“It’s a complex fate, being an American.”1
“There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The
real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong.”2
—G. K. Chesterton
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 1989, DAWNED AS GRAY AND COLD IN East Berlin as the concrete wall that separated it from the West. No one suspected that by late afternoon a minor government official would gather reporters together to read from a small piece of paper that East Germans would no longer need special documents to travel west. At first, the reporters didn’t understand the significance of what they had just been told. Then it dawned on them—the Berlin Wall, a twenty-eight-mile-long barrier that had divided the city for twentyeight years, was officially open and would soon come down.
By the time the reporters got to the wall from the government ministry, the guard towers on both sides were empty and the barbed wire had been shoved aside in spiky piles. German kids were dancing on the wall, while others hammered away at it with sledge hammers. And every last one of them seemed to be wearing Levi’s jeans.
Those jeans, which were far from cheap (if you could even find them) on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, were part of the American myth, the stories that remind people they are part of something bigger than themselves and that carry their values from one generation to the next.