Saw the remains of the Berlin Wall today. There was hardly anyone else there, and the day was gray and so cold my ears ached, even with the assistance of a woolly hat. I am old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin wall, but not very clearly. My family had just moved back to the United States in 1989 – I lived overseas for most of my childhood – and I turned ten that winter. Old enough to be excited about seeing Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but not precocious enough to know much about politics.

berlin wall - sections IMG_0129 IMG_0124The memorial area for the wall is simple and moving. There are sections of the wall there that are slowly being overgrown by weeds – one imagines that with time, the concrete itself will disintegrate, which I suspect is the idea. There is also a map that shows how the wall divided the city as well as an area with pictures of the people who died trying to get across.

We also went to see the Stasi museum, which is out in the eastern suburbs of the city. It’s in an area of anonymous and fairly grim-looking apartment buildings. There is a floor of offices, including that of Erich Mielke, that remain essentially as they were in 1989, complete with safes (now open) and a great deal of faux wood paneling and cheap polyester curtains. The whole thing exudes an air of frugality, but a decidedly political sort of frugality. There was also a section of the museum devoted to youth groups and education in the DDR. They had examples of textbooks that were assigned to students – I wish the books had been outside the display cases so that one could leaf through them! I have a very distinct memory of my fourth grade (1989-1990) teacher giving us the spiel about the evils of communism, and yet as it’s described in these books and in the various quotations you see elsewhere, it sounds so appealing: who would not want to live in a place where you did work that was meaningful for you, and received what you needed in return? Of course, this was not how things worked out in practice, and the whole “you should be incapable of being happy outside of the collective group” aspect is extremely creepy – and this is not even to mention the political repression and silencing of all dissent. The parts of the exhibits that showed all the surveillance devices used by the Stasi would be almost laughable – hidden cameras in tree trunks! in button holes! in markers! – if not for the fact that it was in fact real, and for the people involved could have terrifying consequences. No Ostalgie here.

12 thoughts on “12-20-12

  1. The socialist ideal is quite appealing, but the ways and means to get there were quite different (and didn’t work).

    If you didn’t know this already: there is an excellent movie about Stasi surveillance methods and control of DDR intelligentsia: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lifes of Others, in English, I think).


    1. I did see that movie – I really liked it.

      A colleague of mine assigned some 19th century communist writings to students in a seminar without telling them what it was (students who had been raised in a very conservative right-wing area of the US) and they found it very compelling and exciting – I think it really gave them an unexpected sense of the appeal of communism to many idealists in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Next of course they had to read about the Soviet Union. But I think the experience of being sympathetic, even briefly, with something they had always been told was awful gave them some insight into the history of the 20th century.


      1. It takes a lot of time, even in this relatively non-conservative area of the US, to explain these things to people who were frog-marched into George Orwell novels by teachers who weren’t willing or possibly able to say he was a life-long socialist.

        Now if they would only bother to teach labor history, so my slacker fellow union members would realize that people were hanged for their eight hour day, no really, and maybe they should show up to the g-damn rallies.

        [ahem] Sorry. Back to the Cube.


        1. It’s kind of like people who are opposed to vaccination for childhood illnesses – they’ve grown up in a world without the diseases, and as a result have no idea how bad it was.


          1. The newspapers here are full of a child who has just nearly died from tetanus. The parents thought they had made an “informed decision” not to immunise. They have changed their minds.


      2. It saddens me that so much of the history of the struggles for a decent life for working people is being forgotten. I’m old enough to have met people who fought in Spain, who knew Emily Davidson or took part in the General Strike. As I see what they fought for being rolled back by an alliance of the super rich and corrupt and cowardly politicians it makes me very angry indeed. Those people who think the right to own a machine gun is more important than a living wage should be working 12 hour shifts for peanuts in one of Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills.


        1. “Those people who think the right to own a machine gun is more important than a living wage should be working 12 hour shifts for peanuts in one of Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills.”



        2. Oh, but they can work 12 hour shifts for peanuts at Walmart and buy their guns & ammo there, thus exercising that most important privilege guaranteed by the Constitution, the employee discount.


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