11/11/2014 10:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Berlin Taught Us About Bringing Walls Down

Alan Horsager via Getty Images

On July 19th, 1988, Bruce Springsteen played a concert in East Berlin. More than 300,000 people watched as he performed an epic 4-hour concert featuring 32 songs.

The communist leaders of East Berlin had realized that the new generation was growing restless, tired of being confined behind the concrete wall that separated East and West Berlin. So, to appease the young people, the leaders allowed Springsteen to play a free concert.

Springsteen gave a brief speech in the course of the evening, in which he said in shaky German, "I'm not here for any government. I've come to play rock'n'roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down."

Instead of appeasing the young generation and making them see how "in-touch" their Communist leaders were, the concert created a great unrest. Instead of satisfying their need to taste freedom, it only whetted the peoples' appetite for more.

The concert created momentum that culminated in 1989. People began dismantling the Berlin Wall, with West Berliners taking it down just as fast as the East Berliners. A month later, the government began the official dismantling, and the infamous Wall, the most tangible symbol of the Iron Curtain, came down.

November 9, 2014 marked the 25-year anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. I watched the official ceremony that commemorated the event, and read about the history of how the Wall was brought down.

As I was reading more about it, I thought about the mid-term elections that happened in the U.S. last week. I thought about my Facebook feed, where half of my friends celebrated the Republican takeover of the Senate as a significant victory that was sure to give America a brighter future, and the other half mourned losing the Democratic majority, certain that it will be the undoing of us. (Though, let's be honest. When have our expectations of a politician ever been met -- let alone exceeded?)

I thought about the issues that have been -- and will be -- at stake in the elections of my lifetime. Gay marriage. Abortion. Immigration. Health care. Voting IDs.

I wondered what would've happened if the East Berliners had tried to bring the wall down through political channels. How long would it have taken to change the Communist political roster, then hold fair elections, then pass legislation that would order the government to contract with a demolition company to start taking down the wall. Provided it didn't get struck down on appeal, when would the wall have started coming down? A year, a decade, a generation, a century later?


Instead, people in East Berlin who knew they were meant to be free, and people in West Berlin who wanted their fellow Berliners to be just as free as they were, went to the wall and started pulling it apart with their bare hands.

The 96-mile-long wall, visible from space, began coming down because people used their own hands to bring it down. In doing so, I think they gave us the best lesson we've ever had in how to bring a wall down.

In the current issues the U.S. is facing, walls of injustice and fear have been erected. Those who are free, and those who know they need to be free, stand at these walls that we are convinced must come down.

It's easy to think that politics is the sole solution for the problems we face. It's easy to convince ourselves that we've cast our vote, and so, until the next election, there's nothing more we can do, or nothing more we should do.

But here's the thing. These issues that we've turned into political platforms aren't just systems that eventually need to be dismantled. Behind every unjust wall, there are people who are actively suffering and struggling -- and, in some cases, dying.

Our call is not only to vote for politicians who can eventually legislate the dismantling of these barriers, but to meet at the wall today, and begin to take it apart, piece by piece, with our own hands.

Together, we refuse to buy into the fear-based rhetoric, the xenophobia, and the selfishness. We surrender the patriotism and nationalism that have taken precedent over the call of Jesus to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and treat the least of these as if we're caring for Jesus himself.

We reach out to our brothers and sisters trapped behind the wall. We do what we can, however small or simple it may be, to dismantle discrimination and fear in our own hearts, in our families, in our towns, in our country, and in our world.

Day after day, we use our bare hands to remove whatever concrete we can, until all the walls fall down. Until all of us are free.