I found a giant piece of the Berlin Wall the other day, in one of the nearly vacant business parks down the street from my office building, at the very end of the parking lot. I looked it up on the internet, and saw that it was a Cold War museum, only open by appointment, except for a weekly guided tour of “the vault” on Fridays at three. Sign me up!
I was especially excited because, I’m embarrassed to admit, I managed to graduate from high school, college, and graduate school, without a solid understanding of twentieth century history. I simply wasn’t taught it. I swear I got Columbus to the Industrial Revolution over and over and over again. I mean, I definitely have a deep understanding of the history of the Blues, the Beat poets, The Civil Rights Movement, and early 90′s rap music. However, mostly I just nod and say “mm, of course” “yes, yes, I know” or “I agree completely” when conversations migrate toward The New Deal, The Cold War, The Korean War, World War I, or parts of II, much of Vietnam (sorry, Dad), and I’m sure many other huge 20th century events most people just know about.
Here’s a poem about what I knew about the Cold War prior to my visit to the museum:
The Cold War
We hated the color Red
And from Communists we fled
Senator McCarthy brought back 1690′s Salem
If you’ve got spaceships, flail ‘em
into space! And do it fast!
It’s a race! We can’t be last!
Something about pigs, missiles and Cuba,
Half of Germany couldn’t play tubas,
because where Communists ruled, there was no fun,
and everyone was cold, so they had to run,
(in the space race), and Orwell made Lenin & Stalin boars
people in Russia loved to do chores
Nadia Comeneci does the best gymnastics,
though I’m not supposed to, I think she’s fantastic.
And then the Berlin Wall came down
And everyone in the Red countries turned their frowns upsidedown.
Sadly, most of what I knew came from Animal Farm, The Crucible, impressive floor routines, and the film Good Night & Good Luck. I was excited to find out more. I invited Anne of GG to come with me, but I didn’t tell her about my sorry lack of knowledge about why we hated each other so much during the Cold War, and the whole psychology of it. Unfortunately, we didn’t find out too much (although we did arrive to the tour about five minutes late). I’m telling you, everyone assumes it’s all common knowledge, so then I feel stupid asking. Like in third grade when I was out sick the day we learned to tell time, so I had to literally pretend to know for the next year and a half until my friend showed me.
An eager local college student led our tour, explaining the various busts and paintings we encountered. Here are some pictures of what was revealed in the vault:
It was just Anne of GG and I, along with a guy who grew up in East Germany, his girlfriend, and a random chick. The guy, Stefan, was pretty amazed by all of the stuff. When our tour guide asked him to describe his childhood in East Germany, he said he had a very happy childhood, and that everyone would build crazy antennas so they could get t.v. (which was illegal) from West Germany.
The collection was really impressive– rows and rows of boxes of everything from postcards, to uniforms, toys, furniture, photographs, paintings, wall hangings, libraries, busts, and medals.
I really, really, want to know what the deal is with the guy who started this museum. Is he just some rich guy with an obsession with Cold War artifacts? Why isn’t it displayed in a more prominent location, where more people could see the collection? It seems to be in a secret location, run by secret interns. It’s a huge collection, meticulously maintained, in (not shockingly) perfect order. But why? I get that it’s great for scholarly research, but why isn’t it at a university? Why is it hidden? Why is it only open on Fridays at three? Who is this guy? Or lady?
Anyway, I feel like there is still more to find out. I am officially hosting my first ever lunchbreakcapers.wordpress.com CONTEST! I’d like my followers (all three of you, and yes, that includes you) to teach me some 20th century history. Remember, if you don’t participate, I’ll know! Pick a topic (the Cold War is still up for grabs) and explain it to me as best you can in five sentences or less. And no Henry James style sentences, stick to Hemingway style, please.
The winner will get a spectacular surprise.