The Berlin Wall, die Mauer, is something of a disembodied soul, its material gone to dust, its absence ever more absent. Walking, spazierien, through Prenzlauer Berg, with its conspicuous consumption in the form of baby carriages and shops selling Scandinavian children's clothing, 100 percent bamboo, you might think: this was the West. You would be wrong. It's just crowded with migrants from Bavaria and America, the apartments chicly saniert and offered to folks like me on AirBnB. (In 1990, you could have bought an apartment for as much as you'll pay to crash there for two weeks in 2019.) To a newly arrived visitor, the Western districts of Neukölln, still ragged, and Wedding, miles of gray, might feel more like their imaginary of the East than Prenzlberg.
In the thirty years since November 9, 1989, a generation has grown up without the Wall, while the generation that caused it to be built is dying off.
Today, the Berlin Wall is a tourist trap. In the New York Times this past year, I read earnest debates about whether a Hard Rock Café (it would be Berlin's first) should be built next to Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie has been all but a Hard Rock Café for the entire time I've been occasionally living in Berlin, since 2003.
A taxi driver gives me a mini-tour of the Wall as we drive from Tegel to Prenzlauer Berg, crossing and re-crossing the border. He knows his audience. Tourists want to see the Wall. Go to the East Side Gallery, with panels painted by graffiti artists in 1990, the longest stretch of the "Berlin Wall" still in existence. A symbol of a symbol, the East Side Gallery does not so much represent the Wall as represent our ideal mental image of it: tall and imposing, covered with graffiti.
Go also to the Berlin Wall Memorial, a Gedenkstätte along Bernauer Strasse, where the Wall was rebuilt between 2008 and 2013, so that you can get a sense of its [End Page 44] full, horrible infrastructure (missing at the East Side Gallery) and how it developed. Visit for the Berlin Wall Race (100 Miles Berlin), which circles the former West. And there's much more, including Trabant limousine tours, something even Heiner Müller couldn't dream up for the nightmare in Wolokolamsker Chaussee ("I woke up and everything was orderly").
The Berlin Wall is in Columbus and Cincinnati, near where I now live in southeast Ohio. Big concrete segments: 4-feet long by 12-feet tall. They have that aura of history, you know. You really feel like you're there. But to really feel like you're there, you need to visit Checkpoint Charlie or the Brandenburg Gate and have your picture taken with a Soviet guard and Mini Mouse.
Thirty years after the Fall, walls are cool again. They're fashionable: the prevailing style among nations. Men of mode want great big walls.
Walls—or, more diplomatically, non-porous borders—are necessary for liberal democracy, the European Union Ambassador to the United States says, nonchalantly, stating the obvious, while we nod our heads. If the EU wants open borders within Europe, he elaborates, it needs strong borders on its frontiers.
Elisabeth Vallet, geographer at the University of Québec, writes, in an article for The Conversation: "At the end of the Cold War there were just fifteen walls delimiting national borders; today, with 70 of them in existence around the world, the wall has become the new standard for international relations."1
It's a bad joke. How do you get Mexico to pay for the Trump wall? Just let him make America so shitty that Americans start fleeing south.
Vallet argues against border fortifications, and, by implication, anything that impedes free movement. Alex Tabarrock, an economist at George Mason, has made the most insistent case against borders I know of, in the blog Marginal Revolution ("The Moral Is the Practical") and in The Atlantic ("The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely").2 He writes: no logical moral system can defend preventing people from moving freely...