Berlin is an outstanding European capital offering visitors a myriad of excitement. Vibrant, fun and hedonistic on the one hand, it blends history, culture, politics, art and tradition on the other.
At the centre of the city’s psyche stands the Berlin Wall, bastion of defiance long to be remembered as the symbol of the city famous for its black bear. Whether looking to party hard, catch up on German dynamism, play the culture vulture or simply enjoy the greener pleasures in Berlin, you will find it hard to ignore all that is past and present about the Berlin Wall.
The past is very much in evidence in the Wall’s remaining three long sections and in the remnants of the Checkpoint Charlie border crossing point. The fascinating Museum Haus am Checkpoint is dedicated to those who tried, failed and succeeded to escape across the Wall. Standing guard, even today, are large scale images of yesteryear: Soviet and American soldiers.
Even today, 25 years after the Wall came down, it has a powerful poignancy as international European politics threaten to slide back towards another period of Cold War confrontation. Erected as a barrier between West and East Berlin in 1961, and lasting 28 years until its fall in 1989, the Wall continues to symbolise the difference between Western democratic ideologies and Eastern totalitarian paranoia.
The present aspects of the Wall are, by contrast, colourful and fun. Acting as some sort of large open-air arts canvas, the remaining structures display an exciting variety of graffiti art and photographic material. Iconic and mesmeric, the Wall, to this day, stands testament to the vibrancy and bloody-mindedness that is Berlin.
Berlin has been close to my heart since I lived there aged around nine at the height of the Cold War (1970-72). The Wall was one of my earliest unfathomable concepts. I simply could not understand why we were unable to visit the impressive television tower located in East Berlin which you could see daily – practically within touching distance.
In 1985 I returned, crossing the Wall from East (all the way from Beijing) to West, to discover a city in the midst of a violent anti-nuke demonstration. It was in complete contrast to the passive-combative atmosphere in East Berlin. To compound things further I was shot at when leaving a night club by a group of West Berlin youths looking for a post-Heysel stadium English encounter.
On a more recent visit (ref’ my Blog ‘Remembrance Day – Berlin Style’) my daughter and I embraced everything to do with the Berlin Wall as enthusiastically as any other weekend visitor.
As these images show, the Berlin Wall is very much in evidence today, not only as a fun-loving arts project, but also for the dramatic, open and impressive centre of modern day Berlin that has been allowed to grow around the once ‘no-go zone’ that stood so firm between East and West.
The line of the Berlin Wall, which originally ran through the centre of today’s city, is invisible today, allowing for the impressive re-development of Spree River areas near the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Bundeskanzieramt and traditional Friedrich Strasse areas.
A sense of mischief remains, however. One wonders whether the apparently passionate ‘lips kiss’ of ex-East German President Erich Honecker with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1979, recreated in an iconic mural on the Wall in 1989, will last as long as Honecker predicted the Wall would last – 100 years. His prediction was famously uttered only months before its downfall.