Monday, November 9, 2009

The fall of the Berlin Wall - the moment of a lifetime

By Rick Morris

For a child of the Cold War like me, the fall of the Berlin Wall was unthinkable. Regardless of the political liberalization in Eastern Europe in 1989, that one seemingly unassailable symbol of communist hegemony loomed larger than life -- and after the Chinese government cracked down in such cruel and inhuman fashion mere months earlier. It was the site of Ronald Reagan's seemingly futile challenge to the Soviet Union to "tear down this wall" a mere 2 1/2 years earlier.

But on November 9, 1989, it happened.

Whether by accident or design, the East German officials communicated to the public, almost in passing, that travel restrictions were being lifted. A mass of humanity descended on the Wall and unlike what had happened months earlier in Beijing, senior officials were unwilling to order the authorities on the scene to use lethal force to put down the uprising.

So the people called the bluff and before you knew it, people were going through the border passings, climbing up on the Wall itself and essentially a mass party broke out in front of cameras beaming the scene worldwide.

Check out the prescient opening statement from this CBC piece on that night.

Sensing the end was near, a good friend and I grabbed some Stoli and headed to his apartment to watch it all unfold on TV (for whatever reason, I also remember that we saw the episode of Cheers that night in which Carla was widowed when her husband was run over with a Zamboni). Unfortunately for me, I then had to put in an overnight shift at the school newspaper supervising the layout of the sports section, but I survived my youthful overindulgence in heroic fashion!

But all in all, that night was completely unforgettable to me. For my money, we have never seen a moment like that and we never will again (if only because it would seem like a pale imitation of the first time): the world's foremost physical symbol of tyranny being toppled live in front of the world as a vast populace celebrates newfound freedom in real time. Growing up as a child with distant relatives behind the Iron Curtain, hearing stories of how my great-aunt would send one box of shoes to Poland with only left shoes and one with only right shoes so that the totalitarians in the government would not be easily able to loot the contents -- suffice it to say that I never could have imagined the crumbling of that era, much less the way that it actually unfolded.

Quite simply, it's one of the most inspirational and memorable moments in human history. May it inspire us to resist the overbearing efforts of government whenever they arise.

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