25 Years After the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe

The John Lennon Wall in Prague | whyroamtravel.com

This year marks 25 years since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

Yesterday, November 9th, marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Next month will mark 25 years since the end of the communist government in the Czech Republic, which was then known as Czechoslovakia.

Most are familiar with the title “The Cold War”.  Most younger Americans hear about it in school.  It has something to do with the Soviet Union, and trickles down into why the United States is still in a heated arm wrestling match with Russia.  Both firmly planted, neither wanting to bend and a lot of trash talking in an attempt to psych out the opposing side.

I would bet most are also familiar with the Berlin Wall.

It was a wall in Germany.  It came down.

I would also bet serious money that when most younger Americans think of Germany, they think about bratwurst sandwiches, pretzels, beer and the famous beer festival held every year, Oktoberfest.

What I bet doesn’t come to mind is communism.  Or millions of people being oppressed for years.

I’ll confess, it’s not what first comes to my mind.  Not the part about communism at least.

What usually springs to my mind is World War II.  I grew up listening to my Grandfather’s accounts of his service during the war.  He was stationed in Italy and flew missions to drop bombs on Germany.  In his words, “{they} bombed the shit out of Germany.”

This is usually what I think of.

My Grandfather.  His stories.  Bombs.  The Holocaust.  Destruction.  War.  Death.

In recent years, I also recall a fairytale setting as I floated along the Danube river in a boat watching the white snow fall at night from my window.  Christmas markets with twinkling lights.  Warm, spicy mulled wine known as glühwein.  Meeting friendly and welcoming locals.  A magical night at an old castle with my parents.  And watching an impromptu Christmas carol concert with my Dad as we bobbed along with the locals and drank a strong concoction of something we termed as “jet fuel”.

I don’t think about communism.

I was 10 years old when the Berlin Wall fell.  It was of no concern to me.  It was far removed from my world.  I was busy riding my bicycle, playing with my toys and making my list of what I wanted for Christmas.

I have never known what it is like to live in a communist country.  Never known what it is like to do or be without.  Never known what it is like to be told what to study, what type of job to work, or where or how to live.  Never known what it is like to be controlled.

Fast forward 25 years, and here I am in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.   In a few weeks, the people here will celebrate 25 years of freedom from being ruled by a communist government.

I don’t know what it’s like to be ruled by communism, but the elderly neighbor lady who lives next door does.  The stall owners at the market where I go to buy fresh eggs, fruit, vegetables and bread do.  The people I pass on the street and sit next to on the tram do.

Prague today is thriving.  There are shops on every corner, restaurants abound, and young entrepreneurs opening new businesses left and right. There doesn’t seem to be a trace of the old communist way.

There is one symbol, however, still left in Prague from the communist days.  It is the John Lennon Wall.

Communist authorities banned most western pop songs, especially songs from artists who spoke of freedom, like John Lennon.  Musicians risked going to jail if they played the songs.  Why?  Because the lyrics spoke of freedom, and freedom didn’t exist under communist rule.  The authorities didn’t want anyone to get ideas.

After John Lennon was murdered in 1980, he became a sort of hero to many of the Czech people.  His picture was painted on the wall, along with song lyrics from the Beatles and messages defying the authorities.  The communist authorities continuously removed the artwork and messages of peace, but they were always replaced by those who chose to risk jail time (or worse) in order to express their feelings.

The graffiti covered wall remains today.  It stands as a monument to free speech and the non-violent rebellion of the Czech youth.  The artwork changes constantly as it’s a free space for everyone to come and leave their mark on the wall to express themselves.

Below is a short video of the Lennon Wall.  I imagine the original artists and freedom protesters didn’t exactly realize the long term mark they would be leaving.

I also imagine the many tourists who visit and stop to see the brightly painted wall have no idea of it’s real significance.  It’s just a fun thing to see and a cool place to snap a picture.

Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.  – John Lennon

  • Suzanne Smith

    I love this so much!

    • Thank you, sweet friend! It’s humbling to have exposure to and learn to appreciate something I’m not very familiar with. This world is so much bigger than any one of us!

  • Al

    I’m amazed how many people will say “isn’t that in Czechoslovakia?” when I mention Prague or even say Czech Republic or Slovakia. They are oblivious to the fact that there were many other places than Germany affected by Soviet occupation.

    I know a bit more because of my travels, but also because of a good friend who was a child when the tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. His family was lucky enough to get out soon after. Even though he was only a child he speaks so fondly of his childhood home and hopes to return again someday.

    • Hi Al, thanks so much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment! I’ve noticed the same. Most people (I think especially younger Americans) are clueless when it comes to historical events or hardships taken place in other countries. People are too consumed with outdoing their neighbor or trying to keep up with the Kardashians. There are many lessons to be learned from history, and I think it’s a shame that so many people aren’t interested in anything outside their “circle”.