The hated Wall came into existence on the 13th of August 1959 – a huge surprise in the morning. It was the best kept secret. NOBODY had any knowledge of the plans for it. It divided the great city of Berlin into East and West, and cutting families from families, in many cases even along the center of a street. The ‘Fall of the Wall’ was a another surprise in 1989 as hundreds of thousands marched and the East German Police put their guns down and watched helplessly as the wall was stormed. I watched the happening on TV and thought it was a trick film as people climbed the wall and started dancing on it. Secure gates were broken down and East and West people hugged, laughed and cried and couldn’t believe that no shots were fired. Finally, in June 1990, every effort was made to remove the hundreds of miles of the hated monster. Lots of souvenirs were sold after the “Fall of the Wall” in 1989; thousands of people hacked and picked and took parts home as a reminder of the terror it has caused. I know two people who showed me their treasure, a little piece of the wall. Thousands of people all over the world have a piece and it is impossible to track them all down.
Berlin did not destroy all of it. An ‘Open Air Gallery’ has attracted artists from all over the world to create their art on long parts of the wall. Many places in Berlin now have memorials, one is called ‘Parliament of Trees against Terror and War’ – an imaginative creation by Ben Wagin, using sixteen trees and fifty-eight original wall parts. Tourists visit those places and take photos. There are more memorials: the ‘Mauer Park’ and the ‘Topography of Terror,’ an original part of the wall with Hinterland and Death zone, another one with the tower used by sharpshooters. The Berliners are maintaining these reminders to show the world what has happened here. It is a warning to be vigilant and not let it happen again.The Berlin Wall was built to keep people “in” since they were escaping by the thousands each day. I was one of them.
But not only the Berliners kept relics and built memorials. A commission from Japan came in 1990 and bought two parts for a Museum Village honoring the saving of German Seamen in 1873.
The most extensive collection of the wall is found in the Newseum in Washington D.C. The CIA in Langley, Virginia also displays three relics, and another three are gracing the Garden of the UN Main Office Building in the USA.
Winston Churchill coined the expression ‘The Iron Curtain’ in 1946. His granddaughter, Edwina Sandys, a wellknown sculptor, incorporated eight wall pieces in her ‘Freedom Memorial.’
South Korea was encouraged by the ‘Fall of the Wall’ that a unification is possible. They have five relics of the Berlin Wall in their Theme Park in Uijeongbu, representing the dream of their own ‘Unification’ with North Korea. Right now it is a very timely dream, and we hope it comes true soon. The leaders of both countries shook hands across the border and had long friendly talks.
You will find a piece with personal graffito of the Berlin Wall in Kingston, Jamaica, next to the Military Museum. It was a gift from the city of Berlin to the sprinter Usain Bolt after he ran a world record during the Berlin World Championships in 2009. Amazing that many years after the ‘Fall of the Wall’ a relic of it is still a precious and welcome gift.
It is interesting how a piece of the wall came to be at the Vatican: The Italian businessman Marco Piccinini obtained a segment during an auction in Monaco and gifted it to Pope Johannes Paul II.
Last but not least, the City of Berlin presented a piece of the wall to the Freedom Fighter Nelson Mandela when he was released after twenty-seven years in prison. Due to Nelson Mandela, the Berlin Wall is represented in Kapstadt, South Africa.
My personal experiences happened before the wall was built. I escaped the East in 1955. My parents had a close call the day before the infamous “Wall” was put up overnight and saw the light of day on August 13th 1959. My parents tried to escape on August the 12th but did not make it. (see my book “We Don’t Talk About That“) Our family was divided for fifty years. It was interesting to see the new generations struggle with the new reality. The younger people in East and West had a difficult time understanding each other. During those fifty years of communist indoctrination in the East, a lot of brainwashing had taken hold.
We don’t want more walls! The only one we can accept and appreciate when traveling is the Great Wall of China.
A timely reminder as another wall lurks. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful writing.
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