Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s demise inspires conflicting emotions

November 20, 2009 — by Uttara Sivaram

It’s been 20 years since the fateful fall of the Berlin Wall. Two and a half decades since Ronald Reagan very publicly and politely mentioned that it would be most kind of Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that bothersome little fence separating Germany into Eastern and Western sectors. So when the wall did finally fall, torn apart by hands and cranes alike, West Germans skipped into East Germany, East Germans hopped over to West Germany and President George H. W. Bush, who had inherited this issue from the leftovers of the Reagan administration, sat back in his plush Oval Office sofa and celebrated privately, for he knew that this was essentially America’s victory, and therefore, his victory.

Glass-clinking and celebratory toasts aside, the European and global impact of such a Western victory was unexpected. The fall of the wall took the Soviet Union off the map and put Russia on the bleachers indeterminately. While that feisty nation has continued to alternately churn out power-packed small, bald presidents and hairy, swarthy presidents, it has sunk lower and lower in the hierarchy of the global power list.

Germany, too, did not fare as well as people like to believe. In a poll posed to 1,000 Germans on Nov. 2, the New York Times reported that eight of 10 want the wall to be erected again, separating East from West Germany. This surprising onrush of nostalgia has resulted in a demand for Eastern German products, such as the unreliable and unappealing Zeha shoes, which had ended its production line shortly after the wall’s demise. And while these all seem fairly innocuous, as simple displays of fondness for the good old times, the truth is: America’s assessment of what German people truly needed may have been slightly skewed by the party confetti.

No one is denying the good that came out of the Berlin Wall’s destruction. Divided families could reunite. The country became one again. But the newly liberated East Germans barely stayed afloat amidst the detritus from a crumbling Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall is considered by many to be the triumph of Western democratic and liberal ideals over the hyper-controlled and state-welfare notions that the East held.

Thus, this victory stained Germany with Western ideals—equality, democracy, but also capitalism. While this type of private- and corporate-fueled economic development suited America, Germany’s switch to capitalism ruined a government-controlled economy that once had been basic, simple and to the common man, predictable. The independence thrust into the hands of people not yet ready to hold the reins of their own economy proved to be detrimental to the social conditions of post-Wall Germany. One could say that while East Germany may have needed capitalism on training wheels, it rolled to them on a motorcycle.

However, instead of encouraging new entrepreneurship and innovation while easing the German people away from a system of production controlled by the government, the U.S. watched as the confused East German citizens suffered temporary price shocks from the absence of administrative supervision in nationwide pricing. The absence of Western economic support in Germany’s precarious position inevitably led to rampant inflation that decreased the buying power of already dwindling wages. NBC’s Mike Boettcher may have put it best when commenting, “After four decades of standing in communism’s food lines, capitalism has created a new place to wait: at the unemployment office.”

Germany’s economic mishaps followed those of Russia, a country that retreated into itself after the wall fell, frantically trying to deal with the global implosion of Communism and the fluctuations in its own economy. The USSR’s rapid decline fueled America’s ascent, and soon, the U.S. was the only real superpower in the world.

1989, then, was a marker for a number of events that were to shape the peaks in the political terrain. The global shift of the bipolar era would irreversibly start to Westernize the entire world, while the liberated Eastern countries, still stretching their limbs after being bound by the Soviet Union’s chains, were loath to surrender their newfound freedom to the European Union. This would further frustrate and divide nations fed-up by intra-continental disputes. The balance of power in Europe would settle into a reasonable equilibrium, yet the means by which this was achieved were not reached easily.

America’s determination to break the Communist grip on near-helpless countries is noble, and is another example of America’s strong and unfailing instinct for justice. However, the influx of Eastern poverty wrought by abrupt unification could have easily been averted if the U.S. had taken the time to follow up on its moral crusading.

Germany would never quite recover from the burns inflicted by the Soviet Union, topped off with the peroxide that the U.S., knowingly or not, poured on their still-raw wounds. And Russia continues to valiantly fight for its lost status as a world power, itching for a fight but still painfully aware of its festering weaknesses—weaknesses that began accumulating on the day that Germany celebrated with tears and songs, commemorating the fall of a barrier with implications far beyond those of liberty.