I first saw the Berlin Wall — the real thing, not a photo or film footage — in a casino bathroom. No joke: Go to Main Street Station, a small casino and hotel in downtown Vegas, and walk into the men’s room (women: A security guard will create an all-clear situation and escort you in if you ask). There’s a chunk of the wall right there, graffiti and all, holding up a few urinals. Really. (And I know what you’re thinking and no, I didn’t do that.)
I mention the wall because when it came down 20 years ago, everything seemed possible. For my entire childhood, it was an ugly symbol of a governmental system that was so morally bankrupt that it had to wall in the people it was supposed to serve. People died trying to get over, around and even under that wall, and people of my generation knew about Checkpoint Charlie and what it meant, and the wall was one of the most sinister symbols in the world.
When the wall came down — one of a series of events at the time that I thought I would never live to see — it was as though a locked-up treasure chest of sheer joy had been opened. People danced on the wall, hit it with sledgehammers, threw a big ol’ German party in its shadow. The Hoff made the appearance of a lifetime. The whole thing was Euro-freaky, in the best way.
It also was a reminder, a few months after the Tiananmen Square massacre, that the drive for freedom is just irrepressible. Put on clamps, build walls, send out the police, crush communication outlets — and freedom, like water, seeps through the cracks and finds a way. It’s worth remembering these days, when freedom faces a whole different set of threats.