20 years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down.
The interesting thing about this is that it simultaneously feels like it wasn’t that long ago, and at the same time, culture in Germany and in Europe (and in the world, I guess) has changed so much since that happened that it feels like a lifetime ago. It’s a weird thing to think about, that 20 years ago, Germany was two different countries, one free, one under Communist rule, and Berlin was two cities, one with the Western ethos, surrounded by Communism. Kind of like Austin, Texas, I guess, being blue in a sea of red. These days it kind of feels like Communism was a blip on the radar, though I’m sure that perspective is one I have from never having lived in a Communist country.
I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up on the other side of the iron curtain, but people who are my age now were there and lived it. Someday, our kids are going to study Communism and the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that stuff in school, and they’re going to ask us about it, just like we asked our parents about things like the Vietnam War. 20 years ago, Dan’s brother (hi, Matt, if you read this!) would never have been stationed in Latvia with the US Foreign Service. 20 years ago, things were very, very different for people living in East Germany and in all those Eastern Bloc countries.
It’s hard to believe, since that was what it was like when I was a kid, but the Cold War and Communism as a Western ethos was a 20th century construct, both in the making and in the unmaking. Someday, of course, our kids will ask where we were on 9/11 when the towers fell, just as people in my parents’ generation remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. But someday, our kids will want to know about what it was like living with the prospect of nuclear war, knowing that there were so many people in the world living in a completely different sort of society. I was ten when the Berlin Wall fell, but I knew then, even as a kid, that it was a Really Big Deal.
One of my favorite songs comes from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which takes the story of the fall of Communism and, in particular, the fall of the Berlin Wall, to a whole new level. It’s a song about changing your mood by changing your outer persona, becoming on the outside who you want to be on the inside. The entire show revolves around a character who wants to leave East Germany, and in order to do so, has a (botched) sex change operation in order to marry an American soldier he’s in love with. Then the wall comes down, and everything s/he’s done to change his/her life gets put in a different perspective. See the show, or the movie, if you get a chance, because it is awesome.