Monday, November 9, 2009

Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall

When the fall of the Berlin Wall happened, I remembered being 100% glued to my television set. I was 30 years old at the time. Old enough to have never known anything but the Berlin Wall dividing Eastern and Western Europe. It had become so institutionalized, so flat out hulking, ugly and immovable, it would never have occurred to me that it could go away. It just was. The Soviets were a great power like America and weren't going anywhere. That wall was there for good.

If you were to describe to kids today that people were so evil they would build a wall to keep their own people in (as opposed to keeping others out) and those people were comfortable enough with that they would shoot any of their own people who tried to get away, I think kids today could scarcely believe that such insanity could exist. Going to the site of the Berlin Wall, the insanity is obvious in two seconds, and yet it existed!

By 30, I had seen millions of Americans willing to pay acres and acres of tax dollars they had worked hard for to prevent a "domino effect" of further communist states without question because once a state had gone red, it had entered a static non-changeable state. It just seemed like things wouldn't and couldn't change.

But then it did. It did change. I don't want to say out of nowhere, because I'm sure to Central and Eastern Europeans and to the Russians it wasn't out of nowhere. But back home in the states, that's exactly how it seemed. The unthinkable was happening. Kudos to Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Mikhail Gorbachev for the vision and leadership to demand and facilitate change. Most kudos belong to the citizenry who had the intellectual honesty not to believe.

I appreciated that when the wall fell, President George H. W. Bush was graciously muted. He didn't feel the need to crow victory for capitalism or for America. The people's voices were the ones we heard. Pure unadulterated joy. On Christmas Day of 1989, I remember the chills I got when Leonard Bernstein led Berlin musicians in an "Ode to Freedom" when they played Beethoven's 9th symphony with the word 'freedom' sung in German at the strategic moments in the final movement.

The lesson I take away from the Berlin Wall is that anything is possible. Indefensible ideas fall. The most hopelessly sclerotic ideology gets abandoned cause it's just too exhausting to defend the indefensible. Communism couldn't escape the marketplace of ideas. There are a whole host of things happening today in the world that may solve themselves, because eventually, people just get tired of defending the indefensible.


Vancouver BC real estate said...

I can't believe that it's already 20 years. I remember exactly the 9th November 20 years ago. I was sitting at home here in Vancouver and watching TV. The news were unbelievable. In that time I had friends living in Czechoslovakia. I tried to contact them and asked them if they know what is happening in Germany. They probably knew about everything because it was like domino effect. We should commemorate this day because it symbolizes freedom and hope for millions.

Best regards,

Chaplain said...

Hi Karen - It is amazing what happened 20 years ago and does, as you say, offer hope when one looks at other seemingly unchangable situations in our world today. And yes - it was right and remains so, not to crow about a victory of capitalism over communism. Capitalism isn't perfect, especially when the leading capitalist nation in the world, the USA, cannot provide universal health care for all of its citizens. At least the Communists managed that!

You are certainly right when you say that the kids of today cannot imagine the situation that existed in the Communist states of Central & Eastern Europe 20 years ago. Here in the Czech Republic I've had several teachers and University lecturers say to me recently, that they are dealing with young people who just do not comprehend being in a situation where they would have no freedom to travel or the freedom to express their own ideas or opinions. Let us never forget what living under a Communist dictatorship was like.

Maria said...

Who would have thought? yet it happened...

Kristine said...

nice read. True, anything can happen, but only if you have the patience and time to see it happen. People will eventually get tired of defending the indefensible.

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