more profound was his plea to those who still didn’t understand the threat of Communism during the Cold War, demonstrated by the Wall and the Soviet’s attempt to drive the West out of West Berlin.

After all, the U.S.S.R. had been our allies in World War II.

Berlin had, by agreement after the war, been divided into four sectors, controlled by the British, French, Americans, and Soviets.

Free passage among the sectors was part of the agreement.

This principle had first been tested in 1948 when the Soviets stopped all goods and passage into West Berlin in a blockade of the city.

The U.S. and Great Britain responded with a year-long airlift to feed the city’s 2 million people by dropping food and supplies from cargo planes.

Candy bars for children were dropped in handkerchief parachutes.

The Soviets relented and lifted the blockade.

In October 1961, Berlin was again surrounded by Soviet troops.

American and Soviet tanks had faced off at the Wall erected in August and reinforced ever since.

JFK signaled that the American tanks would withdraw if the Soviet tanks did.

Nikita Khruschchev, the Soviet Premier, decided not to risk nuclear war over Berlin and withdrew his tanks.

JFK’s 1963 speech was a warning to the U.S.S.R. that the U.S. was not going to abandon Berlin:

“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world.

Let them come to Berlin.

There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future.

Let them come to Berlin.

And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists.

Let them come to Berlin.

And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress.

Lass’sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.”


On the train, I met a couple of East German musicians on tour in West Germany.

After some conversation in which we asked them nothing political, they began to open up.

“We are not allowed to travel with our families.

“Our families are being held back in East Germany so we won’t try to defect to the West.”

What Was Paris Like?

Back in Paris, on the way home, a taxi passenger in line ahead of me on the way to the airport started to get in a cab, then, realized someone was already in it.

By this time, I’d gotten out of line to take the next cab, and was bumped back when he returned to the line.

A policeman monitoring the line thought I was trying to break into the line and demanded that I go to the back of the line.

In my newly-acquired French, I explained what had happened and he let me back in line.

I made an A+ on my final exam in French, with the policeman, that day in Paris.

And Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist site when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Thank you, Grandma.

Did your Grandma inspire you to do something you wouldn’t have done otherwise?

Have you thought of something for your grandchildren to set their sites on?

How did your parents support your grandparents efforts?

To you and helping your grandchildren create their future.

Write down the stories about your grandmother that you want your grandchildren to know by going to Just click here to get started.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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