Berlin, a Dream Come True (I)
by Pablo Pacheco Avila
Everything indicated that the eruption of the Icelandic Grimsvotn volcano would impede my trip to Berlin. I had been invited by Amnesty International to assist the award ceremony of the Human Rights Awards which are annually presented by this NGO. This time, it was being awarded to the director of the Human Rights Center of Tlachinollam Mountain, Abel Barrera Hernández.
Upon my arrival to the airport of Malaga, the airliner company informed me that they were only authorized to fly to Frankfurt and not all the way to Berlin, precisely because of the ash cloud produced by the Grimsvotn eruption. I spoke with Anabel Bermejo, an Amnesty International activist in Berlin, and she suggested I board the plane because they had already confirmed that the flights to the capital had been reestablished. And that’s what I did.
Julia Schell was waiting for me at the Berlin terminal. This cheerful young woman was speaking a fluid Spanish, and was informing me about the itinerary I would have in Berlin while we were on our way to my hotel.
During the next morning, at the lobby of the hotel we met with Sandrine Gyurakovis, Gabi Pimper and Karl Heinz Stanzick, Amnesty activists from Lörrach. They invited me to breakfast, to a chat, and a ride around the city. In a matter of minutes it felt like we all knew each other from childhood, despite the barrier of language, considering that Karl was the only who dominated the Spanish language.
We visited the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and other historical landmarks of that city.
They were all very eager to hear of my experiences behind the bars and wanted to know how their work helped me during that time. While we chatted and drove around town we recapped years of my suffering, pain, and hours of solidarity which they dedicated to me and which tore down the iron bars, penetrated the walls, pierced the conscience of others, and created a protective shield around me which kept me safe from the hate and intolerance of my henchmen. Each letter they sent me produced a positive effect; the ones which the guards allowed me to see were sources of inspiration which let me know I was not alone, and the ones which the police kept also established my necessary protection, for it was proof that I was not alone in my cause.
The four of us agreed that the liberation of the Cuban political prisoners and prisoners of conscience was an incentive to keep sending letters to anyone anywhere who has been stripped of freedom for those same reasons.
In the afternoon we visited the headquarter of Amnesty International in Berlin. There, I met with the press, and the most satisfying part of it all was being able to meet Maja Liebing, Anabel Bermejo and other activists from the German Chapter of Amnesty International. For years, these people lifted their voices in favor of my liberation and they only knew me through photographs and through the ideals I defend. The cause in favor of the respect of human rights and democracy in Cuba, which led the Cuban government to send me to prison under a 20 year sentence, out of which I only served 87 months. It was a very difficult experience for all of us, and the proof remained in our faces.
That night, the Cuban-German journalist Boris Luis Santacoloma invited me to dinner at a restaurant which specializes in steak and I must acknowledge that it was the best food I have ever eaten in my life.
On Friday morning Gabi, Sandrine, Karl, Boris and I met. We went to what luckily still stands from the Berlin Wall. From the moment I arrived in Germany I expressed my profound interest to visit that area. At midday, Boris had to leave the group due to work related reasons and we continued to the Bernauer Strasse Memorial. For a moment, I lived the suffered past of the Germans, which is the actuality of Cuba. But at least, I thought, the Germans had a standing monument which paid tribute to the victims of totalitarian communism and of all those who tried to get to freedom.
The Berlin Wall became the symbol of a moment in history which the Germans survived. In contrast, in the case of us Cubans, although we have double the number of deaths we will never be able to build a monument in the middle of the ocean. It is quite possible that we will never know the exact number of victims who have ended up at the mercy of sharks or at the bottom of the Florida Straits. A few tears appeared in the eyes of Gabi, Sandrine, Karl, and myself while we remembered the deaths of so many compatriots. It was a spontaneous display of human solidarity and it really reached the sensibility of our group.