Long but worth the read:
We don’t know the exact hierarchy of motives, but it is certain that Chris Gueffroy was willing to leave his family and friends to avoid conscription into the army. Considering the associated risks, it’s likely that the 20-year-old was also strongly motivated to escape the stultifying sameness, the needless poverty, the cultural black hole that was his homeland. In his passport photo, he wore a small hoop earring, an act of nonconformity in a country that prized conformity above all else. But Gueffroy’s passport was yet another worthless possession, for he had the great misfortune of being born into a walled nation, a country that brutally enforced a ban on travel to “nonfraternal” states.
On February 6, 1989, Gueffroy and a friend attempted to escape from East Berlin by scaling die Mauer—the wall that separated communist east from capitalist west. They didn’t make it far. After tripping an alarm, Gueffroy was shot 10 times by border guards and died instantly. His accomplice was shot in the foot but survived, only to be put on trial and sentenced to three years in prison for “attempted illegal border-crossing in the first degree.”
Twenty years ago this month, and nine months after the murder of Gueffroy, the Berlin Wall, that monument to the barbarism of the Soviet experiment, was finally breached. The countries held captive by Moscow began their long road to economic and cultural recovery, and to reunification with liberal Europe. But in the West, where Cold War divisions defined politics and society for 40 years, the moment was not greeted as a welcome opportunity for intellectual reconciliation, for fact-checking decades of exaggerations and misperceptions. Instead, then as now, despite the overwhelming volume of new data and the exhilaration of hundreds of millions finding freedom, the battle to control the Cold War narrative raged on unabated. Reagan haters and Reagan hagiographers, Sovietophiles and anti-communists, isolationists and Atlanticists, digested this massive moment in history, then carried on as if nothing much had changed. A new flurry of books timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of communism’s collapse reinforces the point that the Cold War will never truly be settled by the side that won.