Thursday, November 18, 2010

Berlin's Wall: A Hurdle Successfully Leaped

A report on Berlin would be incomplete if it didn’t include an acknowledgment of the human cruelty and suffering perpetrated both in and to Berlin during the 20th Century. There were several informative exhibitions in town when we visited: “Hitler and the Germans” exhibit at the German History Museum, “Forced Labor: The Germans, the Forced Laborers and the War” at the Jewish Museum Berlin and The Museum at Checkpoint Charlie. While there are important lessons to be learned from Berlin’s history, especially lessons regarding the attitudes that led up to various events, I’m going to focus this post on the Berlin Wall—because I like its happy ending.

I have childhood memories of the wall being built in 1961, the horrifying news reports over the decades of hundreds of people being shot trying to escape to freedom, the tensions Cold War and the fear over the possibility of nuclear war. Yet those memories are dim compared to the shared euphoria watching television November 9, 1989, the night hundreds of East Germans assembled, climbed onto the wall and started chipping pieces out of it, without the guards firing or the dogs attacking. To think that night that the Cold War could end because of the will and peaceful determination of ordinary people was the best of all possible scenarios. With tears of joy, I pulled out and played two old 45 RPM records over and over that night: Born Free (Roger Williams) and People Got to Be Free (The Rascals). I remember being filled with good will—and love—toward the brave people who gathered by the wall and climbed on it and to the guards who did not shoot.

Some sections of the Berlin Wall still stand. In this area, artists have added their messages:

Throughout Berlin, the location of the old wall can be found by a double row of cobblestones in the pavement.

The Checkpoint Charlie area today:

Ironically, the wall has to be protected with another wall to keep souvenir hunters (or "wall peckers") away.

Near Checkpoint Charlie, an open display of the wall's history, attracts the attention of many visitors:

As I was standing here, I saw these two hands pop over the top of the wall. Reminiscent of the attempts of thousands of people to get over the Berlin Wall, I quickly snapped this photo. Within seconds, the hands were gone. This is one of my favorite photos:

I assume the hands belonged to one of the billboard airbrush painters working behind the wall display:

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