Monday, November 09, 2009

20 Years Ago Today

Checkpoint Charlie.
Sign in front of Checkpoint Charlie on the old Berlin Wall.

This portion of the Berlin Wall was also the outer wall of the Nazi Headquarters. Just to the right and down below there is a Holocaust Museum. Germany calls it their "Open Wound." This particular portion of the wall is unavailable to touch.

Lots of portions of the wall are available to stand next to and have your picture taken with. This one was taken at Potsdammer Platz, the section of the wall in which all three portions of Berlin converged.
Me at the Holocaust Memorial.

Me at Bandenburg Gate.
This was the view from the flat I stayed in for three days. The "V" on the ground is the cobblestone outline of the old Berlin Wall.

This was the view out the window to the left. We were less than a block from Bandenburg Gate on the old East German side.

All along the old path of the Berlin Wall is cobblstone and every once in a while a plaque commemorating the wall.

Every generation has major events that those from that generation remember clearly when and where you were when you heard about them. In my generation there are actually quite a few: Challenger explosion, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the plane crash in Omaha Nebraska, and a few others I am certainly leaving out.

One of those events, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, happened 20 years ago today. Having grown up in the midst of the Cold War, and being old enough to have studied some world history, I remember standing transfixed in front of the television screen watching people dance on top of the wall as it "fell," hacking at it with hammers, and even breaking out a bull-dozer to pull parts of it down. The magnitude of this event was clear to me, even as a teenager....this was history in the making.

A year and a half ago, while on my trip to Europe for three months, I got to visit Berlin for three days. To say that it was awe-inspiring to be there and to walk along the pathway where the wall once stood would be an understatement. Walking through the Brandenburg Gate and into areas of Berlin that were in my lifetime completely inaccessible, touching actual remnants of the wall, seeing buildings still standing with bullet holes in them was a chance of a lifetime and one of the highlights of my trip.

We also got to tour a museum that the Germans have erected in the basement of the old Nazi headquarters. This museum, which they call "Germany's Open Wound" describes the rise of Nazi-ism, the atrocities committed by the Nazi party, and its subsequent fall. To walk through the basement of a building once walked by Adolph Hitler himself was quite eerie. The Germans, in my limited experience, desire to openly talk about and acquiesce to the world the history of what they've done. They firmly believe that by talking about it, it will never happen again. There is still a lot of shame there as well. To a person, each German I talked to who discussed this part of their history with me had this sense to them.
While in some ways the world is a better place without the wall and all that it stood for, today also serves as a reminder that when it comes to truly having freedom, we still have a long way to go. May the "walls" in North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Afghanistan, and Iran suffer the same fate as the Berlin Wall.

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