A Child Understands the Fall of the Wall
By David Henderson
As Bryan has mentioned, Monday, November 9 will be the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Chapter 3 of my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey, I tell that story and integrate it with my recollections of explaining my excitement back then to my 4-year-old daughter, Karen.
I wrote most of the book between 1998 and 2001 and, for the passage about Karen, went from memory. But a year ago, while cleaning out stuff in my home office, I found a diary I kept occasionally about Karen when she was younger. I had written this passage on November 29, 1989, when my memory of what had happened earlier that month was much fresher. Here it is:
On Friday morning, November 10, I came into Karen’s room while Rena [my wife] was waking her up and told her [Rena] all excitedly about the Berlin Wall coming down.
A couple of days later, when the new Newsweek came out with a cover story on the Wall, I decided to try to explain to her [Karen] what was going on. It was one of those significant events I really wanted her to understand, and I thought I could do so without prejudicing her but simply by telling her the facts.
I told her that the Wall was built to prevent people from leaving a certain area and that it was built when I was a young kid. If people tried to climb over it without permission, I told her, the men who built it shot them and tried to kill them. “That’s not nice,” said Karen. “That’s rude.”
But, I told her, the people who built it decided that it was wrong to stop people from leaving. And now I’m excited, I said, because they can leave. Then I showed my excitement. I said, “Now they can do things that they’ve always wanted to do like, like . . .” “Go to Disneyland!” said Karen. “That’s right,” I said. “And they can go to stores and buy neat things they haven’t been able to buy like . . .” “Candy!” shouted Karen excitedly. “That’s right!” I said. “Oh, boy!” [My notes don’t make clear who said “Oh, boy!”] We got all excited together.
I think the two things she focused on are things that the Berliners really would think of first. (The media reported a few days later that the candy shops in West Berlin had sold out.) And by putting it in her terms, Karen understood a lot of the excitement and importance of the event.