Felicia Muftic – The fall of the Wall, 20 years later
November 29, 2009
Twenty years ago I was driving down the Valley Highway, I-25, in Denver between University and Colorado Boulevard. On the radio came the news: The Berlin Wall had fallen. I had to pull to the side of the freeway to cry.
Seventeen years after the fall of the Wall, visiting Rotarians from Berlin brought me a chip from that Wall as a gift and it is lovingly placed in a glass case in our Winter Park home, along with other priceless artifacts, safe from grandchildren’s hands. Here is why there is so much emotion attached to an ugly chip of cement:
In 1958 and 1959, I was an exchange student spending my junior year abroad in West Berlin. I lived two subway/elevated stops from the Soviet Zone. My roommates were from both the West and the East. I attended the Free University of Berlin. It was a vibrant, exciting, and very scary time. We could travel freely between the British Zone, where I lived , and the Soviet one. We could walk through the Brandenburg Gate and visit the destruction around Hitler’s bunker and stare at the mounds of ruins of the East, which were slowly being rebuilt Russian style. Students from the Soviet Zone’s Humboldt University would come to the West’s Free University campus, stand on the equivalent of a soap box and spout their Marxist philosophy and Free University students would debate them.
It was only 13 years since the end of World War II. The surviving women of West Berlin had chipped away as much rubble as they could, but bullet holes still pitted the buildings in the West. Vacant, cleared lots dotted nearly every block. Here and there, a renovated building showed that life was emerging again. West Berlin’s main street, Kufurstendamm, aka Ku Damm, was alive. The old Ka-De-We department store was full of merchandise, and even some of the pre-war cabaret life had returned. Lights and life glowed into late night. The East was dark, gloomy, and parts were still debris-filled. Walking through the Berlin Gate was like visiting another world.
It was also tense. So many from the East had walked through the Berlin Gate that the East was experiencing a brain drain. The contrast between the vibrancy of Ku Damm and the East’s sparsely stocked stores and shabbiness was an embarrassment to the Soviets. Khrushchev threatened to close Berlin off from the rest of the world with another blockade, similar to the one they tried over 10 years earlier that was broken by the allied airlift. By spring my parents had ordered me to back my bags and come home. I did not. By that time I had met a fascinating medical student from Yugoslavia, who later became my husband of 50 years. Home? No way.
I finished my senior year at college in the states, went to New York, married the Yugoslav who joined me there, and heard about the Wall being built on the radio. I cried then, too. Our wonderful, vibrant Berlin was violated.
I never have returned. I could not go back to a Berlin that had been a shell of itself, kept alive by tax infusions from Bonn and cheap living offered to those who went there. The former capital of Germany played third, fourth, fifth fiddle to Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Munich. My visits to Europe focused on visiting relatives in Yugoslavia, which became Croatia. I have tourist books about the new Berlin, the capital of a unified Germany. I do not recognize much in the pictures and until now I have I preferred to keep the memories of the magic of post-war, pre-wall Berlin and the romantic adventure of my life. Perhaps it is time to revisit Berlin.
When I hear some in the United States today equate communist theory with what Obama is proposing (to provide access to health insurance for 11 percent of the adult population and to protect consumers who already have it), I laugh. These latter-day political theorists do not have a clue about what either communism or socialism is in practice. Even the American Medical Association, the world’s most vehement opponent of socialized medicine, supports the Democrats’ bills.
When social security was debated after the Great Depression, every Republican save a few opposed it, claiming it would take us down the road to communism; the same arguments were posed verbatim later during the debate about Medicare; and we are hearing those same exact words from the same party in the current health care reform debate. The last I looked, the United States was nothing like communism or socialism I knew, even after passage of social security, progressive income taxes, and Medicare. Be grateful prior generations did not fall for those over-the-top fear tactics and we should likewise see through them now.
– See the Muftic Forum blog at http://www.skyhidailynews.com and web site at http://www.mufticforum.com. Featured on the blog: AMA position of health reform; Dr. Michael Muftic’s recommendations regarding mammograms and pap smears.
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