1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

By Mary Elise Sarotte | Go to book overview

AFTERWORD TO THE NEW EDITION
REVISITING 1989–1990 AND THE ORIGINS OF NATO
EXPANSION

INTRODUCTION: FADING MEMORIES

The faded numbers on the concrete are gone now. Even if you had visited the site before the construction crews arrived and built the discount grocery store, you might still have missed them. They were hard to spot: large but faint white numbers, painted in a line across what used to be several lanes. One of my Berlin friends warned me in 2010 that construction workers were about to erase them, along with the other remaining traces of the old order—an electrical box here, dangling wires there. So we made a last trip to see those traces. It was no longer possible to find all of the numbers, but I could still photograph “6” through “10.” Soon thereafter, the construction workers eradicated them.

Although it has only been twenty-five years since they were in use, those faded numbers, along with the roofing that used to stretch over them and the long buildings full of armed guards that paralleled them, have now disappeared as completely as millennia-old paintings on the walls of caves. In their prime, the numbers helped to enforce the Cold War order. They marked the car lanes of the Bornholmer Street checkpoint between East and West Berlin, once the biggest combined auto and pedestrian border crossing between the two halves of Berlin. For Easterners, the lanes were largely forbidden altogether, as was the bridge to the West beyond. For Westerners, lining up in those lanes, or in the foot-traffic control chutes nearby, marked the last ritual of enforced obedience before returning home.

It is telling that at Bornholmer Street, where the wall first opened, a developer received permission to obliterate all signs of the past and to put up a grocery store. By way of compensation, a small (and soon-defaced) informational signpost was installed. Later, more information panels appeared, but they still fell short of marking the full import of the location. More triumphant markers of the fall of the wall exist, of course, but elsewhere. A free-standing memorial, showcasing a large portion of the wall against a beautiful landscape, rises not in Berlin but in Simi Valley, California, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Even

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