It was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall two days ago, and I thought it would be appropriate to share with you today my own exploration of that city.
David and I spent a few days there in May as part of a trip that also included Zurich, Luzern and Prague. As a whole that trip was quite an experience, but none of it was as educational as Berlin. Few cities in the world today are probably of as much significance to modern history. And yet, before going there, I didn’t even really know that.
Growing up in the Philippines, my understanding of history vastly contrasted David’s. We remember World War 2 differently. My country was persecuted not by Nazi Germany, but by Japan. Our liberation by the US was bittersweet and its repercussions are felt even now. The Cold War had little meaning to our fledgling independence, struggling as we were at the wake of the world war, and later on, suffering under the heel of a military dictatorship that required its own revolution in 1986. Suffice it to say, we had our own problems. Strikingly parallel to the events in Berlin perhaps, nevertheless, my education consisted of what was going on in my country during those years, not so much the rest of the world.
And this is one of the most amazing things about travel, you see. As we explored Berlin’s museums, I felt almost mindblown by the amount of things I had not previously known: things that had been so life-changing to so many people. I was awestruck by how much I had not understood, and so made me wonder about our education system and how we teach our children. Was I perhaps just too young to comprehend? Was the style of education flawed, so that it failed to engage me? Were my teachers not passionate enough? Friends pointed out that those teachers had actually done their job: they left enough seeds of curiosity so that, twenty years later, I walked into a museum to learn more.
Visiting the World War II Memorial was heartbreaking, and yet something that I feel everyone living in the world now needs to experience. The sheer horror and destruction perpetuated on such a grand scale… You have to wonder about a species that does that to itself. And then there were the DDR and Checkpoint Charlie Museums, where we spent unexpected fascinating hours. I remember asking David in bemusement, “You would think that if they had to build a wall to keep people in, and their people were still trying every possible way to get out… you’d think that would give them pause, maybe question some things?” Seems so obvious, but everything seems obvious in hindsight, on the outside.
The fall of the Berlin Wall united a country that had been torn apart and divided by war. It was perhaps as much ideological as political: the triumph of capitalism, the last straw for Communism, the nail on the coffin of the Soviet Union. Now 25 years later, Berlin is a city that remembers the many tumultuous events in its history. I think it has a lot to offer everyone as well, whether we lived those times, or learned about them, or never even heard of them. There is much to be learned not only about history, but about ourselves as people.