Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fall of the Berlin Wall

The 11th grade history class is currently studying the cold war period. This has been a particularly fascinating topic to teach since I grew up during that time of history, when all the maps looked different and the world was, quite literally, a different place.

When I was eleven years old, I had the chance to travel to West Germany with my family. I will never forget the afternoon my dad drove us to the wall separating West and East Germany. A chill was in the air and the rain drizzled when we got out of the car and looked at the ominous electric fence separating the free world from “the evil empire.” A lone guard on the other side stared gloomily at us. The rest of my family had their picture taken in front of the fence but I was afraid to go near it. A few minutes later I plucked up the courage and asked my dad to photograph me next to the terrible barrier, or as near as I dared approach.

I’m glad I decided to have my picture taken in front of the wall because only three years later it was torn down. A year after the momentous upheavals of 1989, when communism collapsed and Eastern Europe was given its freedom, my family travelled back to Germany. This time there was nothing preventing us from driving straight into the eastern part. We travelled to Berlin and saw the remnants of the Berlin wall, where people were still dismantling the remaining portions of what had become a hated emblem of totalitarianism.

I was only fifteen, but the experience left its mark on me. There was something moving in seeing the broken concrete all over the ground and thinking, “So this – broken concrete - is all that is left of a regime that tried to suppress freedom and truth.” I stooped down and pocketed a few pieces of the rubble, determined to show them to my own children one day.

Teaching the fall of communism has forced me to revisit those amazing events of nineteen years ago. As I reflect on it, one thing that strikes me is that the fall of Soviet communism was not really that amazing after all. It is true that during the 80’s not even the most optimistic historians could have predicted the momentous changes that would occur in 1989. Yet from the perspective of all history, the fall of communism should come as no surprise. Hasn’t every other evil empire eventually been reduced to rubble? The Assyrian empire, for all its boasting, was dismantled by the work of God. The Babylonian kingdom similarly rose to glory but collapsed in ruin. The pride and grandiose claims the Persians, the Romans and the Nazis were likewise brought to dust by the Almighty.

Building an empire is rather like building a castle on the sand: sooner or later the tide is going to come and wash the whole thing away. But there is one empire that has and will continue to remain strong throughout all time. As kingdoms wax and wane, Christendom outlasts them all. Villains rise and fall, but the people of God are always there to pocket their remains to show the next generation.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

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