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Recently, my wife and I visited the Newseum. I revisited the Berlin Wall exhibit. Going through it, I also watched the video about the reporters responding to the 9/11 attacks. Seeing the antenna from the top of the World Trade Center and parts of the debris brought it home.
Our history is not that old. The Civil Rights movement is only 50 years old. And still ongoing. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The September 11th Attacks were in 2001. Our country’s pain is not old.
There was an extensive photo exhibit from John F. Kennedy’s photographer and a great video montage of his brief presidency. He was before my time. But he was not in the distant past.
Our history is real and living. It affects us today. We do not live in a bubble. We are influenced by our past. We get to build our future into what we’d like it to be. It’s a future that will have many amazing events and people. It will be filled with terrible times and people. It will mirror our past.
History doesn’t feel real from the pages of history books or television programs. History feels real when I can reach out and touch the Berlin Wall. I can imagine myself living beneath the watchful, murderous eye of the tower guards. To live apart from family and friends. To not see loved ones for decades. What would that feel like?
The Civil Rights Movement. It’s not a done deal. It’s the start to a long, hard road. A road being walked by those who want to love who they want. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Everyone wants to be loved and to love. Everyone wants to live inside their own house and their own lives.
Today, I got the opportunity to visit the Newseum in Washington DC. I was looking forward to the trip because I’m interested in history and journalism’s role in reporting that history.
While I had an idea of what to expect there, I wasn’t ready for the emotional reaction I would have to the exhibits and what they represented.
The most powerful exhibit I saw was a line of 8 pieces of the Berlin Wall and a guard tower from the wall. I was overcome with a sense of hopelessness, loss, pain and fear. The 12 foot high slabs of graffiti-covered concrete and the huge tower looming over them transported me into a divided Berlin.
Knowing that tower, with its wired windows and cold concrete construction would have held sharpshooting soldier is an eerie reminder of our not-so-distant past. The wall was so tall and there was no way to see over, around, through or by it. It was a looming reminder of separation. It was a physical representation of the isolation of half a city.
It separated families and friends. The people across the street might as well have been a world away because there was no getting through to them. There was no communication. There was no way out. There was no hope and plenty of fear.
All of these feelings flowed through me today as I looked up at the menacing tower high above and the huge wall rising up from the ground far overhead. It separated a city and a world. It took me to the reality of Berlin and the fear that was a part of life.
I remember watching the wall fall when I was a kid. It came down in 1989 when I was 8 years old. I remember seeing the wall fall and seeing all the emotion surrounding it on the news. My parents told me it was important, but I didn’t understand the exactly what I was seeing at that young age.
I got chills as I passed through the Berlin Wall exhibit today reading the accounts of people who attempted escape, those who succeeded and those who became bodies lying in the streets, shot down by the soldiers high above. Standing in front of the wall and looking up at that tower was a surreal experience and one I will not soon forget.