The Berlin Wall Then and Now

Ed Hudgins's picture
Submitted by Ed Hudgins on Mon, 2009-11-09 02:55

The Berlin Wall Then and Now
by Edward Hudgins

November 5, 2009 — I first visited West Berlin in June 1981. I took the closed American military train through the 112-mile-long corridor through hostile communist East Germany that offered access to that city from the free world. I was told not to take photos out the closed and covered windows along the way. Peeking out the window I could see armed communist guards along the route making sure that the prohibition was enforced.

West Berlin was an island of freedom in the middle of a communist country, protected by the occupying powers of the United States, Britain, and France. It was a bright and vibrant city. Kurfürstendamm, the main boulevard, was lined with restaurants, shops, and hotels. Crowds sought good food, good entertainment, and a good time. At the end of Ku’damm stood the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, destroyed during World War II, its spire looking like melted wax, a reminder of a past never again to be repeated.


But I wanted to see the Wall. In 1961 the Soviet Union, which occupied its part of Berlin and Germany after the war, ordered its East German puppet regime to build a wall to stem the flood of East German individuals who were voting with their feet and escaping to West.

West Berlin was ringed at many points by a double wall. The two walls were separated by several hundred yards of no-mans-land with guards, look-out towers, machine guns, barbed wire, anti-tank barricades, helicopter and armored vehicle patrols, everything necessary to prevent escape.

At various points along the wall on the West Berlin side stood crosses marking the spots where, on the other side in no-mans-land, those who would not sit quietly and be slaves were gunned down and died in their bids to escape to freedom.

Sterile city

I went into East Berlin through CheckPointCharlie, the military gate that was the only way to get from one side of the divided city to the other. I was required by the communists to purchase about 25 East German Ostmarks—$12.00—in order to pass through. I figured I’d use the money to buy some postcards and souvenirs. But in East Berlin there were none to be found. The city was sterile. Some big, Soviet-style buildings stood along the mostly-deserted thoroughfare, in stark contrast to the West and Ku’damm. I managed to buy an ice cream cone, but it wasn’t very good ice cream.

After some hours there I did what no East Berliner could do. I walked back to CheckPointCharlie, showed my American passport to the communist guards, and was allowed to return to the West and freedom.

Tear it down

In 1987 Ronald Reagan would stand at that infamous border between freedom and oppression and demanded of the Soviet Premier, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” On November 9, 1989, the wall fell as the communist government of East Germany, like those in the rest of the Soviet bloc, could no longer hold back their subjects’ demands for liberty.

The Soviet Union itself lasted a few more years but it too was doomed. When I visited Berlin in 1990 at the Brandenburg Gate, where Reagan had stood before the wall (by then demolished), Soviet soldiers still stationed in East Berlin had set up a make-shift bazaar selling military hats, coats, uniforms, medals—and probably weapons if you wanted them—to earn hard currency so they could go to the shops on Ku’damm and purchase all the goods they couldn’t secure in their own impoverished country.

The Red army had disintegrated.

Concrete obscenity

The wall was a breathtaking moral obscenity, a concrete manifestation in concrete of the philosophy on which it was built. The communists held that the good of society took priority over the interests of selfish individuals. They maintained that individuals must be required to work for society. Of course, the will of “society” was to be divined and carried out by a small ruling elite who would have the exclusive right to force all to serve whether they wanted to or not.

And no one could be allowed to opt out and leave, to escape their duty to serve. The reality of this philosophy was most starkly on display in East Berlin. Communist countries were giant prison camps holding the slaves in bondage and shooting them if they tried to escape.

Today there are only a few regimes, like North Korea, that are literal prison camps along the lines of the Soviet bloc. But the philosophy, and its manifestation in culture, that gave rise to the Berlin Wall is still very much alive.

Philosophical walls

We see the philosophy in declarations by American politicians that we all have a duty to serve our community, to put the interests of society ahead of our own interests. But “society” is not some abstraction opposed to individuals. Rather, society is nothing but the flesh and blood individuals who compose it. And the interests of individuals don’t conflict if they deal with one another based on reason and mutual consent. Conflicts arise only when some individuals and groups desire the irrational and the unearned, when they want to extract something for nothing from their neighbors. Conflict most often arises at the point of a gun, whether held by a common criminal, by a pampered interest group, or by government elites.

We see the philosophy in the politicians who think they can run our lives better than we can and who will use the force of government to impose their will on us. Look at almost any major initiative before Congress today.

And we see the philosophy in America’s paternalist political elites who want a globalization not based on the freedom of individuals in all countries to trade with one another without the interference from their respective governments but who rather want to join with the elites of other governments to control more effectively the lives of their respective subjects. They want to wipe out so-called “tax havens” so that no one can secure their earnings from the hands of rapacious governments. They want to “coordinate” regulatory policies, that is, make certain that no country is too free and that all governments are free to place as many restrictions as they want on their subjects. They want to leave no West Berlins to which the East Berliners of all countries can flee.

