The Berlin Wall started to crumble 20 years ago today, November 9, 1989. What a weird beginning of the end of the Cold War: in the early and mid-1980s, Americans had worked themselves up into a frenzy of “Evil Empire” fear–any of you old-timers like me remember Red Dawn and The Day After, and Testament? (The video below, Nena’s “99 Balloons,” English version, is a little treat for all of you. That’s what the MTV generation was grooving on in the early and mid-80s, while Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan were summiting at Reykjavik: big hair and nuclear war! The original German version, “99 Luftbalons” is here.) And President Reagan had big hair too, remember?
But with the fall of the wall, decades of fear in the U.S. were over, or so we thought hopefully. I remember listening to the news on my radio in my dorm room, looking out over the darkening college green on that late afternoon, watching lights come on across the campus, and trying to remember every detail of where I was and how I felt at that moment, in case I ever had the opportunity, perhaps through some new, heretofore unheard of technology or non peer-reviewed media through which I might in the future share my memories of this happy day. . . One of my good friends had just submitted an application for a Watson Fellowship to study the graffiti on the Berlin Wall, and she was concerned that her application was being made irrelevant as we watched the news reports. (Of course, the fall of the wall only made her project look extremely prescient and timely–she won the fellowship, although I can’t recall how she ended up tweaking her research project.)
It was strange how in the U.S., the Cold War was purged so quickly from the zeitgeist. Too bad nobody told those nations in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and even the parts of Europe that had been hosting our proxy wars with the Soviet Union that they should just be excellent to each other and get themselves a souvenir chunk of that wall because all our troubles were over! Maybe I should say that 1990 was an awesome year–it was a brief interlude between November of 1989 and the spring 1991, when Yugoslavia fell apart. (Not everything from the 1990 global respite fell apart: Nelson Mandela was released from prison in the winter of 1990, and he’s still out! And, oh yeah: Germany is still united, and it hasn’t invaded Austria or Poland. Yet.)