23 August 2016

The Berlin Wall, the Importance of Legacy and Hopes for the Future

It's only when I started going to university that I was taught the importance of legacy and keeping historical memory alive. Or at least, I was taught at school, but it was only later that it really hit me. While I had no clue on why my class had to listen to a boring explanation of First World War trenches in Trieste under a boiling sun and a getaway daydreaming of 14 year-olds, at 21, in Berlin and still under the boiling sun, I was much more struck by the U.S. checkpoint and a massive signal indicating the watershed between the two cities in one.

Entering Berlin by car, the first thing I was told to notice was the bare, prison-looking buildings to the right and the elegant, decorated ones to the left. And a line in between. This is what people who tried looking out of their window near the wall that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989 saw: a physical whilst abstract, hopeless barrier dividing humans and building up fear and tension. Ironically, today the line displays advertisements of political leaders for the upcoming elections.

The first stop was to see some of the scattered pieces of the Wall that have been left. This was indeed a vital action since the future generations must be aware of what the Wall looked like and how it was structured in order to stop people from crossing it towards the American sector. The writings were so confusing and I wondered when they were made and by who - besides people visiting Berlin today and wanting to leave a sign, which ones were made by enraged people in 1989, straight after the demolition? Or the days, months, years after it? Shivers ran along my spine as I thought of the families that were divided by it, and all the pain it brought. But I also like to imagine the satisfaction of young and old people running towards it to destroy it at its end. What a joy it must have been.

Seeing this wall made me feel pain, but also hope. Today, a wall the double size of this stands in Palestine since 2002, having destroyed houses, hopes and dreams of several generations. While it currently looks stronger than ever, we can't say that this will always be the case. In fact, this is what the Berlin wall must have looked like to the people who saw it being built, and later standing for 28 long years. I dream that one day, I will see the Israeli wall fall down and the Holy Land simply be in peace.

The contrast between the old Wall and the new walls of the city's buildings...
Next was Checkpoint Charlie, the U.S. checkpoint along the wall. Today, it's a small, white, empty cubicle, but the signal next to it, warning of the entrance and exit from a sector to the other of the city is rather impressive. I wonder how many people looked at it before trying to cross the wall and felt dead inside despite being alive.

Opposite the checkpoint, a big double-sided picture has been erected to show what a standard Russian and American soldier would have looked like in his uniform. I found this another simple but great way to let people know more about those who played an important role in the division.

The souvenirs shops selling postcards of an old and new Berlin are, needless to say, sinister. Pictures that oppose the emptiness and tension years back and people casually strolling today in the same street give you goose bumps, and it's strange to think someone would make such content commercial. But then it's also a way to contribute to legacy. Same goes for the actors taking pictures with people, dressed as American soldiers opposite the checkpoint. Not exactly as fun as the Roman gladiators in front of the Coliseum, but still...

Another important and necessary stop was the Holocaust Memorial, a structure of grey stones that gets deeper and deeper as you walk inside it. The effect reached is very impressive - I thought of it as representing the graves that were never made for all the innocent victims of concentration camps.
I also appreciated seeing a line running around the ground of the city to show where the wall stood. It's vital to not forget.

Despite this post being a little more serious than usual, I felt the need to share what I saw of historical Berlin and the thoughts it stirred up in me. I am aware that this is only a part of the historical heritage of the city - but it's what I got from a day of quick sightseeing and exploring.

If you were in Berlin, what did you think of these historical sites? Let me know in the comments!

Check out my last Germany related post here!

1 comment:

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