Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Berlin Wall ironies

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I did a piece for the Register Sunday Commentary section pondering why our political culture doesn't make a bigger deal of the event that triggered perhaps the greatest episode of political liberation at least in modern history, the gradual collapse of the communist enterprise in Russia, its satellites and its disappearance as a factor in geopolitics. I argue that we haven't yet as a culture come to grips with the shortcomings of communist theory, in part because it has implications for the shortcomings of soft socialism, with which right and left seem to be contented insofar as it is in place (Medicare, etc.) though disagreeing on how quickly it should be expanded.

When I was in Berlin in 1999 we stayed in a fairly new hotel in the former eastern sector, just a few blocks from Brandenburg Gate. Sections of the wall had been kept in place as a reminder, along with Checkpoint Charlie. But the remarkable thing was the lack of any sense of division, though there were differences. A new friend and I went barhopping almost 'til dawn one night, checking out perhaps a dozen hard by Humboldt University. Walking down Unter den Linden one saw fashionable shops, embassies, restaurants, some with sidewalk service -- a pleasant promenade. Further on were Humboldt U., museums, churches, a synagogue and opera houses, and that bizarre radio/TV tower, which we explored fairly thoroughly. The joke was that the national bird was now the crane, there were so many construction cranes all over Berlin. You could still see bullet-made pockmarks on museums and Humboldt U. buildings in the eastern sector, but the atmosphere was one of building, growth and optimism.

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