The Berlin Wall – A Melancholy Anniversary

“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


This month marked what should be a joyous anniversary of the Mauerfall – the fall of the Berlin Wall.  For on the fifth of February the Wall had been down as long as it had been up;  precisely 10,315 days had passed since the Berlin Wall came down. The Berlin Wall has always always been a part of me having lived under it’s shadow for three years and having been extremely privileged to have played a very small part in the effort which eventually brought it down. What makes this anniversary bitter-sweet is that the ideas of Madison, Jefferson, Adams and Thomas Paine that sparked our own revolution and were the ideas that inspired the spirit of the people behind that wall to demand freedom and ultimately tear down both the physical and ideological barriers that enslaved them are now despised in the very country which began because of the revolution those ideas inspired. The only revolution still standing.

I can still vividly recall that warm summer afternoon in 1979 when my flight from Frankfurt touched down at Tegel.  I was in West Berlin. Walking through the terminal to get to the taxi stand I noticed that there was an electricity in the air that was as palpable as the electricity you feel when walking the streets of midtown Manhattan.  In spite of being surrounded by everything foreign, the language, the items for sale in the shops I walked past, or the Polizei walking two by two, machine guns at the ready, the zeitgeist in that terminal caused me to feel like I was home in a very subtle but moving way.  This feeling of being home was able to anchor me over the next three years which turned out to be the most transformative years of my life.

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The Cold War was fought and won in buildings like this all over the world. Our duty station was only a stone’s throw from the Wall.  You could see the Wall and the oversized watchtower as you walked through the front gate every time you went to work.  It was a daily reminder of what you were fighting against.   The time spent off-duty with the wonderful people of West Berlin was a constant reminder of what you were fighting for. The people of West Berlin were amazing.  They taught me how much I took for granted.  They taught me resilience and poise under the most difficult of circumstances.  They taught me what good wine and what good beer was. Most importantly they taught me that the values we shared could survive any ideology, any foe, even an attempt to starve it to death. They were living proof of that. It was an honor to stand watch and defend them.

When the Wall came down it sent a clear message to the world that the rights of men and women to determine their own destiny, to be free to hold whatever ideas seemed good and right to them still had the power to transform nations. The power could be seen in all its glory in the streets of the city we once again simply called Berlin.

As I write this Angela Merkel has told what remains of ‘the West’ that they can no longer count on America. Indictments of Russian interference in our 2016 Presidential election have been released.  We have a President who is suspected of entering into collusion with the Russians to steal the election. He currently is refusing to sign into law the strict sanctions against Russia the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed. Our love for freedom has morphed into a fetish for guns at whose altar we will gladly sacrifice our children by the dozens.  We have Nazis marching in our streets and running people down with cars. We have turned hate into a virtue. But, as I write this, it appears that a nascent democracy is trying to birth itself in Iran. They are shouting down the Mullahs, burning Korans and Hijabs in the street and are willing to risk it all for the values they hold and the rights they demand.  I hear the echos of the voices I heard on the streets of West Berlin in the shouts of the young people marching in the streets of Iran.  It is good to see the revolution of 1776 is still alive and well in the world.  It is sad to see it dying here in the land that started it all.

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