The Fall of the Wall and the rise of the Internet.
On this day, twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. I don’t really remember it. But a few short years after the Fall of the Wall, I moved to Munich, Germany, where I lived for four years. In 1993, just over a year before I returned to the States for good (it seems), I took the train from Munich to Berlin to teach English to former East German border guards. My two-week English class was part of a broader curriculum designed to help these former “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” types to become security guards department stores. The family I stayed with was headed by a former Volkpolizist, which translates as “people’s police”. My days were spent teaching from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. My evenings were my own, and every day after class ended I boarded the train for Zoo Station, the heart of West Berlin, or Alexander Platz, the heart of East Berlin. Through it all, I learned that while The Wall had fallen a few years before, there were many more walls yet to fall.
The highest wall of all was the wall between people: everywhere I went in the East people were quiet. There were no boisterous conversations on the trains and buses, pubs were nothing like the Biergartens in the West, my students didn’t talk about their personal lives at all. People were not about to share so much as a hello, for the culture they had grown up in made them afraid to share. If you said something someone else decided was anti-government, you were reported and life got bad fast.
Keeping to oneself the way East Germans did was deeply odd to me. More significant, however, was how at odds the East Germans were with the times in general. The whole rest of Europe was in thrall to the promise of unification via the European Union. Everyone basck in Munich talked about the Union, the freedom it would bring as border controls were relaxed and currencies combined, the work opportunities, change. Sure, there were doubters. The Germans fretted over the coming demise of the D-mark, the French worried about their culture being watered down, the Italians nervously sipped cappuccino and wondered how much more of their country would soon be owned by wealthy Germans. The English said bollucks to the whole thing and pouted on the sidelines. The doubters were wrong. From what I can gather here in Fortress America, Europe is more open and prosperous than ever, and East Germany is a borderline only in memory.
In fact, looking back on it all, The Fall of the Wall and the rise of the European Union, I now see it all as a prelude to the Internet Age. Call me an idealist, but The Fall of All Walls is coming. In our heart of hearts, people want to be free to engage with other people and to find happiness wherever it may be. Even East German border guards, who, twenty one years ago today would shoot you on sight under the right circumstances and today will happily tell you where to find the bathroom. In English, no less.