I was in the 8th grade in November of 1989, and I don’t think that the fall of the Berlin Wall had any immediate impact on my thinking at the time. I don’t remember if I watched the coverage on TV, or if there were any big discussions of the event in school during the following days. I was a history buff back then, to be sure – I still am – but I don’t think that I was engaged in contemplating the big issues of human liberty and individual rights at the time. Divided Berlin was simply a fact of life, and the source of interesting cold war tidbits like the story of the Candy Bomber during the Berlin Airlift, and the site of a Harlem Globetrotters game in early 1988 on ABC’s Wide World of Sports that I videotaped and watched again and again.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of human freedom and the evils of totalitarianism, and I’ve noted my tendency to take my freedom for granted. Over the last few weeks, as the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall moved closer, I’ve had opportunity to take a fresh look at the history of divided Berlin, and the rise and fall of the barrier between the eastern and western sectors of that city. As I watched again the footage of jubilant Berliners streaming through the suddenly-opened gates, dancing atop the wall, embracing each other and weeping for joy, it occurred to me that the event seemed as if it had never really happened; after all, how can it be possible that during my lifetime, Berlin – now an utterly modern and cosmopolitan city – had been artificially divided in two with tyrannical rulers forbidding the residents of one half access to the other? Looking back from my 2009 perspective, it hardly seems real.
And yet here we are, already 20 years removed from one of the most spectacular links in the chain of events that culminated in the fall of communism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
This year, the Acton Institute celebrated its 19th anniversary. At the dinner in celebration of that milestone, Rev. Robert A. Sirico – President and Co-Founder of the Acton Institute – gave an address that celebrated the great events of November 9, 1989, but also reminded us that the freedoms that we so often take for granted remain at risk in many ways. You can listen to his address using the audio player below.