"What do you think of the Berlin Wall?" a student asked me when my Thursday night history class resumed after our 7:45 break.
"The last time I saw it, it was ugly, gray and had guard towers," I said.
"No, they're tearing it down!" he exclaimed.
"Who is?" I replied.
"The people!" he responded.
That was 30 years ago Thursday night at old Paducah Community College, now West Kentucky Community and Technical College.
I still don't know how he found out that East Germany's communist bigwigs had opened the wall at midnight--6 p.m. our time. I suspected my student sneaked into our empty faculty lounge and turned on the TV.
Anyway, when I got home to Mayfield a little before 10, my wife, Melinda, had the TV on. Thousands of joyous East Berliners were streaming into West Berlin. West Berliners were greeting them with hugs, handshakes, kisses and champagne.
Some of the celebrants were already beating on the wall. One guy used a pickaxe. Others preferred hammers-and-chisels.
The East Germans, with the Soviets' blessing, of course, built the Berlin Wall in 1961 and subsequently strengthened it. The wall was supposed to stop a mass exodus from East Germany to the West. Nonetheless, the communists claimed they put up the wall to keep us out. They named it the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, or "Anti-fascist Protective Barrier."
West Berlin mayor--and later West German chancellor--Willy Brandt (one of my all-time favorite political leaders on either side of the Atlantic), preferred a different handle. He called it die Schandmauer, "the Wall of Shame."
No matter the name, the wall came to symbolize the most frigid days of the Cold War. The holes we and thousands of others knocked in the wall symbolized the thawing.
In the heady days that followed Nov. 9, 1989, hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of East and West Berliners, tourists and others took their cuts at the wall. Melinda and I wondered if the any of the wall would be left by the time we got to Berlin in June.
We spent the summer of 1990 on a study abroad program in Bregenz, Austria. It was through Murray State University, our alma mater, and the Kentucky Institute for International Studies.
We planned to spend the long weekend of June 22-24 in West Berlin. Though hammer-bashed, chisel-chipped and holed, there was plenty of concrete to knock off. We came home with a sack full of the historic rubble, most of which I gave to my students in my fall semester classes.
I was a man on a mission, and not just to have at the wall. I was also determined to replicate the January, 1982, National Geographic magazine cover photo. More on that in a minute.
No sooner did we arrive by train in West Berlin than we hopped the subway for Checkpoint Charlie, the famous crossing between the two Berlins. Some of the wall-bangers told us the wall was still pristine in spots on the East Berlin side.
So we headed over, but expecting the usual hassle of crossing to East Berlin. (On our travels, Melinda had been over thrice, the first time before we were wed. This would make our third trip together.)
There were hints that the visit might be hassle-free. The East Berlin guard tower was empty. We spied just one border guard, a youngster with a mop of black hair, that looked anything but military. Not only was he unarmed, he was over the line in West Berlin gabbing amiably with a West Berlin cop and some tourists.
Heretofore, it had been verboten to photograph East German police, border guards or soldiers or their Soviet comrades-in-arms. But we were in our Berlin, so I pointed my ancient Canon in his direction. He just doffed his hat and shrugged. Snap.
That nearly 30-year-old black-and-white photo is one of my favorites. It was a perfect metaphor for where we were and what we were about to do. The wall was going, East Germany was going. What the heck?
At any rate, over we went, no guards, no customs officers, no passport check, no visa, nothing. We skipped supper and took turns with our hammer and chisel until sundown. Mission half accomplished.
We had lucked into a big weekend. On Saturday afternoon, we watched a big red crane remove the Checkpoint Charlie guard shack. We were too deep in the crowd to get a good look at the dignitaries, who included Secretary of State James A. Baker III and the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.
The guard shack is outside a Berlin museum. It was replaced with a smaller, touristy replica that's a selfie magnet for visitors, especially from stateside.
Our concrete chunks safety stored in our hotel room, Sunday was time for the photo shoot. The National Geographic cover showed a soldier strutting his stuff solo at the "Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism," a communist shrine. GIs were snapping his photos.
The photo was larger inside, showing more GIs and more goose-stepping soldiers. Most GIs looked bewildered at the bone-jarring marching.
The East German soldiers were wearing black jackboots, gray-green uniforms and big helmets. The Nazis were big on the same sort of getups and goose-stepping.
We saw no GIs -- not in uniform anyway -- just people in civilian duds. So I improvised.
Luck was still with us. We got there in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. I watched some of them - privates from the crack Friedrich Engels Guards Regiment--march to their nearby barracks.
I got as close as I could to their exit route, dropping on both knees on the stone pavement. I figured their replacements would take the same route back. I screwed on my wide-angle lens and waited.
Here they came--a threesome. My Canon was fully manual; I'd get one shot, maybe two, but no more. Ready, aim -- up went their jack-booted right legs in unison. Snap -- I got it, but didn't know it until we were home weeks later.
We were last in Berlin in 2014. Most of the wall was long gone. Some of it is preserved here and there.
After Germany reunified and Berlin became the national capital again (East Berlin was the capital of East Germany; Bonn, the capital of West Germany), the "Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism" became the "Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship." There are no guards, though the stone-fronted, multi-columned building was constructed as an ornate army guard house in the early 19th century.
Some reminders of the communist era survive in what was East Germany, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR, German Democratic Republic, East Germany, bad Germany or the Russians' Germany. The other Germany was the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or BRD, or German Federal Republic, West Germany, good Germany or our Germany.
The big bronze landmark status of Karl Marx (seated) and Friedrich Engels (standing) are still in the old Marx-Engels Forum, a public park. It was supposed to be a place where East Germans could pay homage to communism's founding fathers.
On our last trip to Berlin, I photographed Jonathan Dunning, one of my students, doing a selfie while pretending to pick Comrade Karl's bronze schnozz.
Not far from the statuary is the DDR Museum. "Welcome to one of the most interactive museums in the world!" says the museum's website, which invites visitors to "engage all of your senses to enjoy an immersive experience of everyday life in the former East Germany."
Americans love the museum. Melinda and I have enjoyed our strolls down memory lane. But I suspect a lot of East Germans would rather forget their "everyday life" pre-Nov. 9, 1989.
We wonder, too, what ex-DDR citizens make of ostalgie, a word which combines "ost" (east) with "algie" (short for "nostalgia."). Ostalgie is East German kitsch. For instance, you can buy tee shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the DDR emblem. Similar apparel features the East German railway and airline logos.
I've got a railway tee shirt and a hoodie. But my favorite ostalgie are my Ampelmann tee shirts. Ampelmann literally translates into English as "traffic light man."
In East Berlin, the "go" signal was a striding little green man with a hat. An arm and leg were extended, as if he were striding. The "stop" signal was a hatted red man, standing with his legs together and his arms outstretched.
The Ampelmann company sells a big range of Ampelmann products (online, too, at https://www.ampelmann.de/en/) from tee shirts to tote bags, all logoed with the little guys.
"Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction," says the company website. "Thus, a wide variety of circumstances led to the designer Markus Heckhausen (today CEO of AMPELMANN) saving the two East German Ampelmännchen and preventing them from being phased out."
Melinda and I wish we could have made it to Berlin for the 30th anniversary festivities. (We've been back thrice since 1990.) "For many people, the fall of the Wall on 9 November, 1989, was the best day of their lives - the day they regained their freedom through a Peaceful Revolution," says the Visit Berlin website.
Though I'm half a world away today, my heart will be in Berlin on Thursday. But I'll be wearing my new 30th-anniversary-of-the-wall's-fall tee shirt.
Berry Craig is a journalist, author and professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.