Life Without "Die Mauer"

When the Berlin Wall came down more than 25 years ago, a tangible symbol of the difference between free and oppressive governments was lost. The Wall, as it was simply known, - Die Mauer in German - was a daily reminder of the moral bankruptcy of the DDR, evidenced by the fact that the country had to threaten its citizens with death to keep them from fleeing. The puppet regime of Erich Honeker collapsed nearly instantaneously once it was no longer propped up by the ailing and equally bankrupt Soviet state. The enforced misery of a people whose only crime was to have been born east of a political boundary came to a joyous halt when the Wall metaphorically and then actually collapsed.

On my first visit to Berlin in 1975 I was faced with squaring some admittedly collective political leanings with the vicious presence of the Wall. I left Berlin after three days thinking that all in the West would be well-served by contemplating the Wall and its undeniable brutality at close range. When I returned to Berlin in 1983 for duty as a Russian linguist in the Army's intelligence branch, I played a small role in containing the agents of that brutality by ensuring they stayed on their side of the Wall. The line had been drawn almost 40 years earlier, and the line had hardened into the hideous, lethal Wall less than 20 years after that. For decades we used a good deal of our national treasure to make sure that what was on the other side of the Wall stayed there.

Now, except for museum pieces and small, preserved sections for the curious, the Wall is gone. While its destruction was a fine step forward for humanity, the lessons drawn from its presence are not easily replaced, and seem to have been nearly forgotten. Twenty five years after the Wall's collapse, mankind seems more preoccupied than ever with searching for and violently celebrating those things which serve only to divide us.