Monday, April 5, 2010
Day 10: Berlin and The Wall
Our first trip to Berlin was in the spring of 2008. We took the tours and walked the streets; we photographed remnants of recent history and read stories of those who tried to escape East Berlin, and those who succeeded. Our walking tour guide pointed out the famous balcony from which Michael Jackson dangled his baby years back, and the very spot where they say Hitler and Ava Brown's bodies were burned after their suicides. You wouldn't expect anything interesting had ever happened on this particular stretch of sidewalk, but you can lock your bike up where the Fuhrer quickly became ash.
My favorite day was the day we walked along the East Side Gallery, the largest open air memorial for freedom in the world. The first time we were there the paintings sprawling over what would have been otherwise ugly concrete once separating loved ones, were weathered and chipping. Although the graffiti across some pieces added to the sense of unity you felt looking over the artwork, for most of the added messages were those of peace, one love, one world, we wondered what they might have looked like when first created back right after the fall of The Wall in 1989.
The name of this picture is "One Love."
Last year on Nov. 9, 2009, Berlin celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and we were there for the celebration. Schools, artists, and many others from around the world contributed to a display of giant dominoes, painted with messages of unity and freedom, that were lined up along one stretch of the original Wall's path. Even my old high school got into the mix, we discovered our first night in town walking the path of the dominoes while the stage was still being set for the big celebration. After a mixed concert of music from Berlin's State Opera to Jon Bon Jovi, speeches from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Sarkozy, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to name a few, former Polish President Lech Walesa and ex-Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth had the honor of making the first push. The toppling of these large dominoes was meant to symbolize the falling Communist governments of Eastern Europe, and the cheering when they fell was deafening. Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev even made an appearance, and the German Chancellor praised him publicly for his role in the change that occurred in Berlin that changed the world. The party was huge and it rained all night, but we had an amazing time. Between the fireworks that lit the rainy sky, and the hot gluhwein that warmed our hands and throats in the freezing rain, it was a memorable evening, to say the least. Standing outside the Brandenburg Gate and watching the dominoes fall, surrounded by emotion and a lot of people, we felt like we got to be a part of something. We felt the power and the pride that swelled from the people and burst into the sky.
When we revisited The East Side Gallery, we were astonished at the work so many of the original artists had done restoring their old masterpieces. Funded and organized by the German Paint Maker's Association, 42 paintings were restored to their former glory, and the Gallery seemed somehow more alive for the fresh paint.
We snapped lots more pictures and took our time, feeling lucky to have seen these walls renewed, the sense of unity they represent by standing as a memorial freshened for future visitors to this amazing city.
Getting to travel to places of significance when it comes to growth in the world is a truly awesome privilege for which we are grateful. Walking where others once walked, whether it was to death or to freedom, it's difficult not to feel the ghosts of a place. Would they be proud? Have we come far enough to honor their plight?
Will the people of the world continue to knock down the walls that still linger between neighbors and within homes?
Very much, I hope so.