Reflections on the Berlin Wall in pictures and cartoons

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.

The Kiss
“My God help us survive this deadly love” From a famous photograph of Brezhnev and Honecker’s “socialist fraternal kiss” that many thought was a little too “passionate.”

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?

"Where the state ends, life begins."
“Where the state ends, life begins.” Graffiti across from the monument.

There was a joke going around we had all heard. “It’s time to build another wall . . . but 10 meters higher.

Reunification cartoon
“Hurry! Before West Germany builds a wall!”

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.

German reunification
“State of the nation.” The Ziggy-like figure is “the German Michel,” the symbol of Germany, much like our own Uncle Sam.

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.

Note how there are two German Michels? And one intends on moving in with the other. The hugging will only last so long . . .

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.)


Why we should listen to the president

Like I mentioned yesterday, I will be watching President Obama’s speech to America’s school children with my children later today.  We have little ones around here, so we’ll be using the elementary lesson plans, legal or not. Actually, we’ll be focusing specifically on this question, because it fits perfectly with some ongoing conversations we have been having around here:

Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?  Classroom Activities, Pre-K-6 (pdf)

I’ll let you know my children’s answers to that later, after I ask them, but here are mine:

I.  I’m Christian, and the bible is pretty clear:

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake:  whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.  For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:  As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.  –1Peter 2:13-16 (KJV)

I consider myself blessed to live in a nation whose ordinances allow me considerable liberty to express my disagreement with established authority, but I try very hard to apply this verse especially to my discussions:  “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…” By well doing hearts and minds are changed, not by inflammatory rhetoric.

II.  These are our elected leaders, and our responsibility as citizens is pretty clear.

The Salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.  –Hartley Burr Alexander, inscribed on the Nebraska State Capitol Building

If we do not listen, we cannot know, and if we do not know, we cannot act.  Listening precedes all useful action, something I fear some may be forgetting.

Please share your thoughts on the prepared speech, the speech as it is delivered and the accompanying lesson plans.  If you had the stage, what would you tell America’s youth?  And what have you told your own children?

On Obama’s “indoctrination” speech

Tomorrow, President Obama will speak to the nation’s school children, presumably about setting education goals and staying in school.  At least that is what the White House is saying.

This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation’s school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong.  Letter from Secretary Arne Duncan to Principals

This historic moment.  We are inviting students to become a part of history, much like when I was in school and the television cart was rolled in to watch the Challenger lift off.  I don’t know why I exactly stumbled over that part of Duncan’s letter to principals.  His job is PR for the program, but it still seems a bit over the top.  Even if George Bush, Sr. hadn’t done it almost 20 years ago.  The technology may be a bit different, but it appears that speech was about succeeding in school and was intended to address all students.

Both Bush’s went much further than Obama toward making our schools a national stage for federal education politics.  Granted, Obama wishes to go further still, but the course has already been charted.

For twenty years, we steadily shift the power in education from the local community toward the federal government, and do nothing but occasionally grumble.  The president makes a speech, however, and we call for a National Keep Your Child at Home Day.  Suddenly, we’re worried about brainwashing in a “totalitarian-type telecast” befitting “banana dictators.”

Compared to the power we have willingly handed over (even demanded to be taken from us), I must agree with Joanne Jacobs on this one.  What is so sinister?

It certainly isn’t because he’s black, so why the uproar?  Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with something My Domestic Church quipped.

This president has used more prime time press conferences and informercials than any previous president.

Even liberal bloggers can see a bit of public relations overkill in the speech and its pre-game show.  Which brings us back to that word “historic” that made me choke on my coffee.  But there’s more to it than just that.

Read the post over at American Elephant.  How much of it really has to do with the speech?  Not much.  Instead, it is expressing general frustration over the direction the country is heading.  It is a direction we have very little control over individually, but we certainly can pull our kids out of school for one day.

One day.

Education has been moving toward national standards and centralized control for my entire life.  Finally, some people are standing up and saying “Enough.”  Unfortunately, it is an insignificant gesture aimed at an irrelevant event.

Incidentally, I do believe it is important to listen to the President so I’d like to invite you to discuss the speech here tomorrow.  We’ll be doing some warm up activities I’ll share here for discussion before viewing the video.  I have an appointment so will be watching it after the copy is made available, but feel free to share your thoughts!

Fireworks illegal

Driving into Olathe earlier in the week, I was greeted by a large flashing highway sign:

Fireworks illegal.  Happy Fourth of July!

All fireworks.  At one time, at least, that included sparklers, though the police seemed to have enough to do that one day without crashing barbecues to confiscate sparklers from children.

Last year, I and every other driver crossing over the border at Brownville got pulled over.  Police officers peered through the windows and inquired:

Are you transporting any fireworks?

Because just up the road a tad, over in Missouri, you can still buy things that blow up.  Way up.  They are illegal here, but according to the sign, at least, you can buy one and get three free.

Looking out for the public health and safety is certainly one of the jobs of local government, but does banning all fireworks really make things any safer?  When I was younger, we generally only fired off a few at a time before moving to another location.  Or drove outside city limits to set them off down some country road.  A friend of mine took his out to a nature center because, well, there just wasn’t anyone around.

Looking over some of the damage caused by fireworks so far this year, I’m struck by a few things.  Some people are just plain stupid.  No law is going to protect a seventeen year old kid who sticks a firework between his legs to muffle the sound.  Nor will it protect communities where kids are found to be driving about aiming them at people.  But there were a few grass fires started, as well.  And I think about my friend back in high school.

That “the laws don’t work” is not really a very good argument.  No laws really “work” or there would be no crime.  But do anti-fireworks laws and campaigns really do anything to make us safer over the holiday?  Or could they inadvertently encourage nincompoops like the teenager mentioned above?  After all, fireworks safety is rarely part of the discussion.

Granted it was put out by the American Pyrotechnics Association which has an obvious interest in the sale of and use of fireworks, but I think they make a good point about safety education.

The NFPA is a powerful voice when it comes to public safety education. They have done a commendable job educating the public on fire safety and burn prevention with their other programs like Sparky the Fire Dog and Risk Watch. The APA believes that if the NFPA joined forces along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Council on Fireworks Safety and fire departments across the country in promoting safety tips for responsible consumer fireworks use, that message would have a significant impact in helping to further reduce the misuse of fireworks.  The Free Library

So what do you think?  How can communities best balance public safety with the public’s desire to blow things up at least once per year?

And will you be setting of fireworks this year?

Either way, I wish you a Happy Independence Day!

Undergrads preparing reports on homeschooling for lawmakers

Don’t get me wrong.  I think this actually sounds like a very interesting and productive course I would have liked to have taken when I was in college.  There is something unique and exciting about doing productive and meaningful work as opposed to the normal and seemingly endless term papers which end up in the trash or stuck in a folder at the end of the year.

But as I read about the reports these undergraduate students at the University of Iowa are preparing at the request of lawmakers, I naturally stumbled over one line.

The organization has produced reports ranging from textbook costs to eminent domain to homeschooling to absentee and early voting. Last year, the class pulled together at least a dozen reports.

And I naturally want to know if they are certified.  Is a one credit hour preparatory seminar really enough training? Can one professor really provide adequate oversight of these students who are being given the power to sway legislators by the reports they provide?

These are undergraduate students at a state university preparing the very documents which will determine how the state approaches topics as important as property rights and the educational rights of families.

Certainly I have at least as many formal qualifications to home educate my children as these students have to research the topic on behalf of the state, right?