When the Berlin Wall came down
Twenty years later, the rest of the world is a different place because of that event.
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Among some older people who once lived in East Germany, there is a sense of ostalgie, a German word combining "the East" with "nostalgia."Skip to next paragraph
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But the old East is not coming back.
When the wall came down, Kathrin Röschel was a college student in East Berlin. In her own small way, she was part of that history, participating in a candlelight vigil weeks before the wall was breached, a fissure that helped trigger the break.
"There is a theory that to overcome things takes as long as they were present," she says. "Maybe it will take 40 years to overcome the wall. I hope not. I hope people know about it, know the experience that people can have so much power, [to] take candles and take down that wall. It worked. That is the most amazing thing."
Ms. Röschel tries to tell her students what life was like when the wall was up. But to them, she says, it's as if she's describing a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
One of her pupils is Marcel Stearfinger, a senior born two years after the fall of the wall. Like others at the school, he participated in an oral history project, called "Wall in the Mind." Marcel always knew of the wall, he says. His father carted away a single brick from its fall, and that brick is in the family's living room.
But the wall divided his family. His aunt lived in the East. The family, though, often reunited for vacations in other Soviet-bloc countries. Marcel says he interviewed his father and learned that the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, had spied on them during their vacations.
"He had the actual documents, and [they listed] what they were doing, whom they were talking to, where they drove," Marcel says. "It was frightening to see those documents."
Like his teacher, Marcel says his fondest hope is that within the next 20 years "the differences between east and west will vanish.
After generations of division and two world wars, Europe was melded together, united around a single currency. And the European Union rose to prominence, an imperfect government attempting to bring a sense of order to many different countries and peoples.
Globalization, for all its promise and perils, would be unthinkable in a world divided between capitalism and communism.
But the fall of the wall also led to less savory moments. Yugoslavia's collapse was perhaps inevitable. In some ways, though, European countries hastened the country's demise by recognizing breakaway states. And Europe stood by as ethnic cleansing roared through the Balkans.
"We didn't realize how the world was changing because part of that change was held back by the cold war," Mr. Scowcroft says.
It was like a dam breaking, powerful ideas and technologies sweeping the globe.
"One of the important aspects of globalization was information technology," Scowcroft says. "What the radio and television was doing was politicizing the world's people. [For much of history] the population of the planet did not know what was going on past their own neighborhood, didn't much care; life went on. All of a sudden they saw what was going on in the world and they were energized."
Some took that energy and immigrated to the West in search of better lives, Scowcroft says. Others, though, were outraged by what they saw in the West, triggering a rise in religious fundamentalism.