Sunday, 9 November 2014

Watching the Wall fall from afar

As unlikely as it may seem, ripples from the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago today were felt as far away as the tiny town of Warwick in Queensland.

At the time, we had Karsten, a year 11 German exchange student, staying with us.

As if the shock of landing in the middle of regional Queensland wasn't enough, it came at a time when this massive, history-shaping event was unfolding back in his home country.

A remnant section of the Wall
Watching the Wall come down on TV, you could see Karsten's disappointment grow.

I can imagine friends asking him today where he was when this major national event took place: "Did you go to the Wall to help smash it brick by brick?"

"No.  I was in Warwick," he'd have to reply, probably with a tinge of bitterness and regret.

The history of the Berlin Wall has always fascinated me as it always seemed to me like one of most absurd concepts in history: completely encircling and shutting off an entire part of a city.  An act that immediately divided families, blocked people from their workplace, and suddenly made it deadly to get to a part of the city they may have once roamed.

Fast forward a decade or so and I was desperate to track down any remnants of the Wall while visiting Berlin for the first time.

One of the Wall's former guard towers

It was the early 2000s and Berlin had clearly had enough of the Wall imposing itself on the city and were happily forging on with the future.

Dozens of construction cranes loomed over former East Berlin, particularly over the strip of land that the Wall formally occupied that was now valuable inner city real estate.  On the way out were the drab and decaying Soviet-inspired buildings to make room for new shiny glass towers.  Capitalism had arrived.  

An outline of where the Berlin Wall once stood
However, I could find sections of the original Wall.  Miraculously, these sections hadn't been smashed up and sold to tourists.  

I imagine the Berlin Wall has become like Jesus' wooden cross - there are enough alleged "original fragments" sitting around the world to recreate these objects a thousand times over.

Thankfully, a campaign to save Wall remnants was beginning to gain ground.
The campaign to save parts of the Wall
One of the most poignant reminders of the Wall was a simple row of white crosses, then located on the Tiergarten fence, near the Brandenburg Gate.   It's a memorial to those died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall.  

Chris Gueffroy was the last person to be shot trying to make his way to West Berlin - just nine months before the Wall came down for good.

An original carnation of White Crosses memorial

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