The East German snipped off a one foot section of barbed wire and passed it to me through a hole carved in the reinforced concrete wall. That wall, was the Berlin Wall. I stood on the West Berlin side of the wall only a few yards from Checkpoint Charlie. He sat on a stool in East Berlin, in an area that was only a few months before no-Man’s land.As he cut off another section of the wire he said, in his heavy German accent, “You see this wire. Is many years old, but looks like new. But if I go to store to get wire for my house, I can only get old, rusty wire.”
Then he waved the segment for emphasis. “But to keep the people in, only the best!”
From 1988 through 1991 I was fortunate to serve as an American Air Force officer in what was then West Germany. That period turned out to be an historic one for millions of people who had lived under Communist rule. After over three decades of living behind the Iron Curtain of Soviet influence, a trickle quickly became a torrent, and whole nations threw off their shackles and declared their independence.
When I visited West Berlin in the Spring of 1990 a briefing officer at Templehoff Air Base talked about the recent events. He said, “Basically, people decided they wanted to go shopping.” He told about how television signals reaching into Eastern Bloc countries exposed to the people the lie they’d been told of how superior their life was to that in the West. In the East people stood in line for basics like toilet paper and fresh fruit. In the West we picked it up from piles in the grocery store. Finally a tipping point was reached and droves of East Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, and other Eastern Europeans pushed their way through the now rusted Iron Curtain to “go shopping.”
Yes, that is a pretty simplistic view of that time on the world stage. But when I stood on Bismarckstrasse in downtown Berlin and watched hordes of people push shopping carts loaded with electronic gear onto tourist buses bound for former Eastern Bloc countries, it seemed a pretty compelling argument.
I was blessed to be born in a country where men and women of courage declared their own independence on July 4, 1776, in a world where most countries were ruledby monarchs or despots. While my nation is not perfect it has proven to be an inspiration to millions of people who have sought their own liberty. Shopping may not have been the ultimate goal, but it is a nice side benefit.
On this Fourth of July thank you to those who brought us our liberty. Thank you to all who help us keep it. And happy Fourth of July to all who love freedom.