Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Berlin Wall

There are two news stories that will forever be etched in my memory from my childhood: the night-vision images of the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I was seven when the Berlin Wall came down and I probably didn't really understand what was happening, but the images of graffiti, parts of the wall tumbling and people climbing over the wall moved me even then.  So when it came time for me to plan my latest trip to Europe, visiting whatever was left of the wall was a must.

When I checked into my hostel and took a glance at the map they had handed me, I realized that the Berlin Wall Memorial was relatively close by.  After a five hour train ride/nap from Prague, I was ready to do a little walking.   So I laced up my high tops and headed out.  Had I not stopped in every quirky little shop along the way, it probably would've taken me 1/3 of the time to get there.  When I finally arrived at the Berlin Wall History Mile , I was stunned.  I couldn't believe that I was actually there.  My terrifying news story memory was now standing in front of me.

My first thought was how feeble the Wall looked.  It's only about eight feet tall and a meager three to four inches wide.  In the middle of this grassy park area, it hardly seems like a big deal at all.  How could something that looks so nonthreatening have been so consequential to so many people? And then as you walk through the memorial you start to learn about not only what the Wall represented, but why it was so difficult to break through.   In 2014 there are no armed guards or barbed wire, the second wall has been removed and the ditches have been filled.  But as you learn more about what existed there before 1989, you begin to have a better understanding and a deeper emotional reaction to the memorial. 

The next day, I ventured to another site of the Berlin Wall on the grounds of the
Topography of Terror.  This site has a preserved portion of the Berlin Wall sitting on top of the old Gestapo headquarters.  It provides an interesting look at two dark and incredibly important phases in German history.  After all of these years, it just looks like a crumbling old wall sitting on top of a subway-tiled basement, but it shows you the complex history that Germany has and is a physical representation of the passing of time. 

If you're looking for a more playful way to view the wall, head over to the area of Kreuzberg to the East Side Gallery.  The East Side Gallery is a piece of the Berlin Wall painted by artists from around the world after 1989.  It is vibrant and colourful and is a testament to the positive outlook and creative atmosphere in Berlin. 

So if you're in Berlin, be sure to check out one or all three of these pieces of the wall.  They will each give you a different perspective and together help to paint the whole picture.