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Lessons from Berlin, 25 Years after the Wall

The thought of Berlin as an emerging market might be a stretch for some readers. The city after all serves as the capital for one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Its vibrant culture, sophistication, and plethora of marketing activities and consumer goods and services attract all comers, far and wide. But even the most inattentive observer of global events would know that Berlin – at least the eastern portion of it – was not always so vibrant.

For nearly 30 years, the Berlin Wall separated East from West, capitalist from communist, free-thinkers from authoritarians, and marketers from command economists, until its dismantling began on November 9, 1989. On that day, Berlin began to emerge from crushing political repression and market scarcity. “Ossies,” people from the former German Democratic Republic or East Germany, streamed through the iconic Brandenburg Gate to experience the West, including numerous freedoms, a breathtakingly large assortment of consumer goods, and connection or re-connection to a world of endless promise.

On the 25th anniversary of “The day the Wall came down,” Berlin has indeed emerged, not only from the relatively recent dark days of Stasi surveillance and subterfuge, but also from the more distant Soviet occupation, fire bombings, and the madness of the Third Reich. Berlin today is a beacon for freedom of expression, tolerance and, yes, marketing. Berlin moreover is a forerunner for a new, thoughtful marketing seen across Germany and other parts of Europe. A responsible form of marketing whereby corporations and brand-owners, workers, governments, and consumers cooperate to deliver and to manage goods and services, not only to benefit today’s consumers, but to ensure health and well-being for future generations.

A few small chunks of the Wall and some other artifacts are scattered around my home- and Loyola-offices, reminders that, even from the darkest days of humanity, all good things are still possible. Decent, just, edifying, pleasant, and sustainable societies can emerge — when politicians, labor, consumers, intellectuals, religious leaders, and marketers are visionary, tolerant and cooperative. May this journey from darkness-to-light witnessed in Berlin, presage illumination in Pyongyang, Baghdad, Benghazi and too many other places seemingly stuck in the darkness.

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