Remembering the Berlin Wall

June 26, 2014 – 04:28 pm

“DIE Mauer muss weg!” (“Away with the wall!”) shouted the hundreds of thousands of East Berliners who demonstrated in October and November 1989 against East Germany's fading communist regime. Their hopes were realised on November 9th as one checkpoint after another was opened (see article) and the hated wall started to crumble. Thunderous applause greeted the removal of each chunk of a cement boundary that had divided not just a city, but also a country and even a whole continent.

Thanks to the commitment of a few, some bits of the Wall survived the dismembering, such as the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section that was painted over by more than 100 artists in 1990; a few hundred metres near Checkpoint Charlie in the middle of the city; and a 1.4km portion, including a former watchtower at Bernauer Strasse that the Berlin Wall Foundation has preserved in its 1989 state.

At a documentation centre belonging to the Bernauer Strasse section, a new permanent exhibition was inaugurated by Angela Merkel on the recent November 9th to start the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the wall’s fall. Compared with the previous exhibition, which had been focused on the building of the wall in 1961 and its direct consequences for the residents living either side of the divided Bernauer Strasse, this new display tries to answer three questions in a much broader context: why was the wall built, why did it stay for 28 years, and why did it collapse in 1989? Almost 600 exhibits including historical audio and film, interviews with witnesses, photos and posters try to encourage a deeper understanding of the wall's history. Outdoors, an installation in the "death strip" that ran alongside the wall serves as a reminder of the 138 people who died while trying to cross into West Berlin.

Throughout the past weekend there were meetings and panel debates with those who had witnessed the upheaval of November 1989, as well as representatives of members of the former East German opposition. At a ceremony in the Konzerthaus, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union and father of glasnost and perestroika, was welcomed with a standing ovation. The Germans have not forgotten that it was his reform policy that paved the way towards the opening of the Iron Curtain and German reunification.

Most poignant of all though was the “wall of lights” (pictured), designed by Christopher and Marc Bauder and made up of some 7, 000 illuminated white balloons perched on stands along 15km of the old route. A million traffic-halting people came out onto the streets on Sunday evening to witness their lift-off. (The illuminated balloons were exchanged for helium-filled versions on Saturday night.) While Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at the Brandenburg Gate, Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, released the first balloon, followed by people to the north and south, one by one.


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