25 years ago a period of social and political change in Europe allowed countries who, since the end of the Second World War had remained in the iron grasp of Communist Russia, to glimpse true freedom once again. Families were reunited after thirty years or more of separation, a country felt whole again and a positive future was in sight. Once a stark reminder of the divide between Eastern and Western political ideologies, the Berlin Wall had effectively split a nation and it’s people in half causing misery for those whose lives were torn apart.
The city itself was split between four occupying forces. British, French, Russian and American zones were set up and a Germany itself was similarly divided. From it’s first inception to the final days the wall itself had been constantly upgraded with increasingly deadly defended and deterrents to stop people from travelling from one side to the other. Espionage and defectors were the initial worry as the Cold War with all it’s paranoia meant both sides were at a constant state of heightened awareness over the threat of post-Hiroshima nuclear total war.
Shoot-to-kill orders were given to the guards manning the watchtowers and the number of people killed trying to cross number in the hundreds. The methods of escape employed by everyday people rival a 007 film and really push home the absolute desperation to escape the repression of the East. After a period of intense and unimaginable suffering, the wall and it’s effects were a kick in the teeth for a people devastated by war.
Parts of the Berlin Wall still exist and stand as monuments to a dark chapter of history. Graffiti art adorns most parts spreading messages of peace, hope and political struggle. One piece of the wall standing next to a carpark telling of the futility of war becomes more poignant when you learn the carpark covers site of Hitler’s suicide; a simple plaque. Nothing more.
Berlin itself, only recently free from paying reparations from the war, can now embrace the future. Construction reigns right now with modern architecture rising across the city in every direction. There is no glamour to the history displayed in Berlin. Rather, the history seems to act as a catalyst to make Berlin and Germany one of the most forward thinking European cities of this century.
Borders are a part of every day existence. They define our physical and mental boundaries and if you travel abroad a passport and visa is (mostly) all you need to continue your adventure. When the wall was erected none of this was possible and seeing how it changed everything for the people involved makes you appreciate the relative freedom we have in our lives. In the end, the bravery and defiance of every day people is what broke those enforced limitations.
In parts of the world today this kind of intense nationalism and conflict still create walls. People who see differences in one another are still determined to claim what they believe is theirs and thousand year feuds between belief systems claim thousands of lives each year. Travelling makes you realise that beyond cultural differences people are the same the world over.
Food, shelter, family and happiness. These are the factors which should really matter to us. So go out with open eyes and an open mind and simply enjoy the new experiences that different cultures offer. When you do that, perhaps walls will become invisible…
In this post are some of our favourite pieces of art that we saw on our short trip to Berlin in 2013. We definitely need to return one day and explore it further. No doubt it will have changed immensely.