Monday, November 9, 2009

9 November 1989

I remember the first time I ever went to the trouble to identify Germany on a map. I was in high school, in AP European History. I remember looking at it and thinking: "Wow, that's really close to England."

In the United States we tend to teach history in terms of good guys and bad guys. Generally, in situations where Americans or the Irish are not involved, England is good. Defeat of the Spanish armada? Good. Defeat of Napoleon? Good. The 1968 Eurovision contest in which Cliff Richard lost due to Francisco Franco's interference? Not so good.

And for some reason I had up to that point assumed that geography worked in a similar vein, that "good" places were sort of looped together. I mean, the United States is good, Canada's pretty good, and Mexico's alright as well. Even in Texas history I always felt that Mexico was not so much "bad" as "misguided but with tasty food." So it was a shock to see Germany so close to good ol' England.

I had assumed it would be over there in the bad part of the world, perhaps nestled in the bosom of the USSR. And yet, even before I knew where it was, and even longer before all the historical importance and connection made any sense, I knew that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a big deal.

Twenty years ago today I was 13 years old, lying on my bed in my little room in the basement of a four-bedroom suburban home in the middle of America, watching television. I had no idea of the world outside of America; I had no interest in it. But one of the few things I did know was that the Berlin Wall was not just bad, but evil. And now all these people were standing there, had been standing there for days, gathering and gathering.

I don't remember understanding why, or what was happening, just that it was big and that I was terrified. I kept thinking: "This whole thing is going to turn. The bad won't tolerate this. Someone somewhere is going to decide they've had enough and all these people are going to be cut to shreds in machine gun fire."

And then the crowd went at the wall with sledgehammers and saws and whatever they had. They started climbing on it and tearing it apart with their bare hands. I didn't fully understand the significance, didn't know the history or the ramifications, but I sat there with tears in my 13-year-old eyes because I knew that somehow the whole world had suddenly changed.

It had changed for the good.


Brian said...

I was a few years older, just finishing up high school, but that day had a huge impact on me, and has defined how I've seen the world ever since. That what we believe is "bad" can suddenly be replaced by something very different.

Dani said...

I love reading about you before I knew you.