I thought I remembered where I was when I learned that the Berlin Wall had fallen, but I think I’m wrong.
We were living in Tokyo, and I was a junior in high school at the American School in Japan. I was at school on a Saturday morning, because I was on the Brain Bowl team and we were going to a meet. (Wow, that’s a nerdy sentence.) It was also the weekend of our fall play, You, the Jury, in which I was playing the judge. We had done a show the night before and we were going to do another one that night.
Now I realize that I couldn’t have heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall on that Saturday morning, because I just looked at a 1989 calendar and I see that the wall fell on a Thursday night in Germany, or Friday morning in Tokyo. So I guess I had heard about it on Friday, and on Saturday morning we were just talking about it. Memory is tricky.
I grew up in the 1980s. It seemed like it had always been the 1980s and always would be the 1980s. That’s why it was weird when we reached 1989. It didn’t seem possible that there could be a last year of the 1980s. The year 1989 seemed like the future, and as for the 1990s — wouldn’t we all have flying cars and robots by then?
But 1989 came, and Ronald Reagan left office even though he had been president forever, and George Bush came in, and the Cold War and the 1980s ended at almost the same time.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever experience such a stunning day again. The collapse of Communist governments in Eastern Europe was euphoric; it was an exclamation point, a tangible event that changed things. Certainly the collapse of the Iranian government would be such a day, or a sudden decision by the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians to live in peace. But those wouldn’t change the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our enemies today are murky; not states, but groups of people who are still looking for ways to kill us. If things improve, they will only do so gradually.
Back then, Francis Fukuyama talked about “the end of history.” Well, even if history ends, the world and its problems go on. We were naïve 20 years ago; not anymore.
* * * *
* We know about the Berlin Wall, but what about West Berlin, stuck in the middle of East Germany? How did West Germans get from West Germany to West Berlin? Here are one man’s memories of such travels, and here’s a description of the roads. And here’s Wikipedia on the inner German border.