February 24, 2022

What Was Old Is New Again

By Glenn

I will never forget my childhood trip to Berlin.  My dad was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, and my parents wanted their children to see as much as possible.  The trip to Berlin was different than others.

The trip started with a night train.  On most trips, we traveled in our huge red, Plymouth station wagon.  It had room for all six of us.  When we traveled in a larger group, we rode on a bus.

I knew about the geopolitics of the trip, because every kid in Europe knew “the mission.”   Our moms and dads were there to protect Europe from a Soviet invasion. The trip to Berlin required us to travel through the Soviet sector.

We had specific instructions to keep the curtains shut.  We were not allowed to look outside the train.  Not that we could have seen much.  It was a night trip for a reason.  The Soviets had a closed society and liked it that way.

Berlin itself was a new city.  Allied forces had reduced the old city to rubble.  The highlight was a visit to Check Point Charlie.  This gate marked the crossing, by car and foot, from the American Zone to the Soviet Zone.

Check Point Charlie had an observation platform to look across the wall.  By the 1970s, the Berlin Wall was a modern wonder designed to prevent any unauthorized crossing.  East German Guards stood ready to shoot anyone who dared.

Visit the Mauermuseum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

Next to the Check Point Charlie was a museum celebrating illegal crossing.  It had pictures of narrow tunnels dug under the wall.  I saw a car with a hidden compartment to smuggle humans to freedom.

The wall seemed so permanent.  This feeling made it hard for me to believe the stories in 1989.  I was sitting waiting for a college history class when someone said the wall had been breached. Like Thomas, I refused to believe until I saw it for myself.  

That moment of celebration and joy produced an era of optimism and hope.  We were supposed to enjoy a peace dividend. Unfortunately, we didn’t.

American advisors rushed into Eastern Europe and launched a vast social experiment.  They encouraged Post-Soviet governments to value property rights over anything else. Americans wanted protections for business owners and discouraged protections for workers. 

This free market paradise had a huge human cost.  High employment.  Crushing alcoholism, drug addiction and depression.  Plummeting life expectancy.

One by one former communist states have turned to strongmen.  They were fleeing from freedom.  Men like Vladimir Putin have convinced them that bigotry, violence and oppression can make Eastern Europe Great Again.

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