A Memory of Falling
2009 has been a year of important anniversaries in much of Eastern Europe. For Poland, June 4th marked 20 years since the first free elections since World War Two.
The Czech Republic will have a similar anniversary in late December.
And twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell-- or at least became irrelevant.
It was two years before my birth, and therefore six years before my memory-- but it is well within the memory of much of the world, and certainly deeply ingrained in the national memory of Germany.
Needless to say, my time in Berlin was filled with reminders of the Berlin Wall.
My hostel was on what would have been the Eastern side, not far from the New Synagogue, and within easy walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate.
From 1961 to 1989, the Gate, dedicated to peace, stood in an uneasy no man's land, referred to by West and East Berliners alike as "the Death Zone".
The common history is that the Berlin Wall went up overnight-- it actually went up over three nights, with barbed wire laid in the streets one day, and guards posted at the perimeter, and a concrete wall two days later.
According to Robert Frost "something there is that doesn't love a wall" and there were a lot of people, among them many of the divided Berliners, who certainly didn't love the Berlin Wall, but there was a dominant political situation which did love such a Wall. There were people on both sides perfectly eager to divide the world into Two Camps. A wall made for a convenient dividing line. "Good fences make good neighbors."
This was not so convenient for those who died trying to cross the wall, or those who had family on the other side, those who had crossed over for the night to visit a friend and woke up in the morning to find half their world cut off...
But nothing is forever, or at least few things are, and walls tend to be among the more ephemeral things in this world (even more ephemeral than flowers, for when a wall falls down it doesn't grow back the next spring).
And so the wall is gone... but the Germans haven't let the grass grow over it quite yet. Some things need to be remembered.