Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Tumbling Walls

I don't remember much about the fall of the Berlin Wall. That is to say, I remember nothing about it.

The event happened when I was barely two months into my freshman year of college. I was trying to focus on studies that were harder than anything I'd known before; I was a member of three musical ensembles and had to practice at least two hours a day anyway; neither I nor my college roommate brought a teevee, so we had none in our room that whole year; I was probably more focused on some girl -- there was a blonde pianist I quite fancied at first -- and, well, all of the above. So I had only the vaguest notion that the general feeling that had been accruing through the late 80s -- that Communism was quickly approaching the end of its shelf-life, aided along by the efforts of Gorbachev -- was about to come to a head.

I only knew that the Wall had come down when I went to my first class the morning after, and heard one of my classmates literally say to someone else, "Hey, did you see the news? The Berlin Wall fell." And for a moment, I remember thinking briefly that it had toppled of its own accord, as if there had been an earthquake or something. The magnitude of the human accomplishment was obvious, though, almost immediately. The feeling that eventually settled in was that it was pretty surreal. It felt as if one night, the world was in its natural state, with two Germany's and two Berlins, and the next night, that era was over, just like that. No long periods of summit meetings, no signings of treaties to take effect in five years. Just a bunch of people, at long last taking their hammers and crowbars and whatever else they could grab to that immense series of concrete slabs so they could finally start chipping it away.

Anyway, that was my sense of what was going on.

I wonder whatever became of that blonde piano player, by the way....


Roger Owen Green said...

Whereas I remember it quite well. And mostly, I remember Tom Brokaw specifically giving a blow-by-blow. It was quite cool, actually.

Thee Earl of Obvious said...

The falling of the wall, in my humble opinion, was a victory for one family. The people who may very well spell the end of our own empire:

Oh yes, its the Joneses.

They and they alone broke down that wall. Yet they gladly gave credit to the politician du jour.

Oh Mr. Jones your modesty is your weapon

Those decadent, pretentious and shallow idols of many a person who are masters of convincing educated, good hearted people to covet.

Oh Jones you are so seductive

They tell us our lives are meaningless without the latest gadget or gizmo. Indeed, they just spent the last 6 years convincing many a person of modest means that they needed a 5000 sq foot mcmansion AND a vacation home!

Oh Mr. Jones you are crafty one.

How many people have indebted themselves for life with student loans to obtain worthless "education" so that they or their children would be as good as the Joneses children?

Jones went to an ivy league school you know.

How many of us have been convinced that living small is paramount to a crime? We need to live BIG. Our churches and stores are all MEGA.

Jones has it why not us?

Tonio Kruger said...

In other words, if all the poor folks in East Germany had not been so envious of their more prosperous cousins in West Germany, the Berlin Wall would never have fallen.

And if Napoleon had been a cheeseburger, he would have been a Le Royale with cheese.

Seriously, there was a bit more going on in regard to the Fall of the Berlin Wall than people wanting to keep up with the Joneses.

But then I'm biased.

I grew up hearing my Polish-American mother tell me stories about helping her mother send old clothes overseas in order to help out her relatives back in the Old Country. No doubt because she wanted to help them keep up with the Joneses...

Thee Earl of Obvious said...

"I grew up hearing my Polish-American mother tell me stories about helping her mother send old clothes overseas in order to help out her relatives back in the Old Country. No doubt because she wanted to help them keep up with the Joneses..."

I feel you have just validated my argument. How long can you keep one side of a town impoverished while the other side of the city is prospering?

Well, I guess the answer is 40 some years provided you can keep the prosperity of the west a secret, or at the very least controlled so that it ends up perversely described The wall was built to keep western society out as much as anything.

In my opinion this is why we usually see so much violence associate with socialist/communist regime take- overs: man is more prone to serve himself instead of the whole. Ambition, greed, jealousy and the desire to covet are all quite primal. (talk to Pandora not me)

I think this is the reason individuals that followed Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin felt justified in the extermination of people with an education or charisma. Surplus profit is not easily shared if one feels they have a right to more. One can only feel like they have the right to more if they deny the ideal of collective good, and one can only learn of this through an outside source. That is my take at least.

A failed experiment, but one we SHOULD learn from nonetheless.

Tonio Kruger said...

It's odd that you say that about one of the more peaceful transitions in European history.

Anyone who has ever read news stories about how brutally the Soviets put down Hungarian protesters in the 1950s and Czech protesters in the 1960s could guess that the fall of the Berlin Wall could have very easily have had a different and less peaceful outcome. Indeed, people used to argue against the reunion of the two Germanies for years for fear of just the type of violence you describe.

I know you mean well, Earl of Obvious, but your first post made it sound like the people of East Germany--and for that matter, the people of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states--were just greedy ingrates who should have just reconciled themselves to their lot and have done with it.

I suspect your comment was meant to be directed towards those Americans who would themselves erect a modern-day Berlin Wall if they thought it served their purposes. On that point, I agree with you.

Thee Earl of Obvious said...

I think we indeed have a misunderstanding.

The peaceful transition you refer to was from left to right. The violent transitions I was referring to were from right to left. A move from left to right as we saw with the fall of the Berlin wall was actually quite predictably peaceful: individual prosperity was the motivator and this was accomplished by joining not fighting the "enemy" of the west.

The other misunderstanding we seem to have is that you think my argument is a condemnation of the people who suffered behind the Iron Curtain.

That would be like me condemning former Shakers who are having sex. I am not condemning these people I am merely pointing out that their instinctive motivators proved more powerful than their collective idea.

As far as Americans erecting walls, I can tell you they are are well underway. Except we refer to them as gated communities. See, in this country we decided sometime in the 80's or 90's that a middle class was not necessary. Those in the lower and middle classes bought into a whole bunch of bull that they too would be wealthy if only we could get rid of these nasty high paying jobs for uneducated blue collar people. We would all be wealthy if we invested in stocks that did not make money and cheaply built houses that we did not need.

In the end we ended up with a small upper class. A miniscule middle class. A larger upper lower class a very large middle lower class and a small but growing lower lower class.

Tonio Kruger said...

I'm no fan of gated communities myself.

And I'm sorry for misunderstanding your original post.

Belladonna said...

Oh my, you make me feel old. We we are chatting ideas I get caught up in spirit to spirit friendship and forget we are about a generation apart...what feel historical to you is something I recall on a visceral level. But I can very much relate to being so caught up in the immediacy of your own life that world events barely make the radar. I've been a bit self absorbed lately. When I was your age it was very important to me to be "well informed" and to keep up with world events. Nowdays I wonder how much that really serves me and how much I want to let them just fade by...