And the Wall came tumbling down
More than two decades after it was toppled, the Wall that once divided Berlin has almost completely disappeared. But it is not forgotten. The memory of the historic concrete border lives on in Berlin. We retrace its path.
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There’s no stopping this Trabbi. It bursts through the Wall to freedom without sustaining a single scratch. Unstoppable it may be, but over the years graffiti almost destroyed it. That’s one reason why Birgit Kinder is repainting the Trabbi in the East Side Gallery – for the fifth time. Surrounded by tourists and a Japanese television crew, she’s been touching up her painting on the concrete wall on Mühlenstraße since the early morning.
Nineteen years ago, artists from all over the world painted their euphoria onto what remained of the fallen Wall and created the East Side Gallery, the longest open-air gallery in the world.
The Wall’s demise also marked the start of Birgit Kinder’s career as an artist. In 1983, she moved from her native Gehren, in Thuringia, to East Berlin, working there for the railroad company and attending art classes in the evening.
When she heard the news about the Wall, she said to herself, “This is my chance. All the walls are gray now,” Ms. Kinder recalls today. She first painted the Trabi picture in July 1990. “I felt I had to get everything off my chest. We were so sick of being cooped up, of the general drabness,” she explains.
On the trail of the Berlin Wall
Symbol of division, symbol of unity: After the Wall was erected, Brandenburg Gate was suddenly in the middle of no man’s land, where it remained closed to the citizens of East and West Germany alike for the following 28 years. On December 22, 1989, shortly after the fall of the Wall, the gate was reopened and underwent extensive renovation work. It now stands at the heart of the reunified capital, a short distance away from the Reichstag and Chancellery buildings.
Go, Trabbi, go: Images of Birgit Kinder’s painting of the GDR’s iconic little car bursting through the Berlin Wall went all around the world. She first painted it in July 1990, using her own car as a model. The section of Wall with the Trabbi painting still exists today as the East Side Gallery, but the artist has meanwhile had to repaint or touch up her famous work four times because it was constantly being obliterated by graffiti.
Just a wall like any other today , but for 20 long years, the relatively low rampart was patrolled by armed East German border guards and virtually insurmountable. It was not until November 1989 that the soldiers merely looked on as their so-called “anti-fascist rampart” was stormed and climbed by Germans from both states.
Monuments and museums recall the Wall
Only in a few places are fragments of the Berlin Wall still preserved today. The rampart had torn apart what belonged together, even caused deaths – and that is why people wanted it to disappear quickly after its demise. Yet in many places around the city, the Wall has left its traces. This six-kilometer strip of paving stones runs like a scar through the German capital.
A familiar scene from movies and television: During the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was the most important border crossing between West and East Berlin, frequented equally by agents and diplomats. Today, a perfect reenactment of history is staged here providing tourists with a great photo opportunity. Actors in uniform are even employed to pose for snapshots.
“Know history so it will not repeat itself”: The Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße in Berlin-Mitte is less spectacular but more dignified and earnest reminder of the “antifascist rampart” and its victims. An extension to the memorial is scheduled for completion by 2011.
In 1990, 188 artists from 21 countries created the longest open-air gallery in the world on a 1.3-kilometer stretch of the Berlin Wall. This summer, they restored their original paintings and added a coat of protective sealant. Admission free.
East Side Gallery, Mühlenstraße, Tel. +49-30/251 71 59, www.eastsidegallery-berlin.com
The Berlin Wall Memorial shows the Wall’s true scale. Its Documentation Center retraces the Wall’s construction and the Chapel of Reconciliation holds four weekly memorial services for victims.
Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, Bernauer Straße 111, Tel. +49-30/467 98 66 66, www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de
Jürgen Litfin has turned a former watchtower near Humboldthafen dock into a small museum and memorial for his brother and all other victims of the Wall.
Gedenkstätte Günter Litfin, Kieler Straße 2, Tel. +49-163/379 72 90, www.gedenkstaetteguenterlitfin.de
The museum is not exactly bright and modern, admittedly, but the exhibits are well worth a visit. A hot-air balloon, a powered kite and a mini-submarine are among the unusual means of escape displayed.
Mauermuseum Friedrichstraße 43–45, Tel. +49-30/253 72 50, www.mauermuseum.de
pictures: Masterfile; Bärbel Schmidt; getty images; Agentur Huber (3)