Monday, November 09, 2009

Two tribes

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago today. I was a college freshman. I didn't contemplate foreign affairs much in those days. What I mostly knew about was Cold War paranoia as filtered through 1980s pop culture -- the TV movie The Day After and songs like Sting's "The Russians" and Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Two Tribes," whose video memorably featured Western and Eastern bloc leaders slugging it out in a ring.

So I knew what happened Nov. 9, 1989 was important, but from my teenage perspective it just seemed another in a series of disruptive events that year, including the protests and massacres in Beijing and, well, me finishing high school and starting college. Would you believe the wall's demise even made me think of that October's earthquake-disrupted World Series? Weird stuff happening this fall, I remember thinking. The earliest incidents of the post-Cold War era played out as I made my way through college, and perhaps it was my expanded perspective, college-induced, that made me better grasp the importance of subsequent events like the reunification of Germany, the Croatian and Bosnian wars, the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the importance of the 1989 event was brought home to me a bit in French class the next morning. My teacher was from Romania, and I suspect she experienced the Cold War in ways even more intense than MTV. She tried to get us students talking about the Berlin happenings in French. "C'est très excitant, non?" she asked. But our French was limited, and we didn't have much to add.

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