Ronald Reagan said, “We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it’s our duty to speak in this place of freedom.”
Contrasting that to our time when President Obama spoke to a crowd of around 4,500-10% of the size Kennedy addressed in a city divided in two. Obama’s speech, unlike Reagan’s and Kennedy’s could have been given anywhere, no grand ideas that hadn’t been articulated elsewhere, no words that will echo across decades and become part of our cultural conscience.
My personal tie to the city has grown with my more than half-dozen visits to this once divided city, a city which I watched as it reunited before my own eyes and the eyes of the rest of the world in 1989. I have stood before the last few remaining sections of the Wall whihc stand today as a memorial to remind us that not too long ago, governments needed walls, not to keep others out, but to keep their own people in. Walls with guards, towers, guns and dogs…a prision masquerading as a nation.
It is important for us to remember what happened in Berlin and in Germany in the years before that lead to the erection of the Wall, that lead to an American President to establish solidarity in 1963 and to demand action in 1987 when, in essence, he proclaimed “enough is enough.”
If we forget, there is no doubt that the same forces that lead to walls being built could not, and are even now – at this moment, working to wall people back in. If we forgot, maybe it will be some day, in the not too distant future that a German head of state stands in our great divided cities, proclaims solidarity with a people who once knew freedom, and are struggling against terrible odds to find it again.