I wasn’t even alive when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War slowly came to an end. The only world I have ever known is one that is post- Cold War and although the effects of it were long lasting, they are also nearly invisible to someone who never knew the world before it. Especially, if you grew up in the American suburbs where war is typically just a news story that comes from far away places that most will never visit.
I’ll risk sounding cliché in an effort to make a point: My semester abroad was one of the most stretching and difficult periods of my life. I went to Prague and Berlin, two cities greatly affected by the war during a week that I had off from classes. Traveling from Rome to the edge of western Europe was a huge change. That twelve-hour trip on the train was more of a culture shock than leaving the US ever was. I’d been out of the country before, including places like India, so I was and still am quite aware that American culture is not the end all and be all, so what I experienced wasn’t so much culture shock as it was having my romantic views of communism wiped from my eyes and being forced to stare straight at the cold stone memorials for the victims of idealogical beliefs.
Since high school I found theoretical communism wonderful and decided to ignore all of the historical examples of how it could be hijacked by the wrong people. The idea that everyone was equal rang true in my ears. I was a scholarship kid during high school so I was surrounded by the wealthy and realized all the things that I couldn’t have simply because my parents chose the wrong profession. I found solace in Marxist thought because at least somewhere I was just as good as the classmates that surrounded me.
However, when I finally made it to Berlin and Prague what I saw were cities that were still recovering from a war that had been waged for nearly half a century. The utopia that had been painted in my mind never existed here: the cold stone that remained of the Berlin Wall made that clear to me. The East Side Gallery was perhaps the most emotional place that I visited because here people were able to artistically bandage the psychological and physical wounds that were created by this wall.
There were no single heroes of the Cold War and that is what makes that particular genre of memorials so different from other war remembrals. Many that I saw were simply dedicated to the victims of communism and in a way all future generations. The Cold War was one wage against the hearts and minds of the masses and ultimately it was ended by the masses. There was no D-Day or true turning point in this war. Instead, the masses toppled a hollow idea and that is the hardest war to win.