One of the COVID resolutions at our house was that we’d watch all of the James Bond movies ever made. I think there have been 25 of them; so, this is an ongoing project. On the nights when we don’t feel like Bond, we often watch travel shows– and there seem to be an unlimited number of those.
One series we’ve been watching recently is Rick Steve’s Travels Through Europe. He went to Amsterdam, Prague, Venice, Tuscany, and the South of France. We’ve been to a few of these places; but, the rest are all beautiful places that we’d like to visit. If, that is, the virus ever ends.
One of the more interesting cities that Steve visited was Berlin. I found it particularly interesting because I had never really thought a lot about going there and, therefore, didn’t really know a whole lot about it. I knew its history, but hadn’t thought much about what I would do if I ever actually went there; things which, of course, were the focus of the show.
The thing that was most interesting, I think, was Steve’s discussion about the Berlin Wall. He gave an overview of the destruction of the city in WWII, the way it was divided between the Allied forces and Russia when the war came to an end, and the rapid construction of the Wall that resulted. This lead to an overview of Checkpoint Charlie and the dead zone between the East and West sides of the Wall. He also showed clips of his visit to a museum that displayed all manner of vehicles and plans used by daring people attempting to escape to the West. The vast majority of those attempts failed and their participants were either shot on the spot or executed later.
Steve also talked a lot about how the city has changed in the three decades since the Wall came down. East Berlin is no longer the drab, cold and austere place it was under Soviet control. It’s a thriving Bohemian area, with restaurants, nightspots, flowers and color. People have taken a sense of ownership in their neighborhoods–much like what we might expect to see in the Western parts of the city–and that pride is on display.
A couple of things occurred to me a few days after we watched this show. The first, is one you may have heard before. It is that no one on record was ever gunned down trying to cross the Wall going east (well, OK, Agent 007 did it on several occasions). Who in their right mind would want to leave a free society to enter the dreadful oppression offered by the Soviet Utopia?
My second observation is about the transformation that occurred in Berlin after the Wall fell. With families and friends reunited, residents of both sides of the city were free to take the best of life on both sides of the Wall. With a common history, separated by fewer than 50 years, both sides could find plenty in common with the other. Residents could choose to keep the parts of their own culture that they liked and adopt parts from the other that suited their needs.
Today, one side of the Wall has shrugged off much of what it was before the Wall came down and adopted much of the other. Poor, starved possessions of an oppressive militaristic state or free to take advantages of the opportunities life offers. Which do you think they chose in Berlin? Which would you choose?