Berlin – for a year my mind has been imagining what it would be like to roam the streets of a city that, in its current state, is technically only as old as I am. Of course, there are centuries of history all throughout the city but it obvious that the events of the 20th century are the most vivid and discussed. A city once glorious, then divided by the very physical manifestation of the Cold War’s tense relations and separatism in the form of the Berlin Wall, is finally reunited in 1989 when the Wall was torn down and a flood of families spilled over to embrace one another after years of separation. It was something I had often heard in my history classes in secondary school – after all, World War II is kind of a favorite subject for Americans, both for the tragedies and the heroism. Now I have been to where before I had only heard and could imagine. My understanding grew and I received a much fuller, larger picture.
Checkpoint Charlie (Checkpoint “C”), in the American Sector, was the best known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Here, many East Berliners attempted to escape into the west, at least 100 died doing so. Families were separated, unable to have any form of contact for many years.The Wall was tragic and terrible, “fencing in” the East Berliners with little hope for a brighter future.
Diplomats, journalists, and non-German visitors were allowed to pass on a one-day visa and had to exchange currencies before entering. Just before I left Washington, DC for Berlin, I had a conversation with a fellow church member who is part of my mom’s craft ministry. She told me that she had gone through while the Wall stood, and that it was one of the scariest thing she had ever done in her life. The faces of those who lived in the Soviet Sector were pallid and ashen faced, much like their buildings. It was overwhelming and depressing, and she was glad to soon be able to return to the other side once again.
Yesterday I stood in front of Checkpoint Charlie.
There was no sign of where the Wall used to be, the division had clearly been mended (at least in the physical sense). Parts of the Wall had been kept as keepsakes and memorials, the graffiti that originally showed displeasure and hatred for the separation it caused were now hung up as art. Pieces of the wall were for sale in all of the souvenir shops (makes you wonder if they are all real…). Portraits of sullen-faced young soldiers, enlarged by several times, were place before the checkpoint – an American face when walking by from the East and a Soviet face when walking by from the West. The Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Museum stood in the corner by the original gate, filled with photographs, video, and most importantly, stories that told of what life was like for the people of Berlin, of both sides, when the Wall stood.
It took several years for East Berlin to recover from its time under Soviet rule. Even today, there is a rather obvious difference in the style of buildings when one “crosses the border.” However, the stark contrasts of decades past no longer exist – people easily cross from one side to the other. Flourishing business have been placed in both sides and the standards of living have slowly become more equal. This is the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and by all accounts, healing has taken place.
And yet, a part of me wonders… While I understand the importance of remembering history and the events of the past, especially in the hopes of preventing the awful ones from happening again, I feel compelled to ask if true healing can take place when all that is talked about and displayed is the hurt. Rather like a wound that you keep checking on by lifting the band aid – it will take longer to heal this way than if you had just left it alone. While the Wall is physically down, I have to wonder if it still somewhat exists in the minds of some residents. Of course, I cannot give an accurate opinion of the state of affairs or how things have changed and improved over the 25 years of my and the unified city’s life.
What I hope and pray for is that the wonderful people of this city truly do receive healing from all that they and their ancestors suffered. May the lessons learned from this experience be remembered by the world, but not so discussed that we forget the progress that has been made since.
I look forward to more adventures here in Berlin as I learn more about this amazing city with all its history and importance. I hope you will join me as I write about my adventures – and feel free to leave a comment! I’m here for the next month, so I’m sure we’ll be discovering many things together.
Bis später – Until next time!