Now that Monica Crowley is to serve on the National Security Council in President Elect Trump’s administration, an old tweet has been making the rounds again.
She says people missed the point. I’m not sure what her point was. I don’t know if it was an odd bit of sarcasm or a complete misunderstanding of the historical significance of the wall she was standing next to.
The wall that worked.
But that isn’t really what this post is about. I stood near where Crowley was standing. My thoughts were very different.
Two years after that wall came down, I stood in its shadow. For me, as a child of the Cold War, it was not a smiley selfie moment. It was one of quiet reflection. I felt much as I did standing at Bergen Belsen, the concentration camp where Anne Frank died. There, standing in the shadow of this historic monument, I saw what governments were willing to do to control their people.
This wall that stood between East and West, between totalitarianism and liberty divided a nation, a continent and a world. East and West. That’s all I had ever known, and one night, the people tore it down. Because once the people realized the guards weren’t going to shoot and the dogs weren’t going to attack, the bit of concrete that stood between them and freedom didn’t prove to be much of a barrier at all.
But I was also there two years after it came down. Two years was long enough for the euphoria to wear off. People weren’t toasting their victory with champagne and passing out money and care packets to people spilling over the wall and through the gates anymore. Once every person who made it across was hailed a hero. Now, they were all a nuisance. Germany was coming to grips with what it meant to graft this second world nation onto their own economic powerhouse. Germany has always prided itself on its social market economy, but now their resources were being drained by these . . . leeches. Unemployment was skyrocketing. The public koffers were draining. And what had the East Germans ever done but take?
There was a joke going around we had all heard. “It’s time to build another wall . . . but 10 meters higher.”
And another wall was being built. But this one wasn’t made of concrete and barbed wire. It was in the hearts and minds of Germans, looking down on their neighbors, not trusting their economic superiority to these outsiders, not entirely accepting of these intruders as Germans.
Now they were Ossies.
And I only ever heard that word used as a perjorative.
Even my civics teacher who had devoted an entire semester to “Die Wende” (The Turning Point — refers to the events in East Germany leading up to the collapse) made very clear that “reunification” was a misnomer. Germany was being unified, not reunified, because it had never existed prior to this moment. East and West were not being reunited. They were being spliced together.
And somewhere in there is what the wall means to me today. The monolith of my childhood. An art gallery in Berlin. A moment in time where two people became one. A reminder that our political dreams often look very different when we achieve them. A symbol of oppression. A symbol of triumph.
A reminder that walls can be torn down. Even between East and West, Red and Blue.
Because at the end of it all, East and West did become one. One Germany. One people.
(Note: The photographs are my own. The political cartoons are from “Die Wende in der DDR” which was published by the German government and hence –to my understanding–free to use with attribution.)