Ben Stein On Geopolitics And High Heels

Comedian Ben Stein speaks at the Republican National Convention in the First Union Center in Philadelphia Monday, July 31, 2000. AP

Footwear and geopolitics are on the mind during the travels of commentator Ben Stein.


"The future of mankind," said George Orwell in his masterwork "1984," "is a boot stamping on a human face. Forever."

I've been thinking about this since my trip this summer to Berlin. I stayed at a spectacular hotel called the Hotel De Rome. It looks out on a magnificent plaza called the Bebelplatz. In this grand piazza in May of 1933, Adolf Hitler's Nazis staged their first mass bookburning, in which they piled books in a bonfire - books by Thomas Mann, Heinrich Heine, and others deemed decadent or Jewish, or both.

Near this place, Hitler reviewed his SS troops, as they marched off for conquest and genocide. At the end of the war, there was extremely violent fighting right there between the Russians and the Nazis.

Back then, the building where our hotel is was the headquarters of the East German Central Bank, funding one of the most repressive regimes of all time.

Yes, a boot stamping on a human face for a very long time, indeed.

But now there are some new shoes in the Bebelplatz, and they sure ain't jackboots. They are a four-story high image of a woman's feet in two extremely expensive-looking high-heeled shoes (lizard, I think), against the side of a centuries-old building. They are part of an ad for a high fashion magazine and, although I am no shoe fetishist, they look pretty good to me.

German schoolkids and adults pass by, smile, and move on to other parts of swinging Berlin.

So, this is the way the world turns. The power of longing, of style, of desire to be beautiful and sexy, to be loved, now holds sway over what was Hitler's brutal Berlin and, until a blink of an eye ago, rigid East Berlin.

No more books are burned here.

Free capitalism, and the desire to be an individual in high-heeled shoes, showed itself more in tune with human longings than did dictatorship, and so high style now rules the former bookburning square. In a world dark with threats, it's a bright spot of how the future might turn out.

There is always hope in the human spirit. Nice shoes, too. Great shoes.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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