The Berlin Wall as art
OUR tour group was brought to tears as we were told of the fall to the Berlin wall.
Even our guide Brian, from the famous Berlin Insider Tours, was emotional as he told of relatives reuniting for the first time after 28 years.
“Grandparents met their adult grandchildren for the first time, parents were introduced to son-in-laws years after the marriage and children could finally visit their parents’ graves to say goodbye,” said Brian, a Canadian who years ago fell in love with Berlin.
And as I sat under a tree, escaping the summer heat in Alexanderplatz, I knew I too was hooked on the cosmopolitan city.
As the German capital prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the wall’s fall on Monday you can be assured hundreds of these bittersweet tales of reunion will be heard.
One of my favourite things about Berlin, which is possibly the coolest city I have ever visited, was seeing how the city has evolved from the fall of its literal “Iron Curtain”.
It was great to see the hundreds of tourists who flock to Berlin to see the crumbling remains of the wall. But it was also wonderful to see how Berliners deal with The Wall. The largest remaining part for example along the Spree River has been nicknamed the East Side Gallery and now features graffiti and artwork from German and international artists.
Little is left of the former barrier which once surrounded West Berlin with 155 kilometres of barbed wire barricades and concrete walls, averaging in height of 3.6 metres.
During the wall’s existence from 1961 to 1989 there were about 5000 successful escapes to West Berlin. The number of people who died trying to cross the wall has been disputed but some estimate it to be well above 200.
Maybe it was just because I was there for the 47th anniversary of his death, but I felt most affected by the tragic tale of Peter Fechter.
The 18-year-old and his friend attempted to flee East Berlin in 1962 by crossing the so-called Death-Strip, a no-man’s land between the main wall and a parallel fence, and climb over the two-metre wall topped with barbed wire into West Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie.
When both teenagers reached the wall the guards fired at them. Although his friend succeeded in crossing the wall, Peter was shot in the pelvis in plain view of hundreds of witnesses. He fell back into the death-strip on the Eastern side, where he remained in view of Western onlookers, including journalists. Despite his screams, he received no medical assistance either from the East or the West side. He bled to death after about an hour.
I came across a memorial to Peter when I was riding my hired-bike along the double row of cobblestones that now outline where the wall once divided the two towns. The pillar, which was covered with flowers and German flags, marked the place where the teenager lay for that hour, in agony, before he bled to death.
Although it’s important to remember these terrible times and try to ensure they never happen again, I believe, as do many Berliners, it’s also important to look to the future.
If you follow the winding, double cobblestone path long enough, as I did, you’ll discover the beautiful East Side Gallery. The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery is a 1.3 kilometre-long section of the wall near the centre of Berlin. More than 100 paintings by artists from all over the world cover this memorial for freedom and make it the largest open air gallery in the world.
The gallery website describes it as a special place, where art has become the expression for a unique point in time of the history of a separated Germany. It is a meeting point that talks about an old Berlin and a new Berlin, a separated and a unified Germany.
And just to reassure the world how hip Berliners really are, they will hold a Festival of Freedom on Monday, to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. During the festival more than 1000 foam domino tiles over eight feet tall will be stacked along the former route of the wall in the city centre and toppled.The Berlin Wall
- The Berlin Wall was erected by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1961. It completely encircled West Berlin, separating it from East Germany, including East Berlin.
- Prior to the wall’s erection, 3.5 million East Germans had avoided Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions to escape into West Germany, many over the border between East and West Berlin.
- The wall stopped almost all such emigration and separated East Germany from West Germany for more than a quarter of a century.
- The building of the Berlin Wall sealed the border to West Berlin, which since the end of the Second World War had been surrounded by communist East Berlin and East Germany.