Saturday, November 8, 2014

a night to remember

One of my first research papers in college was on the Truman administration's handling of the Berlin blockade -- with the dramatic airlift. I thrilled to read John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with its chase scenes across Berlin. I knew that the city was a potential flashpoint between NATO and the USSR.

I was excited when I finally had a chance to see the divided city in person. Several times during the cold war, I stood on a platform overlooking the wall and the no man's land where the East German guards would fire at people attempting to escape. I saw the contrast between the drab East and the vibrant, neon-lit West. A couple of times I even went through Checkpoint Charlie and felt as if a blanket of suspicion and surveillance had been thrown over me. I also had some close friends who had lived in West Berlin and told stories, happy and sad, of life there.

As demonstrations spread across eastern Europe in 1989, I followed the news, worried about another Soviet crackdown -- as in Germany and Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1981. I hoped that there would be some liberalization but feared the worst.

The family was watching television that Thursday night, 25 years ago this weekend, when the networks interrupted their usual fare with dramatic pictures from Berlin. A checkpoint was open. People were pouring through from east to west, walking, cheering, peaceful. How ironic that this glorious moment of human liberty occurred on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.  I cried.

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