The storm had passed when we got off the tram at Bernauer Strasse. A beautiful green laws stretches along the road on one side of it. The grass was wet with rain but the green was very inviting. I stepped out on it and took photos. On one side was a line of houses bordered by a low concrete wall (featured photo). On the other side was a line of high steel rods (photo below). This was what remains of the Berlin wall. The strip of lawn was the death strip between them.
What legitimacy can a government have when it removes the right to live from some of its own citizens? One would have thought that this question need not be asked again in the post-Nazi era. But as The Family and I walked through this long memorial, we were surrounded by historical echoes of that question asked again.
Mural at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin
Remnants of the wall at Bernauer Strasse
A few steps ahead we came to one of Berlin’s famous pieces of street art. This was the result of a competition run by Xi-Design, who executed the winning design submitted by Marcus Haas. I love the easter egg: the map of Berlin hidden inside the steak. Like all street art, time has overtaken it. This was finished just over a year back (in September 2016) and the bottom of the wall is now a palimpsest of paintings.
There was documentation on the history of the wall in panels at intervals. You could also listen to people of the area speaking about the wall, and how it affected their lives. We came across a stretch of unbroken wall: as much of an eyesore as it used to be (next to the steak mural above). We walked on, past the Reconciliation Church, and to the remnants of the wall at the Sophien parish cemetery. In the middle of the green here is a series of free-standing weathered steel cubbyholes, each a memorial to someone who died trying to cross the wall (photo above). One of these held some flowers. There are still people around who remember individuals.
We walked on to the very end, at the remnant of the Nordbahnhof and then turned to walk back. Along the pavement we noticed little plaques. Each of them is embedded on the Western side of the former border near where an escape attempt was made. The plaques gave a date and said whether or not the attempt was successful.
The Berlin Wall Memorial was not there when we last came to Berlin almost a dozen years ago. Not having lived in Germany in the years of division, The Family looked at the historical information in detail. I read along with her and discovered much that I did not know in any detail. The Wall is gone now, and a whole new generation has grown up in its absence. You can see them reclaiming this once-forsaken ground with graffiti like the one in the photo above. It appears again and again over Berlin in incongruous places. So refreshing, I thought.
On a cold and rainy day The Family and I made a pilgrimage to an unprepossessing bridge in Berlin where I’d wanted to be 27 years and 51 weeks ago. On the night of 9th November 1989, I sat in Aachen and watched people pouring through an open gate in the Berlin Wall and across this bridge in Bornholmer Strasse. We had a meeting the next day, but I spent the night on the street discussing with friends and strangers whether we should just leave and go to Berlin. The Family recalls watching TV in the US, with channels looping visuals of frenzied crowds breaking through the Wall. It took us so many years to finally get to this spot.
Berlin was a dream; one of the few dreams which come true. When I first came to Germany, Berlin was a divided city. Then, the urban transport network of West Berlin passed through ghost stations which were locked up and did not work. If you took the underground from Moritzplatz in the Kreutzberg area to Gesundbrunnen station, you would pass through six stations where you could not get down. Now every one of these works. Anyone can walk off the road into the following stations and catch a train: Heinrich Heine Allee, Jannowitzbruecke (as you can see in the photo above), Alexanderplatz, Weinmeisterstrasse, Rosenthaler Platz and Bernauer Strasse. So, I did.
What a lovely feeling to walk through this undivided city which, in one generation, seems to have forgotten its dark past. Walking in Berlin today, one has the feeling that all problems can be solved and all walls broken.
In Aachen, near the Dutch-German border, I switched on the TV and saw the day-long destruction of the wall that hemmed in West Berlin. Twenty seven years later I walked into the lobby of 520 Madison Avenue and saw a piece of the wall. Five reinforced concrete slabs, out of about 100000. The side that you can see is the one which faced Mariannenplatz in West Berlin.
The cheerful paintings are due to two street artists, Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet, who decided to do something which was not only illegal but dangerous. The wall stood inside the territory of East Germany, so anyone painting the wall was technically crossing the border. When asked about this, Thierry Noir said to Huck “…the soldiers were allowed to jump over and arrest me if they wanted to. But I was young and quick at that time so they had no chance against me.”
The two were joined by other artists. Eventually, by the late 1980s, a kilometer long stretch of the wall had been painted. Now Noir sometimes joins other artists to paint other pieces of the wall. He was asked once about his feelings when the wall came down in that June many years ago. His reply was “I was not crying because my world was pulled down, it would be arrogant to say that. It was not an art project, it was a deadly border. One hundred and thirty six people were killed because of the wall – everyone was just happy that it went away.”
I was the only person in the lobby on that Saturday morning. The guard looked bored, from which I gathered that some still come in to look at this piece of history. I wonder whether twenty five years has been long enough for us to forget that people overcome walls.