As pictured in the previous post, we left Nuremburg laden with heaps of homemade vittles that made us the envy of the bus. That bus took us onward, both geographically and historically, to Berlin. Having seen the rise and fall of Nazism in Nuremburg, we would now see the regime that came to dominate the region next. The Berlin Wall was a very different kind of history, as its fall occurred within our own lifetime. And unlike every other piece of history we’ve seen so far, it is most famous not because of any emperor or army, but because of the ordinary, jeans-and-tshirt folks that brought it down.
The west side, with its twenty-some years of accumulated graffiti. Needless to say, the spraypaint industry is still booming.
The east side, which was perfectly clean until 1989 as it was guarded by guns, dogs, and barbed wire. Since then, internationally renowned street artists have redeemed this stretch of wall, known as the East Side Gallery.
A stretch of wall at the Memorial. The vast empty space between the fence and the wall made it easy for the guards in the tower to shoot escapees. As a result, both Easterners and Westerners dug tunnels under the wall, helping hundreds of East Berliners to escape the Soviet regime.
Just one of the stories of ridiculous courage told at the Berlin Wall Memorial.
The Brandenburg Gate. Anti- and pro-Soviet rallies would occur simultaneously for decades, separated by only this and a few feet of brick.
On our last evening here, we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the former crossing point between the Soviet and American sectors of Cold War Berlin. As a jaded Bush-era youth, it was a real paradigm shift to see America as a true hero, yet here that is undoubtedly the case. Thousands of men, women, and children risked their lives to escape into the American sector where they would be guaranteed a flight to the West. The West Berlin Fire Brigade, funded largely by the U.S., was on hand 24/7 with nets to catch refugees jumping from border apartment windows to freedom. Standing at Checkpoint Charlie, I would not have been offended if someone had mistaken me for an American.
As we left this place, we wondered what had happened during our short lifetimes to change America’s image so drastically. Perhaps part of it is the difference between invitation and invasion: in Germany, the U.S. stayed within its agreed-upon boundaries, offering liberty to all who entered. Today that liberty is a matter of foreign policy, enforced by bombs and economic austerity measures. As much as I love the idea of a borderless world, it was respect for international boundaries that made America a hero in this case, rather than a destructive force. Every new conflict is an opportunity for the West (not just America) to return to this earlier version of heroism, allowing people to choose for themselves whether they want what is being offered.
The gateway to the Free World (with the Golden Arches of capitalism welcoming you into their open arms!)