Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Die Berliner Mauer

Growing up, I was roughly aware of this thing known as the Berlin Wall and apparently it had something to do with the fall of communism, but beyond that I had no knowledge of what the Wall was, what it symbolized, or how it really impacted the lives of the people of the GDR.

 DSC01800 Restored/Preserved section of the two walls with Death Strip at the Berliner Mauer Memorial

I didn't realize until I got here in Berlin just how much of an impact these 300 km or so of concrete, rebar, and sewage piping have had on this city, but it is clear and remains to this day. The wall divided a city, a culture, families and friends, many had no communication with each other for the entire 28 years the wall was intact.

DSC01788 Wall mural (restored) in the East Side Gallery

Following the fall of the wall, two cultures, formerly together, then separated for 28 years, were reunited. The scars, however, still remain almost 20 years later and will likely stay for a lot longer. Interestingly, a lot of the coolest parts of the city lie in East Berlin, possibly because of chance/strategy during the bombing raids of WWII, possibly because the communists (GDR) wanted to show off to the Westerners who could see across the wall into East Berlin, or maybe the new construction that has occurred over the last 20 years has focused on building up the East even more, as there is a new opportunity for monumental construction. Very likely it is a combination of all three.


Wall near the Third Reich Air Force Ministry (GDR Ministry of Ministries)

Not a whole lot of the wall is left to see. There are a few places where portions still stand, however. Sadly, the wall has been damaged a lot by tourists chipping off pieces of the wall for souvenirs, destroying it in the process. In several places, the wall has been very badly eroded by "wall-peckers" and is now kept behind a fence. Oh the irony.

DSC01794 Painting (Restored) on the East Side Gallery

An interesting thing to try to get your mind around is that while West Berlin was surrounded on all sides be Eastern Germany, the wall was built to keep the East German people within East Germany, that is out of West Berlin. The wall kept citizens of the GDR within the communist sea surrounding an "island of capitalism" - (Tour guide's words, not mine). It's a unique situation to be put in. People were breaking into, instead of out of, an area.

DSC01762 Unrestored section of the East Side Gallery

All in all the wall serves as a real reminder for how different ideologies can lead down a dangerous pathway ultimately resulting in tragedy. The people of Germany are a people who remember their past, apologise for their mistakes, and move forward into the future determined not to repeat their missteps. Reminders of this are a daily presence that keep the past from repeating. I feel inspired to take the philosophy of the German people with me and move forward, determined to make my mark and bring about change for the better, but always remembering my past.

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