Twenty Years Ago in Berlin
It was twenty years ago last week that the Berlin wall ceased to be a barrier. The wall of Berlin came down, starting several years of collapse and turmoil in what used to be called Eastern Europe. This was one of the most remarkable, deeply moving events in my lifetime
My entire life up to that historic day of 11/9/89 was one lived with the world divided between the Western and Eastern Blocs. It was an us versus them world and most geopolitical events were defined within this context. As a young teenager, I had crossed through Checkpoint Charlie and always remembered the stark contrast between bustling West Berlin and the drab, empty East Berlin. I chipped away two small pieces of the Wall on that trip and still have them encased in Lucite on a living room table. To watch Checkpoint Charlie open up with hundreds of Berliners dancing on top of the wall brought tears to my eyes.
In “The Shift Age” book and in a presentation of the same name, I speak of the Threshold Decades, the 20 year period 1985-2005. It is this 20 year period that will be seen by future historians as the threshold between the room of the past and the room of the future, between what was and what came to be. There is no greater single geopolitical event of greater transformation that occurred during the Threshold Decades than the fall of the Berlin wall.
The fall of the wall was the start of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the resumption of globalism for the first time since before WWI, and the true beginning of the current global economy. The landscape of Europe and the EU was completely altered. The global stage of capitalism began and the world moved into the second stage of the Information Age.
I wrote a column three years ago that basically said two things. First, the city was the through point of history of the 20th century, that most of the significant events of the century involved Berlin. Second, the city now stands for freedom and openness. For 66 years it lived under two of the most repressive and violent regimes of the 21st century and now it highlights that past so that we all know how precious freedom and openness are to all of us.
As we enter the Shift Age much of what we experience was unleashed by the collapse of the wall. The capitalist ascendency of Asia, the creation of Skype in Eastern Europe, the creation of multi-national corporate supply chains all flowed from the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The world we live in today has been shaped to a large degree by the forces that were unleashed 20 years ago last week and the wall they toppled.