When I was a teenager in the 1980s there was a general feeling that we might one day have to prepare for a nuclear war. It sounds foolish now. At that time, our political concerns and fears were still linked to states, not amorphous terrorist groups. In western Europe, we were constantly concerned about the relationship with the Soviet bloc across the iron curtain.
Playground conversation would be about Reagan, Thatcher, and what will happen if and when a war does occur. That wasn’t because I was some kind of childhood political junkie, it was just the attitude of that era. The news talked about it. The media in general talked about it. Dramatists talked about it. Musicians talked about it. And us, the kids kicking a ball around in the playground, were talking about it.
Then exactly 20 years ago today – when I was a young student of computer science and sitting in college cutting my teeth on assembly code – the East Germans came crashing through the Berlin Wall.
Granting freedom of movement to East Germans started a process that has yet to finish. We found peace and improved political relationships quite early on, and one look at modern Berlin would lead you to ask if there ever was a division. But, the old Eastern part of Germany is still affected by the years of division. Industry there is less productive, career opportunities aren’t as bright. Even two decades down the line, there has not been a complete assimilation.
Europe has developed immensely since that time, to the point where most of the continent shares a currency and grants freedom of movement to all citizens. Now our union contains 27 nation states, many of whom were Soviet-bloc states just a couple of decades ago.
The destruction of the wall liberated so many people to live their lives in a spirit of greater freedom. Not just the Germans, but all those to the East of the wall who found the government dictating so many aspects of their life. It was an amazing single event that captured the imagination of people all over the world, especially those who have to rail against dictatorial regimes when all they want to do is get on with their life.