In this dark political era, where buildings walls is still deemed an appropriate security measure to restrict movement alongside borders, it is worth commemorating the fall of a wall which divided Germany (and Europe) for 27 years.
The Berlin wall (and the security apparatus surrounding it) was built in 1961 by the East German GDR (German Democratic Republic) to strictly prevent communication and immigration between East and West. The wall was torn down twenty-six years ago this month, with the GDR lifting the travel ban on the 9th of November 1989. A crowd of thousands gathered around the structure to destroy it with pickets and hammers, in a communal act of catharsis. A few day later, the GDR officially tore down the wall with heavy machinery, with a few activists fighting to preserve parts of it as a commemorative trace of a dividing barrier which deeply scarred the city.
The wall remains today in its absence and presence around Berlin. The East Side Gallery is the largest physical relic of the wall but it constitutes only 1.3 kilometers out of the 43 kilometers of the actual wall which separated East and West Berlin. The history of the wall is documented at the Museum Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie, which has been collecting artifacts related to the structure since 1962, such as “escape objects” and the last USSR flag, hung on the museum’s facade. The museum is located near Checkpoint Charlie, which was one of the only official gateways between East and West, and is today one of the most tourist-visited areas in Berlin, complete with disney-fied reenactment border police and a Macdonalds fast food joint. Visiting it is a strange and gimmick-y experience which, in my opinion, does not do justice to the grave significance of the space.
In the 21st Century, increasing interest in locating the physical boundary of the wall was expressed by Berliners, who were ready to relay the cold war’s history to the new generation. In 2014, on the 25th year commemoration of the fall, an installation entitled “Litgrenze 2014” (“Lightborder 2014”) commemorated the wall with 8,000 illuminated balloons along 15.3 kilometers of the original border.
Let the Berlin Wall be viewed as a precedent for all the walls being built in our times. Let it be a lesson that separating walls are built to be destroyed…. and to be commemorated for their brutality and for their undeniable violation of article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the Right for freedom of movement.