Monday, November 09, 2009

Chris Guefroy is a name that is not well known in the United States. But it should be. He did get a mention in Newsweek last week, and in yesterday's Florida Times Union, and in the Washington Examiner. But the Washington Post? New York Times? Anybody else?

Chris Gueffroy is very well known in Germany. At twenty years old, on February 6 2009, Gueffroy became what turned out to be the last victim murdered by East German forces for trying to cross over the Berlin Wall. He was shot ten times in the chest and died immediately. The soldiers who shot him were given medals (and later tried for murder). The saddest thing about his story is not his young age but the fact that if he had waited just a few months he would have been able to walk through the Brandenberg Gate. That's because twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall fell. But there was no way he could have known.

The fall of the Berlin Wall remains the most important historical moment of my lifetime, the most important event since the end of World War Two. It was not just the day that freedom won out over tyranny, nor the day that the 136 confirmed martyrs murdered while trying to escape East Germany were finally redeemed. It is also the day that everything in the world changed. I never believed, as some ridiculous talking heads put it, that the fall of the Berlin Wall meant "the end of history", as though nothing would happen afterward, but it did mean that my life and the lives of everyone in the world who had grown up in the shadow of the cold war had been changed forever. It meant we were all, finally, free.

Ten years later, when I finally got there, I remember that nothing in Berlin moved me the way standing at Checkpoint Charlie did, looking at the remains of the wall, thinking about all the people who had died trying to cross it, all the people who had died in the cold war: I cried. Soon after the wall came down we had normal relations with Russia. Soon there were no longer nuclear missiles pointed at me. Sure, I was always more likely to die in a car accident, but the prospect of total global annihilation was much more frightening. All that because they finally did tear down that wall (yes, even I have to admit it redeemed Regan a bit too).

Once the Brandenburg Gate opened, everything changed. Life became somehow lighter, somehow more free, and the 90s became the decade when anything was possible. Remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall is a time to celebrate the greatest single moment for America, for the World, of the past sixty-five years. Sure, I know that the anniversary of Tienanmen Square, where the youth of China failed attempting what the youth of Berlin had accomplished, is coming up in a few weeks. But the Berlin Wall, that was special. That was something I will never ever forget.

And in remembering the Berlin Wall, we have to remember Chris Gueffroy, the last martyr to the freedom of East Berlin. Rest in peace.


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