November 9th, 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was jubilation in Berlin when the Germans celebrated the occasion with pomp and pageantry. Leaders from all over the world were invited to share in this historic event. The Media both print and visual, went to town so that people in every corner of the world could appreciate the significance of the broken wall. Though the barrier had crumbled, the entire length of the old wall was illuminated and festooned with lights and colourful balloons for the special occasion.
In 1985, I entered West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie and had occasion to see that wall with all its ugly graffiti. There was a look-out point from where one could have a glimpse of what was happening on the other side. Watch towers, floodlights, machine guns were enough to put the fear of God into anyone. This broad, many layered barrier was called the ‘death strip.’
But on a visit to Berlin in 1992, the wall had simply vanished. Most of it was taken away by souvenir hunters or people who thought they could make a profit by selling bits and pieces of it as souvenirs. A large section was transported to countries like Los Angeles, Chile, South Korea and Luxemburg. Someone reported seeing a piece of the wall in the lavatory of a casino in Las Vegas.
It took over a decade for Berlin to realize that something of the wall must be retained for its historical value. And so about 1.4 kms of length is preserved as a memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall –the Gedenskatte Berliner Mauer.
Though the 12 foot high wall began to be chipped at on November 9th, 1989, the actual demolition of the border fortifications was in June 1990, between Bernauerstrasse and Ackerstrasse. The remnant of the wall is located at this site, with ‘no man’s land’ behind it. Opposite the Mauer is a Documentation Centre which shows a film on the history of the wall. One can climb to the viewing platform on top, to get a view of the wall, the ‘no man’s land’ behind it and the Sopian Cemetery beyond, part of which was demolished when the wall was being built. A look-out tower has also been preserved.
The Open Air Museum on Bernauerstrasse is a monument in remembrance to the divided city and victims of communist terror. It tells of the flight and emigration from east to west.
The Stasi was as bad as the Nazis. All East Germans worked for the government. It was an egalitarian society. No one was rich or free but the free welfare programmes covered education, health, help for handicapped, disabled or sick. The communist regime ensured equality and provision of basic needs. But woe to anyone who clamoured for economic opportunity and freedom as in West Germany! More than 5000 people tried to escape over the walls or tunnel their way through. Many lost their lives. The borders were closed in 1954. At first it was a barbed wire fence and soldiers patrolling with dogs. But in 1961, a concrete wall was built.
The Chapel of Reconciliation is just beyond the old wall. It is built over the sanctuary of the Reconciliation Church that was demolished by the Communist Regime. It is an oval shaped mud structure and its inner walls are lined with wooden slats penetrated by light. A book of the victims lies near the chapel’s new altar. The original church bells are outside this building in wooden scaffolding. The bells are now rung by hand. This chapel was dedicated in 2000. It is a place of worship and meditation.
Elsewhere there is a Window of Remembrance.
Original fortifications of the wall are preserved inside steel walls. It was opened in 1998. An inscription on the outer wall says, “In memory of the division of the city from August 13th 1961 to November9, 1989 and commemoration of victims of communist tyranny.”
However a recent article says there is a section of East Germans who are nostalgic about greater ‘strategic stability’ they enjoyed and consider it a ‘simpler bipolar era’ of the communist regime.
The Berlin Wall Memorial will preserve for posterity a piece of history about the wall that divided east from west. The demolition is a ‘symbol of hope for a world without walls.’