More 20th Anniversary Celebrations for Fall of Berlin Wall

Update: Here's Obama's video address on the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared for the U.S. at today's celebration in Germany of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bon Jovi performed his new song, We Weren't Born to Follow." (Official song video here, and yes, he's more than just a pretty face.)

Thousands cheered as 1,000 colorfully decorated dominoes along a mile-long route were toppled to symbolize both the moment the wall came crashing down and the resulting fall of communist governments in Eastern Europe. It was the finale to a day of memorial services, speeches and events that attracted leaders from around the world, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

More news of the speeches and celebration.

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    Thanks for this, Jeralyn (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 11:45:18 PM EST
    Nobody much cares here, it seems, but it's pretty big for me.  I was actually at the Berlin wall, and in East Berlin itself, as well as Hungary and Prague, just a few months after the wall was built.  This was before it was prettied up and regularized, and it was coarse and messy, vividly reflecting the hurried way it was thrown up in the middle of the night across neighborhooods and roads and trolly tracks.

    There were still then vivid blood stains on the sidewalk from the people who leaped out of the upper windows of apartment buildings as the lower ones were being bricked up to become part of the wall.

    It's hard to grapple with the fact that it's now just a vague historical oddity most people don't remember or care much about.  The horror that it was in practice, as well as the horror it symbolized, are still very vivid for me, and seeing it brought down by exuberant and disbelieving Germans 20 years ago was beyond incredible.

    Somewhere n the truckload of stuff (none / 0) (#2)
    by scribe on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 08:27:13 PM EST
    I'm moving from my old place to my new place, is a piece of the Berlin Wall.  It's a small chunk of concrete - smaller than a hockey puck - but it has an unmistakeable coat of bright blue paint on one face.

    In another container in the truckload of stuff is a photo I took in the raw early spring of 1984, in a maple frame I made, taken from the wrong side of the Brandenburger Tor, facing west up Unter den Linden toward the Siegesaeule.  In the near foreground is a Soviet officer and woman, maybe his girlfriend or a poliical officer, giving a lecture to a squad of Soviet soldiers.  The squad looks like the Soviet analog of those you see in a US movie - a smart-ass from Brooklyn, a Jewish guy, a slow-talking bull-strong southerner, you've seen it a million times.  The Soviets had an obvious Central Asian, a guy with an Oriental face from the Far East, a couple stolid guys who look Ukranian, and so on.  One - Far Eastern guy - is staring straight at me.  The aggression in his gaze is palpable. Of course, here was one of a pair of American officers, in uniform (as required) taking his picture.  

    Low in the background is the East side of that Wall - just a chalky-white line.  No graffiti there.  That was for the decadent West.

    I was almost shot later that day by an East German border guard.  The other officer I was travelling with took a wrong turn in the car and we went down a street toward an obscured part of The Wall.  We stopped short (then backed up very slowly) when he saw that guard, behind a machine gun pointed at us.

    Anyone who didn't live through the tail end of the Cold War can't really grasp the feeling of imminent doom which hung in the air, like a low cloud.  There was a constant feeling that this, or that, might be the last straw in something similar to a geopolitical game of Kerplunk:  once it was pulled, events would tumble downward, out of control.  Only in that game, everyone would lose.  For many reasons, it seems to me that the 80s were the most dangerous time in the Cold War.  The Sovs and the Warsaw Pact (remember that?) were falling apart and simultaneously trying to act the part of a great power, a superpower, pieces falling off or seizing up at odd intervals.  

    Twenty years ago, I was sitting in a class on Evidence, sharing a toast (coffee) and high-fives to winning the Cold War with a classmate, who'd been an officer on a ballistic missile submarine prior to coming to the law. I wonder now what it was that we won.

    Great description, Scribe (none / 0) (#3)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 11:22:28 PM EST
    I think people who never actually laid eyes on that monstrosity through the middle of the city can't really grasp how threatening it was.  And passing through Checkpoint Charlie, with its high-spirited, genial American soldiers into the bleakness of East Berlin was like going through the looking glass into another planet.

    That same year we were in Berlin, we visited both Budapest and Prague for a few days, driving through the countryside through out-of-the-way border crossings from Austria.  American tourists there were virtually unheard-of, so we were frisked, our luggage searched, mirrors held under the car to look for escapees, questioned intensely and skeptically.

    Our hotel rooms were audibly bugged, we were followed on foot, and a couple times found people crouching at the keyhole of the room when we came back unexpectedly. (Entirely possible we were meant to see them as a warning.)

    The countries were beyond grim.  We tried in vain to find people laughing or even smiling.  Hotel and restaurant staff ambushed us in elevators and restrooms, begging for American cigarettes or nylon stockings, and once hurriedly, weepingly, had pressed forbidden old patriotic currency on us to take back to freedom in the U.S.  I still have it somewhere.

    Once we too took a wrong turn in Prague and got lost, blundered into what looked like a giant Sears store but turned out to be a Soviet military installation of some kind, and were immediately surrounded by very agitated Red Army types.

    As it happens, we were in Budapest when the Cuban missile crisis happened, which is a whole 'nother story, but needless to say it was not made public there and we had no idea it had even happened until we got back to Vienna and saw baffling and frightening newspaper headlines after it was essentially all over.

    Terrible times.


    Just wanted to thank the (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by vml68 on Wed Nov 11, 2009 at 09:48:10 AM EST
    two of you for sharing this. Reading about personal experiences makes the history so much more real than learning about it from text books.

    Gyrfalcon, if you don't mind me asking, what were you doing in eastern Europe at that time?


    My family was in Europe (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Nov 11, 2009 at 02:55:52 PM EST
    on sabbatical (my dad was a college language prof).  We spent the winter in Vienna, and made those trips to Budapest and Prague from there, but the previous summer we'd just roamed around Europe by car for three months, mostly via back roads and out-of-the-way places.  I was a young barely teen, and it was a truly fantastic experience, an adventure every day.

    Sounds incredible. I envy you. (none / 0) (#6)
    by vml68 on Thu Nov 12, 2009 at 08:30:40 AM EST