Jubilant cries filled the air as hordes of people came tumbling through the wall to West Berlin. Cheering in joy and exhalation, they greeted the graffiti painted by defiant West Berliners and attempted to reduce the wall to rubble, trying to tear it down in a fury and pocketing chunks of the stone as souvenirs.
The Berlin Wall was viewed as a symbol of the Cold War for years. Erected to stem the tide of refugees fleeing communist East Berlin for the West, East Germany began construction of the wall in 1961. While for years, terrified residents of East Berlin had traveled to West Berlin in the hopes of reuniting with their families and friends and fleeing communist repression, they were now trapped, penned in like cattle and isolated from the rest of the world.
To the United States, the wall served as a physical representation of the divide between Eastern capitalism and democratic West Berlin. Empowering editorials and speeches were used to further demote what they viewed as repressive methods of the Soviet Union.
However, the Soviets viewed the concrete structure as a barrier against the spreading capitalism of the Western world and cultural imperialism of the United States.
About 5,000 East Germans were able to escape to democratic West Berlin during the lifetime of the wall, though the frequency of these escapes were diminished and discouraged as the walls were heavily fortified with barbed wire, weaponry and watchtowers.
Not all who fled were successful and, in the end, thousands of East Germans were captured and approximately 190 killed.
In 1989, faced with growing mobs and demonstrations, as well as the growing idea of Western capitalism sweeping the land, East Germany resolved to weaken the restrictions of those wishing to travel past the wall and cross into West Berlin. As thousands flocked to the wall and demanded to be released, the guards overwhelmed by the numbers and demonstrations of the people, opened the gates and thousands warmed through to the other side, rejoicing in their freedom, won at last.
During a time of an unstable administration in the White House, tainted by Russian collusion, sexual harassment accusations against the President, a growing fear of nuclear War with North Korea and attempts to stem the tide of immigrants through policy changes and even the idea of erecting a wall, whether physically or ideologically, one tends to be reminded of past events and situations of similar occurrence.
Though the political turmoil revolving around the construction of the Berlin Wall, as well as the overall circumstances surrounding the events of this time in the Cold War varied, one cannot help but wonder at the similarity. In essence, the Berlin Wall was a physical representation of an ideological and cultural difference between people, a way to restrict the flood of Western culture and capitalism by the Soviet Union. Today, talks of building a wall, however seemingly far-fetched, could well be happening ideologically and in spirit, if not physically.
There are 3.6 million DREAMers currently in the United States who live, wondering if they will be forced to leave their family and friends, relinquish the lives they have built and return to a country they barely know or remember.
We as a country have begun to deepen the divides between those we view as different, whether by race, gender, or culture. We have erected a wall of sorts, in our mind, between us and those whose views and lives vary from ours.
We study history in our schools and classrooms to learn and appreciate other cultures, to gain a sense of appreciations we as a species have faced and overcome and to learn from our mistakes and come together as one. When such is the case, why does it seem as though we are only repeating the mistakes of our ancestors, perhaps in different ways? In essence, we continue to construct walls of our own making to separate us from others of our kind due to trivial differences. In times like these, we must look to history and draw the connections between today and then to rectify our mistakes.
In 1989, as the people of East Berlin arrived in floods to West Berlin, the fear of two regions with political and cultural difference—democratic West Berlin and communist East Berlin—were overshadowed by the bonds between these people who had waged their own wars to reunite with family and friends and to recognize that, in the end, we are all human.