I am posting this from Berlin. We have been learning tons about history, especially 20th century history, and Berliners make it fun to learn. The pretend guards at the old Checkpoint Charlie pose for photos with tourists; entrepreneurs at “Rent a Trabi” lease old Trabant cars painted like safari animals; a guy at Brandenburg Gate gives “free” passport stamps after he elicits a bribe of one euro for his mock interrogation. Children run and play at the infamous spy swap bridge at the edge of No Man’s Land, not far from the place in Potsdam where the Allied leaders gave Eastern Europe over to the Soviets after World War II ended.
Lest the laughter makes us forget the reality of the loss and deprivation, everywhere we walk in Berlin, we step over the stones which mark the line on which the wall once stood, the Iron Curtain behind which half of the citizens of Berlin were imprisoned for 28 out of their 45 year sentence. While the Nazis capitalized in physical torture, the Communists specialized in torture of a psychological nature, nowhere felt more than by those behind the wall. Crosses near Hitler’s Reichstag mark the spot where seven people were fatally shot in 1961 trying to escape by swimming across the river Spree. (Incomplete records indicate at least 136 lost their lives in an attempt to escape.)
In Budapest, Hungary, we visited Statue Park where the gigantic monuments of Communist leaders, formerly adorning the city, are now kept. A phone booth with a photo of Brezhnev, wearing swimming trunks and chatting on a red telephone, identified their “Communist hotline.” After dialing a certain significant year in a satellite country’s history, the recorded voice of their former dictator can be heard. Prague’s Museum of Communism, featured in ads with Lenin pointing its location to be above The Imperialist McDonald’s, houses empty store shelves, a secret police interrogation room, and propaganda films. The Iron Curtain Cafe/Propaganda Pub is nearby.
Twenty years later, people are finally able to laugh at the absurdity of Communism. And I think that is a good thing.