Reflections of the Irony of the Berlin Wall
“There are four kinds of people in the world, Ms. Harper. Those who build walls. Those who protect walls. Those who breach walls. And those who tear down walls. Much of life is discovering who you are. When you find out, you also realize there are places you can no longer go, things you can no longer do, words you can no longer say.” P.S. Baber.
One of the first things I wanted to see when I got to Berlin was “The Wall”. I had heard about the brutalities that had occurred there since I was a little girl and I wondered how such a wall could even exists. How does the line finally get drawn in the sand, or in this case dirt? What is it that makes that final straw for a divider to be put up between people? I saw my first glimpse of the wall stepping out of my cab upon arrival at the Westin. Yes, the Westin!
They have slabs of this wall everywhere in Berlin and there was a big chunk of it right out in front, almost proudly displayed. In fact, The Wall is the #1 tourist attraction in all of Berlin with an estimated 800,000 to 1 million tourists visit annually.
It was a blisteringly cold day when I visited the portion of the wall that still stands, the section without the murals. It was concrete that was old, rough and gray, thin even with pieces of rusted metal sticking out of it in places. It was not what I was expecting.
”That was what the hoopla was all about?” I thought, but as I winded my way down the long, long path of this 12 foot wall, I began to realize the gravity of it. The Wall was not just a single, stand-alone concrete wall. It was two twelve-foot-tall barricades separated by a hundred-yard-wide no-man’s land in a giant perimeter around West Berlin. In the no-man’s land, known as the “Death Strip”, the East Germans had attack dogs, mines, and automatic machine guns to kill the Wall-jumpers that the border troops in the watchtowers somehow missed. In the very special case of the East Side Gallery, the Death Strip ran between the Wall and the River Spree. From 1961-1989, around 5,000 people attempted to escape over that wall, with an estimated death toll of anywhere from 150- 600 people (exact numbers are unknown).
Can you imagine living on one side or the other back in 1961? or the day it fell in 1989? For me, going to Berlin was like going back to the Cold War and that Wall symbolizes the ”iron curtain” that separated Western Europe and the Eastern bloc during the Cold War. Back in 1989 when it fell, there must have been such celebration along this wall, which surely had people chipping away at the wall and taking bits and pieces of it home with them.
Once that Wall came down, Berlin was in a hurry to get rid of it. After unification, Berlin sent pieces of the Wall everywhere. A few tons were fashioned into a sculpture by a Berlin artist Stück and then exhibited in Barcelona. Original panels were freighted to New York; one of them was a gift that remains on display in the United Nations’ Paley Park. You can buy a piece of it for 10 euros in the souvenir shops. You find it everywhere, with murals painted on it, they display it like art in coffee shops and restaurants. But, as the city and the country went about the business of unification, tourists from all over the world began to arrive asking where the Wall ran. Where was the line? It ran everywhere, but it ran no more. Slowly, the city began to realize what it had taken down.
While I was in Berlin, there were demonstrations of people wanting the Wall to not be destroyed any further, the protest at the Berlin Wall was to block the removal of a stretch of wall to accommodate a luxury condominium project planned near the River Spree. Oh, the irony of it all! Luxury living on the Death Strip? Even for Berlin, that was a little much. The demonstrators think of it now as a symbol of hope, they never want to forget what happened here… the history of this nation. I had the chance to speak to one of the directors of a local museum. She was the granddaughter of a Nazi German. Even she has difficulty with the atrocities that her own family has done to others, saying that for her, “it boggles the mind and is a difficult history to live.”
The two sections of the Wall left standing are only a few hundred yards: the Bernauer Straße in Prenzlauer Berg, which has since become the Wall Museum,
and the longer, more dramatic section along the Muehlenstraße on the River Spree, known as the East Side Gallery.
It is a 1.3 km stretch of the Wall that is covered in hundreds of murals and thousands of pieces of graffiti on top of that. East Side Gallery was a collaborative project of international artists who painted these murals on this remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall in 1990.
Some of the best known paintings here are the “The Mortal Kiss” of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev’s mouth-to-mouth embrace. My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.
and Birgit Kinder’s Trabi (Trabant) knocking down the Wall.
The paintings, which still reflect the bohemian atmosphere of Berlin today are a mixed-bag of unusual surreal images,
stretching from the Oberbaum Brücke to the Ostbahnhof. There is also an opening in the wall in this area where a section was removed when the O2 World Arena was erected across the street in 2008. This break in the wall gives access to the River Spree walkway.
TRAVELER TIP: the best city secret of NYC: there is a piece of the Berlin Wall in Paley Park
Paley Park, an urban garden in midtown Manhattan, known for its soothing waterfall and locust trees, is now home to New York’s only segment of the Berlin Wall. You can find it on 53rd Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dr. Cindy Maloney is a long time world traveler who has visited 33 countries and still has a zest for more. She was given advice some 18 years ago from a trainer she hired for her clinic that was similar to the medicine man from Bali in Eat, Pray, Love . He gave her the advice that she wanted to hear. “If you are going to work this hard and so many hours, you will need to take a vacation every 6 weeks of your life, or you are going to get burned out.” As so she did! She focuses on trip reports that include value luxury ideals for families/couples, great places to go and things to do, plus smokin’ deals from airfare wars, to mistake airfares, to teaching you the points and miles games she plays. Her motto is “Stop being so destination specific; let the miles take you where they want to go!”