Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago today.

If you're new to the blog, note only that my first visit to the city of Berlin came in the summer of 1989, during which I was part of a cultural exchange program and served as a paid employee of the East Berlin Parks Department for three weeks in August of that year.

Three months later, the Berlin Wall came down.

Seeing the reality of bipolar Germany in 1989, and observing the wall that defined it, has made an indelible impression on me. A quarter-century later, I can't shake it. Search NA Confidential for "Berlin Wall," and you can read all about my obsession.

Following are three readings -- inadequate, but informative.

First, a new book explaining how the wall actually came down. As usual, historically ignorant Americans tend to get it wrong. The book is called The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall, written by Mary Elise Sarotte.

If the Bookseller is reading ...

The fall of the Berlin Wall: The German open (The Economist)

... Many Americans, in particular, appeared to be under the impression that Ronald Reagan set an inevitable process in motion with the exhortation he made to the leader of the Soviet Union in 1987: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” What happened had to happen, they seemed to think: the East German regime was weakened by glasnost and perestroika, the political opening and economic reforms that preceded the dissolution of the Soviet empire, as well as by its own ineptitude and the increasing number of protesters longing for the freedom and comforts of the West.

The reality was quite different, as Ms Sarotte shows in her meticulous account of what she calls the “accidental and contingent” nature of the opening of the wall and her portraits of many local activists.

Next, Al Jazeera explains the consequences.

25 years on: How the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the world: Twenty-five consequences of the earth-shaking events of a quarter century ago, by Tony Karon, Tom Kutsch, Christopher Shay and Massoud Hayoun (Al Jazeera)

The fall of the Berlin Wall, 25 years ago, not only reunited Germany and foretold the coming collapse of the Soviet Union; it signaled a profound change in global affairs. The Cold War that followed World War II created a bipolar world, in which relations between countries and contests for state power everywhere were subsumed by the binary conflict of a U.S.-led West vs. a Soviet-dominated East. Even though the U.S.S.R.’s final collapse came two years later, the fall of the Wall that had separated West from East in Berlin more than any other single moment symbolizes the end of the Cold War ...

... To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Al Jazeera examines 25 ways the world was changed in the aftermath of that moment.

Finally, a visit to the city of Görlitz. How has Germany itself changed after 25 years?

Germany looks east for new customers, by Nigel Cassidy (BBC News)

Twenty-five years after the long-detested "Iron Curtain" was torn down by people power, there's little left beyond the many monuments along the old route.

Yet travel some 200km (125 miles) to Germany's most easterly city, Goerlitz, and the legacy of 1989's abrupt change in the ruling political and financial system has a much longer tail.

Certainly the roads and communications provide little clue to the City's GDR past. The region shared in the fruits of the 2 trillion euros (£1.6tn) worth of rebuilding work paid for by West German taxpayers.

But in common with most of the old East Germany, the initial surge of departing young economic migrants left behind lower birth rates, higher unemployment and an ageing population.

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