On the 9th of November 1989, people began to cross from East Berlin to West through border points in the Berlin Wall, the point of separation between two halves of the city for almost thirty years.
Twenty-five years after the death strip began to be crossed by numbers of people in their thousands, Berliners, Germans and international travellers such as ourselves have gathered this past week to commemorate the occasion that signified not just the falling of this partition enshrouded in death and misery for so many families who found themselves split by the politics and power games of others, but also to celebrate the following years of change that saw the end of the Eastern Bloc and Cold War.
Both Franca’s memories and my own of the time are vague at best – as we were both younger than seven at the time – but we both recall some of the attention by our families to the TV news footage of the day, with people crowding around the television, wondering just what the future held not just for Germany, but the broader future for Europe as a whole. It’s quite something to be here twenty-five years after the event whilst so many around us are recalling how they felt and what Mauerfall meant to them, and the stories we’ve heard and read about of late has been both heart-breaking, yet warming too when we learn of the many families reunited.
The Berlin Wall In Lights
This past weekend the city of Berlin has been remembering the fall of 1989 with an art piece commissioned by and organised with visitBerlin and Kultureprojekte Berlin, together with several events of rememberance, song and celebration of the final and peaceful fall of the wall. Deservedly, most of the focus of the weekend has been the art project and the 8000 illuminated helium-filled balloons that draw a bright 15km line across the city along the path where the border and wall once stood.
It’s been quite something to see as the sun fades, the sky darkens, and people begin to walk along the entire length of the lichtgrenze path.
Across the weekend we twice decided to walk along parts of the route to see where the Berlin Wall once divided the city, both during the day and the night. Of the two occasions, our route from the East Side Gallery to the Brandenburg Gate and back again were the most enjoyable to see as groups of both pedestrians and bicyclists followed the balloons of the Berlin Wall, crossing bridges, passing through empty lots of browning grass, zigzagging from streets of gentrified buildings to the towers of banks and newspaper publishers.
As the night got darker, the more impressive the light-filled balloons became; and watching people of all ages retracing and weaving their way between them was touching to see; especially so when the families passed by us, with grandparents recanting their tales to their children, then from child to grandchild. Amazing to think that we’re all so freely walking along in a city that was once so divided. It makes us both wonder if generally we all might take our freedom for granted.
Invisible Walls Of Berlin
On the first night of the light installation there was another gathering of people in Berlin that both Franca and I attended which gave us much to think about as we walked along the light balloons of the Berlin Wall together.
In front of the the church on Lausitzer Platz in Kreuzberg – one of Berlin’s more multi-ethnic and hip neighbourhoods – there was a large gathering in support of a group of refugees in the city who have been struggling over the course of this past year to scale the invisible walls of Berlin that still stand, something we both chose to join in with and lend our voice and presence to.
For these refugees who’ve fled thousands of miles from conflict – some through testing ordeals across the Mediterranean sea, imprisonment and obstruction by the countries they fled to – it’s hard to stomach that they can’t start to rebuild their lives, bring food onto their tables, roofs for their heads and the heads of those with families. It seems incredible to the both of us that after so many years of reflection on the errors of segregation, the trauma that bricks and cement divides like the former Berlin Wall and the invisible walls of borders create, that people can’t be free to enjoy the freedom of movement and the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life and law-protected rights that so many of us living in Western countries have grown so accustomed to.
Germany does in fact have one of the better records in regards to integration with new immigrant communities, with the Turkish population of Berlin especially one of the success stories that continues to create deeper ties with the city; and in truth, Germany’s role in the European Union to push forward free and open movement without borders or restriction has long been the loudest voice. As countries such as my own home of the UK questions whether to keep its borders open, I’m led to wonder if lines on a map or an invisible line in the sand shouldn’t all be erased so that anyone with the desire to start a life anew, or to seek employment and build a business or legacy for themselves should be free to do so. Isn’t that the legacy that should come from the fall of the Berlin Wall?
What makes my right to leave one country to explore another any better than anyone else’s? Just because of where I was born should automatically gain a passport and the privilege it allows me? If I was born in a country like Laos, would I be as free to travel wherever my mood takes me? Most likely not.
Should these invisible walls stand or fall?