Remember how I promised you we’d travel together in my first post? Well, I intend to keep that promise. I celebrated the New Year in Berlin this year and in the coming weeks I will take you on a little virtual walk through some of the best places I saw there. We will start by visiting the Berlin Wall or, as the Germans call it, die Berliner Mauer. This imposing barrier once divided the city into two parallel universes – the Western part occupied by the Allied forces and the German Democratic Republic, usually known as East Germany, controlled by the Soviets.
To understand what the construction of the wall meant to the Eastern Berliners at the time, picture this. It is 13 August 1961, you have just woken up on a calm Sunday morning and you realise that the border to the West has been closed. “Entschuldigung, Herr Offizier,” you ask a policeman guarding it with an AK-47 in his hands. “Excuse me Sir, but what is zis nonsense? I must get to work in ze Vest tomorrow!”
He ignores you at first, but after a while he looks you dead in the eye, clutching his gun. “Darling, you are, as we say in Germany, gearscht. You’re in deep shit. You see, until October 1990, this wall will stand here and you will not be able to cross this border unless you want to be shot dead on the spot, as at least 136 people will be over the next thirty years trying to climb over the wall.”
The reality starts to sink in and you exhale deeply. “But my aunt Gertrude lives in Vest Berlin! I am supposed to visit her next veekend!” you tell the guard, confused. “I’m sorry, darling. If it’s any consolation, there are hundreds of lovers, friends and families who will also be separated by this terrifying stretch of concrete for almost three decades. Auf Wiedersehen now, I must really go!” And that’s it.
Of course, that would have been one polite-ass policeman – and one blessed with the power of precognition at that. But it did go something like that. Can you imagine waking up one morning and suddenly being cut off from your closest friends, caged off from the rest of the world like a farm animal? I can’t fathom how difficult life must have been under such an oppressive political regime. It’s crazy to realise that such walls still exist today in places like North Korea. It’s sad how little people seem to learn from their past mistakes.
Today, the wall is covered with beautiful paintings by artists from all over the world. One thing that struck me, however, was the lack of respect people treat this monument with. I was sad to see Dmitri Vrubel’s infamous drawing of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing, “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” (see above) covered with the word “faggot” like an ugly red scar. But looking up, I noticed two other slogans – “Stop homophobia in Russia!” and “Legalize gay!”.
On these cement blocks, you can witness generations of people fighting for their freedom and others trying to rob them of it. This is why I believe the Berlin wall to be a token of the never-ending fight for human freedom, manifested not only in its history but also its present state.
Are you ready to see what the wall that once cut through the city like a sharp knife, causing unimaginable pain and suffering, looks like today? Click below to have a look at my photos!
We can stop here, because I think the last image says it all – society needs to cast aside its comfortable veil of ignorance and get human. We need to stop denying the freedom we all deserve and learn to be more tolerant. On that note I leave you, hoping that this photo overload hasn’t caused you to momentarily suffer from Stendhal syndrome. Next time we will visit some place upbeat, I promise!