Hope, Nostalgia, and the End of History
A Gen X historian remembers the Berlin Wall coming down
I decided to become a historian a time when history seemed to be over.
That strange thought came to mind this past June, when I wrapped up a tour of Germany with a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial. Planned as Germany reunified in the summer of 1990 and finished in 1998, that commemorative park runs for almost a kilometer along Bernauerstraße, with a visitor center added in 2009. You see preserved segments of the wall, a recreation of the “death strip” separating the inner and outer wall, the spot where Berliners tunneled beneath their city, photos of the 200-some women, children, and men who died trying to reach the West, and the reconstructed Reconciliation Church.
And even if you don’t read all of the information plaques lining the outdoor exhibition, you can learn the story at the new-ish permanent exhibition in the visitor center. By the time I got to the end and saw the familiar video footage of jubilant Berliners dancing on the Wall on the night of November 9-10, 1989, all the emotions I felt as an American teenager living through the end of the Cold War came rushing back: surprise, relief, joy, hope. Triumph.
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