San Bernardino City councilmember Henry Nickel stood tall and proud as he unveiled one of his 4-feet wide and 13-feet tall portions of the Berlin Wall on Wednesday August 20.
The portion of the monumental wall is part of an exhibit organized by the Norton Air Force Base Museum (NAFB). Nickel spoke to museum officials about erecting the wall outside the facility. Museum officials held a dedication in remembrance to those who have fought for democracy and freedom, according to NAFB museum President Bob Edwards.
Most of the wall piece is painted. A black band on top with a red section beneath it makes up the majority of the wall, but the lower part is raw, covered concrete with extending rebar bands. The words “Achtung! Sie Verlassen Jetzt West Berlin”(Attention! You are now leaving West Berlin) are painted at the top of the wall. The portion of the Berlin Wall is one of two located in San Bernardino; the other one being located at Ronald Reagan Park. Both portions are owned by Nickel.
Nickel, who was 10 years old in 1989—the year the Berlin Wall was brought down, said he remembers taking a fond interest in the news that year.
“As a kid growing up I remember playing out in the front yard, looking up, and hearing the roar of those C-141 circling overhead and landing here,” he told around 40 people who were present. “At the time, I couldn’t appreciate exactly what that meant. Things were rapidly changing over the Atlantic Ocean. Europe was transforming from a continent divided into one that would be soon united.”
The wall, also known as the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall (Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart) in German, served as a symbol of political and social division in Europe for a huge portion of the Cold War era. Constructed in 1961 by the East German government, the wall prevented East German residents from migrating into the west and those who did attempt were caught in “No Man’s Land” territory. It is reported that 98 to 200 people died as a result of trying to cross.
Norton Air Force Base played a pivotal role during the Cold War, offering a storage spot for intercontinental ballistic missiles and was tied into the early-warning radar system.
Nickel demonstrated his humility by expressing that the role he played in bringing the portion of the wall is miniscule compared to the contribution veterans made by serving in the military.
“The veterans in this audience have been more instrumental than me in bringing this monument,” Nickel said. “Thank you for helping my generation and generations yet to come to understand that we live in a world that is free because of your service. This wall I hope will serve as a memorial for your dedication and duty to our country and around the world.”
Carl Leever, a retired Senior Master Sergeant with the Air Force, said the wall meant a lot to guys like him who served in the military throughout the Cold War.
“That big wall was a symbol of failure on our part to do something about it,” he said. “We kept plugging in and taking care of the people in Berlin until it came down and it felt good.”