Image Credit: Yousuf Karsh
Without Mr. Gorbachev my life would not be what it is today. Not even close.
I would not live the classic American Dream in the United States building my company Trophyology, I would not be able to travel the world, and I would not have the wonderful life I share with my partner Drew.
Growing up in East Germany, I could have never even imagined this life. It seemed utterly impossible for the world to change, let alone at the speed and magnitude we were fortunate to witness as the 1980’s came to an end and the 1990’s unfolded. Michael Gorbachev rang in that change, started the dialog between the East and West, and opened possibilities. His message of Perestroika (Reform/Restructuring) and Glasnost (Openness) encouraged the people of East Germany to diligently march for change every Monday night at 8pm for months and months on end. Starting in the churches of Leipzig, the movement grew to hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Dresden, Berlin, and other East German cities. Mr. Gorbachev said ‘no’ when East German government officials asked for his support to send tanks and weapons against their own people advocating peacefully for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom to travel. This ‘no’ prevented another Tiananmen Square tragedy.
Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s leader for six short years (1985-1991) and his dialogue and relationship with US President Ronald Reagan warmed the Cold War significantly and opened the Iron Curtain. Ultimately, the aligned actions of many individuals resulted in the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall and significant peaceful change of the world order. But I believe it is fair to say that without Mr. Gorbachev’s vision and leadership, things may have developed very differently. Recent global developments are showing startlingly clearly what an extraordinary slice of history this time represents.
For the past 24 years I have called the United States home and became a US citizen several years ago. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I remember under which drastically different circumstances I grew up as an East German teenager and just how different life as an American adult is today. I learned Russian as my first foreign language followed by English. My love for languages has enabled me to step into a world where I and my potential could unfold freely. I am living THE American Dream as an entrepreneur building Trophyology. I started this company from nothing but an idea and have gradually grown it to what it is today, instilling my ideals and values into it. I appreciate the support and generosity of so many people who want me to do well and who cheer for me on this journey.
Since I was a young adult I have jumped on opportunities to travel the world and I feel fortunate to have visited and lived in many wonderful places that were mere fantasy destinations when I was a child. I marvel at the variety our world offers - landscapes, flora, fauna, food, art, architecture, and culture. But I also love knowing that so much unites us as people - wherever we are from.
To this day, I get teary-eyed when passing through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This summer, I got to bike through this significant monument with Drew, both of us in awe as the chances of us meeting and falling in love would have been next to zero not that long ago. How lucky we are!
When I read the news of Mr. Gorbachev’s passing, I was deeply touched. I feel so much gratitude and appreciation for this man. I cannot think of another political leader who has had as much direct impact on my life as Mr. Gorbachev. Intended or not, his vision and courage changed my life.
I founded Trophyology to meaningfully celebrate achievement, impact, and legacy. Legacy is of course as complex as individuals are and any legacy will have multiple sides to the story. My story will forever be linked to Mr. Gorbachev and his vision of the world.
As the world bids farewell to this remarkable leader, I recommend watching the insightful documentary ‘Meeting Gorbachev’ by Werner Herzog.
In the early days of Trophyology, I was asked for which prominent person I might want to design an award. I remember not having had a really good answer at the time. But the question stayed with me and today I would answer unfalteringly: Mikhail Gorbachev