And I'll never forget the front of the closed-off Brandenburg Gate where President Reagan spoke in June 1987:
There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.After that, I vowed someday to walk through the Brandenburg gate. BTW, the backstory of Reagan's remarks are ably documented by Presidential speechwriter Peter Robinson, who tells how Reagan himself kept re-inserting the dramatic text after White House and State Department flunkies repeatedly deleted it as overly provocative. Well, freedom is provocative.
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev -- Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
I recall being glued to the television in the Fall of 1989 when freedom came to Berlin. P.J. O'Rourke captures it best in his essay The Death of Communism from his book Give War a Chance:
We won, and let's not anybody forget it. We, the people, the free and equal citizens of democracies, we living exemplars of the rights of man tore a new asshole in international communism. Their wall is breached. Their gut-string is busted. The rot of their body-politic fills the nostrils of the Earth with a glorious stink. . . . The privileges of liberty and the sanctity of of the individual went out and whipped butt.For reasons I'm not able fully to explain, the subsequent German re-unification touched me deeply--I was lucky enough to imbibe pure bliss at the Unification Day (October 3, 1990) party at the German embassy in Washington.
Yet, as often as I've been in Germany -- work or holiday -- it's been decades since I went to Berlin. Mostly because I didn't like it: East Berlin was dreary, and home of the Communist-created Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism"--irony apparently outlawed. West Berliners were heavily subsidized and exempted from compulsory military service--so the city became a magnet for committed leftists. As Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum said:
The result was a city of artists and activists, one that became -- bizarrely, given the circumstances -- deeply anti-American. That American troops protected their freedom to protest against the United States seemed not to bother West Berliners at all. That Johnson and Kennedy had once been cheered as national heroes seemed to be forgotten as well.Berlin's culture continued to be top-notch (the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) might be the world's best)--but I felt unwelcome on either side of the Wall.
Twenty years later, I'm pleased to report that the art remains excellent; that the Unter den Linden looks lively, not gray; that the un-lamented Deutsche Demokratische Republik now is vibrant and exciting. The BPO was as good as I remembered. And the former West no longer seems like a superannuated commune. Instead, as Reagan predicted, "all the inhabitants of all Berlin [are enjoying] the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world." In short, Berlin's now part of what's best about Europe.
On May 8, 2010 -- the 65th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany -- I walked through the Brandenburg gate. It felt like victory and freedom.