Monday, November 9, 2009

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!"

Today is the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A lot of people remember where they were when the most visible sign of Communism finally fell. I am not one of them as I was under the age of 10 and blissfully politically ignorant. But my roommate, who grew up in Munich in the 1980s, remembers East Germans flooding into the West and heading straight for the supermarket to buy bananas.

This past weekend, as reported in the Times magazine, two gourmands brought their guests back to that time of feast and famine when they hosted a dinner pitting East and West German cuisines against each other in an apartment just 50 yards from where part of the wall used to stand. The evening, set amid vintage memorabilia, started with guests enjoying wine together. But as dinner started, a wall went up and half the guests were served dishes reflecting either the East or West. The diners reunited for dessert served under "caramel barbed wire."

NPR Radio reported this morning a model car company in Germany is trying to revive interest in full-size Trabants. Once the go-to car in the Soviet bloc - described in the interview as part of the family, like a cat or dog - it fell out of favor once East Germans had the freedom to purchase whatever wheels they wanted. The good news is rather than belching smoke, the new Trabbis will be electric. Interest in the retro car is another example of the "ostalgia" reported on in USA Today. Those same Trabis conduct tourists on a sightseeing tour, visiting spots all over East Berlin. In the USA Today story, several locations in formerly Soviet Berlin are highlighted as tourist attractions today, including Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery and Potsdamer Platz.

A slightly more objective (if self-aggrandizing) look-back of the fall of the wall can be found on MSNBC's website. Written by Bill Wheatley, who produced MSNBC's live scoop on the wall being opened, it is detailed and very informative for those who may be too young to remember it or were living under a rock.

The New York Times posted a video interview with the border guard who effectively ended Communism around the world. Harald Jaeger was stationed at Bornholmer Strasse bridge and had a decision to make. Getting no clear communication from his leaders, Jaeger decided to open the gates peacefully rather than fire on the ever-increasing crowd gathering at the wall demanding the right to free travel they had been granted earlier that day. Underneath the video is a link to a story called "The Hinge of History," which neatly ties Europe's 11/9, as author Roger Cohen calls it, to the current situation in Iran.

Earlier today German Chancellor Angela Merkel - herself a former East German - joined former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev to retrace the steps of those East Germans who flooded into West Berlin around midnight on Nov. 9, 1989. The New York Times reported thousands of people surrounded Merkel and Gorbachev, and all cheered when Chancellor Merkel thanked Gorbachev for the reforms he brought to the Communist party. Polish civil rights leader Lech Walesa joined in celebrations this afternoon, pushing over the first of 1000 oversized dominoes - a ceremonial nod to the Poles being the first to overthrow the Communists.

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