The Cold War crystallized the battle between two philosophies, one of individualism and freedom, the other of collectivism and repression. The Soviet bloc collapsed under the burden of its own contradictions and in the face of Western diligence and military might.

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall it is difficult for many young people—and older people who were confused to begin with—to appreciate that the moral philosophy on which the wall was built lives on and threatens us still. Those who value their lives and liberty must tear down that false philosophy lest new walls rise to separate us from our freedom.
Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, the Center for Objectivism.

For further reading:

*Alan Greenspan, “The Crisis Over Berlin.” The Objectivist Newsletter, January 1962.

*Edward Hudgins, “Obama and McCain: The Selfless-Driven Interviews.” August 19, 2008.

*Edward Hudgins, “Atlas Shrugged as Prophecy.” The New Individualist, October 2007

*David Kelley, “The War against Modernity.” Navigator, May 2002.

*William R Thomas, “Altruism - Does being your brother's keeper cause strife ?” January 29, 2009.

well done ...

Howard's picture

Excellent piece, Mr. Hudgins, thank you for posting it.

Good point, Ed

Ross Elliot's picture

Obama could never have done it justice.

He would have summed it up in some kind of touchy-feely, group-huggery simperfication.

Best leave it to those who actually understand the triumph of freedom over slavery.

Disgusting Gorbachev...

Marcus's picture

...has not learned a thing....

From The Times

November 9, 2009

Tear down this wall! And save the planet

There are urgent parallels between the fall of Communism and the fight to stop climate change

Mikhail Gorbachev

...Today another planetary threat has emerged. The climate crisis is the new wall that divides us from our future, and today’s leaders are vastly underestimating the urgency, and potentially catastrophic scale, of the emergency.

People used to joke that we will struggle for peace until there is nothing left on the planet; the threat of climate change makes this prophecy more literal than ever. Comparisons with the period immediately before the Berlin Wall came down are striking.

Like 20 years ago, we face a threat to global security and our very future existence that no one nation can deal with alone. And, again, it is the people who are calling for change. Just as the German people declared their will for unity, world citizens are today demanding that action is taken to tackle climate change and redress the deep injustices that surround it. Twenty years ago key world leaders demonstrated resolve, faced up to opposition and immense pressure, and the Wall came down. It remains to be seen whether today’s leaders will do the same.

Addressing climate change demands a paradigm shift on a scale akin to that required to end the Cold War. But we need a “circuit-breaker” to escape from the business-as-usual that currently dominates the political agenda. It was the transformation brought about by perestroika and glasnost that provided the quantum leap for freedom for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and opened the way for the democratic revolution that saved history. Climate change is complex and closely entwined with a host of other challenges, but a similar breakthrough in our values and priorities is needed.

There is not just one wall to topple, but many. There is the wall between those states which are already industrialised, and those developing countries which do not want to be held back. There is the wall between those who cause climate change, and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence, and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behaviour and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down...

Countries trading freely

Sandi's picture

Trading freely is okay with me as long as integrity is the driving factor.

I'll be damned if I am happy that New Zealand has free trade with Communist China and I am absolutely appalled that John Key has ratified an existing Free Trade agreement (arising from the Labour Party), a few weeks ago for trade and immigration with the ASEAN block.

The motto of ASEAN is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.

The (FTA) is with 10 Asian countries (of South East Asian Nations (Asean), the majority of which are theocratic monarchies, of third world standards, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The NZ government website advises high to extreme alerts regarding travel to most of these countries and my reasoning screams at me "WTF does New Zealand gain from this"?

I was revolted...

Marcus's picture hearing Gordon Brown speaking there today.

He talked about Liberty and said "men and women who dared to dream in the darkness, who knew that while force has the temporary power to dictate, it can never ultimately decide."

This is the man who is proposing a mandatory tax on all financial transactions the world over, who supports forcing UK taxpayers to fork over one billion pounds to third world countries every year on top of third world aid already paid. This is the man who called for all tax havens to be closed down. This is the same man who dared put a bill before the house to force people to stay 90 days in prison without any charges being made against them.

It is absolutely sickening.

The politicans who are there sticking their noses in the 'holy than thou' moment wanting to enslave us all.

It is equivilant to Stalin and Hitler gving a speech to a world-wide audience about the benefits of individual rights and capitalism on July the 4th.

Hollow, false and disgusting!

It's a crying shame!

Glad for Obama’s absence

Ed Hudgins's picture

Glad you liked the piece Aaron!

And on a related matter, I’ll repeat what I’ve written elsewhere And I'm glad Obama did not go to Berlin to mark the fall of the Wall. That socialist would simply have insulted and sullied the memory of Reagan and all who fought the Communists as well as those who suffered under the sort of vile collectivist regime that Obama wants to bring to America. I'd be sickened if I had to listen to the empty platitudes and "Freedom is Slavery" bile spewing from his mouth.

Excellent, thanks for this.

Aaron's picture

Excellent, thanks for this. It's good to remember even as everything seems to slip more and more to statism that sometimes, and in sudden drastic ways, freedom can prevail.

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