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From Red Stars to Golden Arches

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

– Ronald Reagan

I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.

– Donald Trump

Attempting to build a tower in Moscow didn’t quite work out for the Art-of-the-Deal Maestro, but as consolation he landed a new residency at the White House in Washington DC.

Call it beginner’s luck, if only I could have shown him how I, also as an American, restored a medieval tower in a former satellite country of the USSR, in the lesser-known city of Wrocław, Poland, where multinational business was booming. I could have also advised him concerning what dangers to look out for, while sparing him the monumental burden of returning home to make America great, again. Of course, the Art-of-the-Deal Maestro would never have listened to me because, as we all know, he knows everything there is to know far better than anybody.

On the other hand, I sure could empathize with him in one sense, because though my tower became a reality, endlessly daunting obstacles stood in the way that eventually drove me home too. I must also confess that there were all sorts of red flags waving, minus the hammer and sickle, that I didn’t pay attention to. Who could have imagined that long after the Berlin Wall had vanished, another newly reinforced wall not far to the east would become my entrapment?

To think of the bitter irony that in 2011, the Guardian newspaper regarded a failing multicultural restaurant, wine bar and arts center known as Abrams’ Tower the number one tourist attraction in all of Poland. Thanks to the suddenly unannounced enclosure of a badly decayed medieval wall, not only where the final plans I had for its full development never realized, but the situation became so suffocating that one year later I escaped the country like a fugitive on the run.

During the long sixteen years that I lived in Poland, I came to know a number of other western guys with ambitions to cash in on the new Gold Rush of the post-commie Wild East. Quite a few of them landed in Wrocław, which is situated almost equidistant between Berlin to the west, Warsaw to the east and Prague to the south. As one of the first from the West to recognize its great potential, I was nearby at the moment that the Berlin Wall was torn down. By the time I ended up running for my life over two decades later, numerous multinational business headquarters had sprung up nearby the 13th century guard tower I had been in the process of restoring, where I served a menu of global cuisine, showed films, presented live eclectic music, sponsored educational seminars, taught English and at one point offered salsa dance lessons. The head honchos and staffs of several globalist businesses had become some of my customers.

Alas, as much as I recognized golden opportunity that few others at the time could see, or would dare to pursue, every step I took seemed to be a matter of inexplicably strange destiny, with many booby traps and land mines waiting along the way. Two years after my first visit to Poland in late 1989, just as the Berlin Wall was torn down, I traveled to Moscow for a nine-day visit, fatefully arriving on the very day that the USSR was officially disbanded. It had seemed like a fairytale, when three pretty young Russian women greeted me at the airport. I only knew one of them, who I had briefly met while visiting Amsterdam the prior summer. From Wrocław to Moscow, a new world of opportunities was up for grabs, or so many naïve westerners came to believe, the icing on the cake being exotically beautiful women chasing after western men, often as a means of escape to the west. Instantly, I became a targeted fat cat with as little as a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet.

By the time I had returned home around two decades later, Moscow had become one of the most expensive cities in the world, maybe $20 would buy one a cup of coffee and Wrocław was soon to become the annual Culture Capital of Europe. If any conclusion can be made of the many harsh lessons I was to learn between then and now, it’s been my theory that when the USSR fell, a crack in the system was created to lure wide-eyed westerners in, who, as the Art-of-the-Deal Maestro so eloquently put it, would grab what pussy they could. The intent was twofold: to attract foreign investment and to gain influence in the west. Boy did they ever hook a big one upon infiltrating the home tower of the Art-of-the-Deal Maestro in the Big Apple, eventually to sneak into the White House through the basement.

As for myself, a few years after I was back in my native city of Los Angeles, the fulfillment of my vision abroad to be realized on my home turf, as I constructed a new contemporary tower from scratch. Meanwhile, the Art-of-the-Deal Maestro had grown so tired from losing that he spent his early mornings tweeting his daily frustrations away on the bathroom toilet, while dreaming of building a great wall instead.

And so, this is my story, as a born and raised Californian artist, educator and small business owner, of having experienced firsthand Poland’s dramatic transformation since it spearheaded a nonviolent revolution in 1989, that swept across Central and Eastern Europe, when everyone naively thought that the tearing down of the Berlin Wall just to the west symbolized the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, nearly 30 years later, from my native side of the Atlantic Ocean, I perceive my unusual experience through the prism of a broader dimension, as recent populist transformations of both Poland and the US has resulted in reactionary xenophobic takeovers of both countries, cloaked in the pursuit of law and order, cleaning up of corruption, draining the swamp and moralistic purity.

From the liberating tearing down of the Berlin Wall to the reinforcement of a medieval wall that drove me home, little could I have fathomed that I would return to crazy talk by the new US President, of building a new wall at the southern border. Little could I have possibly fathomed that the number one nemesis in my story would win the Nobel Prize for literature years later, a woman purported to be at serious odds with the same xenophobic, reactionary forces, and that she would deviously profit from the imposition of a wall that would ultimately destroy my purpose of helping rebuild the lost multiculturalism in her country.

After all is said and done, one is left pondering what wisdom is to be gained from the non-violent revolution of Poland’s Solidarity movement, that preceded the downfall of the Soviet Union, and which radically altered the course of modern history.

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