The Lightness of the Berlin Wall

Remnants of the Wall are everywhere in Berlin. Sometimes they are prominently displayed, ripped from their origins and installed like an exhibition in a museum. In other places, they are hidden–anonymous, half shrouded in brush alongside a train station. Or, they are overtly commemorated, as they are at the Berlin Wall Memorial.

While the title of the “Berlin Wall Memorial” is somewhat un-ceremonial, this memorial captures the starkness of the wall with tall, vertical bars of iron tracing where the wall stood–like a jail cell.

Sarah at the Berlin Wall Memorial

Potsdamer Platz also seems to capture the duality of the city–that is, a bright future atop a dark past, though at Potsdamer Platz, the present has overtaken the past; all that remains of the wall are a few large pieces standing outside the entrance of the shopping center, which has been built on what was formerly no-man’s land (i.e., a sparse, heavily guarded boundary on the east side of the wall–the communist side–where snipers in guard towers watched the border 24-hours a day). Though inside the shopping center is an entire exhibition devoted to the history of the wall in Berlin.

Now Potsdamer Platz contains a large office park with modern architecture, a shopping mall, fancy coffee shops, and a significant train station. When Sarah and I first saw Potsdamer Platz and the exhibition there, I was somewhat appalled at the people taking selfies and family photos in front of the pieces of the wall. They were mocking it, instead of paying reverence to the suffering it symbolized. But since then my opinion has changed. The scar of the wall remains as the city has rebounded, rebuilt, and reunited around its progress toward its new history.

On the 9th of November, 2014, Berlin celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the fall of the wall. To commemorate the fall of the wall, the city of Berlin allowed two artists to trace the wall in illuminated, helium balloons. And on the 9th of November, the public released all of the balloons with messages–prayers–for the current and future generations to know about the wall.

It’s here that I learned that the horror of history can be treated lightly. That the mark of division, suffering, while torn down, must not cause fear, but inspire hope, awareness, and courage. I think the Germans understood this better than I.

So, when a new friend suggested we join his group and walk the length of the wall, Sarah and I said yes. It was a great walk, gripping, bustling, but lighthearted. We laughed and talked as we meandered through the exhibition–the former place of the wall–and between sips of beer, remembered the gravitas of it all.

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