This is kind of a long post, and not a completely happy one (but with a good ending, as we all know). Actually, it partly is very sad and heartbreaking.
Not what I usually write on my blog.
But this is where my heart is today.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of building the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer).
I do not remember the actual day - August 13th, 1961 - I was only 18 months old. But I have seen so many reports, saw so many pictures, read so many articles about it that I know how traumatic those days in the middle of August were. Especially for the Berliners living in the Soviet sector of the city.
You all know the history of the Wall.
Built as an "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" ("Antifaschistischer Schutzwall") by the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), it completely cut off Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. The East German government claimed the building of the Wall as a protection for the people in the GDR, but in truth it should prevent the massive emigration from the East to the West that was going on in post World War II Germany.
It divided my country for 28 years.
Until that joyful day, when, thanks to the peaceful protest movement of the people in the GDR, the Wall fell down, November 9th, 1989.
I took this photo in spring 1990, when officially the GDR still existed. The white sign on the left reads "In die DDR 200 Meter rechts" (To GDR 200 meters on the right). What a farce!
I took many pictures of the Wall, most of them in the 70's and 80's, but unfortunately they either got lost during our move to the States or they're doing a really good job in hiding.
This is a tiny part of the Wall that now belongs to the Wall Museum at Bernauer Straße. In front you can see the wall facing West Berlin, followed by the "death strip" and then a second concrete wall, the hinterland wall. The Wall actually was two walls with a huge area in between, lined by guard towers and completely illuminated by night.
This is one of the guard towers. It now stands in the Newseum in D.C.
Peeking was not allowed, and not possible anyway.
What can you say in the face of such ugliness?
The human tragedies were heartbreaking.
Families were divided. People desperately jumped from windows to the West before those windows were "walled". One of the most famous photos of those days is of a East German soldier, Conrad Schumann, jumping over barbed wire to freedom - a desperate act. People tried to save just their life and left everything behind.
On August 24th, 11 days after the beginning of building the Wall, 24-year-old Günter Litfin was the first person who was shot to death while trying to flee the GDR by crossing the Wall. He was followed by at least 135 more people who were dreaming of freedom and found a violent death instead.
There are crosses to remember them. They were erected among the modern government buildings, where the Wall used to be.
It pierces my heart.
You can find this part of the Wall in D.C.'s Newseum. There is an entire section about the Berlin Wall.
It's one of the most interesting museums in D.C., by the way, and a must if you're interested in the news.
Brandenburg Gate belonged to East Berlin. The quadriga on top always faced the east, so we could never see it from the front during those 28 years.
It was a good day when I could finally see it from the "right" side and stand in Pariser Platz like any normal person in any normal city.
This is Potsdamer Platz. It was one of the liveliest places in Europe before the war. Then it was divided, the Wall ran right through it and the whole area was deserted - a vast emptiness. Today it is modern and lively again, not necessarily pretty but interesting. A few parts of the wall are left here where the original wall used to divide the area. As you can see the Wall was built of individual huge blocks of concrete, and here you can also see how high it was compared to the people standing next to it.
The shaded stripe reads "Berlin Wall 1961-1989" and runs exactly where the Wall used to be. It ran right through the heart of the city.
It is difficult to imagine that today, more than 20 years after the Wall came down.
The writing on this part of the Wall says "In 1989 the first gap in the wall was created here" - I don't know whether that is really true, but it doesn't matter for me. They had started somewhere...
Today you find this when you visit Pariser Platz at the Brandenburg Gate.
I really don't know whether I should cry or laugh about it.
My history is connected to the Berlin Wall. I grew up with it, I feared it, I hated it.
I grew up with two Germanys.
The GDR was more foreign than any foreign country.
Whenever I come close to the old border and the few places where you could actually cross it (with long waits and sometimes lots of humiliation) I still shiver.
And I'm grateful that it's history.