“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
– John Lennon
This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Fall of The Berlin Wall. With his permission, I thought I’d share an email Odd wrote to our kids in August 2013. He includes a brief history of Berlin and the realities of a not-so-enchanting world.
Saturday was such a rotten day so I thought I should go see a little of Berlin on Sunday. There are so many things to do so it was hard to decide. Berlin has such a complex past. From being the headquarters of the Nazi regime until WWII ended in 1945, to the dividing line between East and West (literally) to becoming the hyper-cultural and edgy town it is today. It has so much history and so many interesting things going on for the future. It is really a unique place in our world history right now.
Warning: history lesson coming up.
After WWII ended in 1945, the allies took control of Germany. The “allies” were the “good guys” from USA, England, and Canada – and the “pretty good guys” (but not really such good guys, it seems) from the Soviet Union. Well, once peace broke out, the eastern powers could not agree with the western powers about how the world should run, so they decided to not meddle in each other’s business and simply divided Germany in half. The Cold War started. Germany became two separate countries with one language, two governments and two flags.
Both sides wanted control of Berlin since it was the German capital. After much debate they decided to let the western allies control west Berlin, and the eastern allies (ok, let’s just say Russia) control east Berlin. They divided the city into the French (they un-lost the war after D-Day on June 6, 1944), British and American sectors. The east sector was controlled by the Soviet Union. Canadians were not interested, I guess. They are so nice.
It’s not really accurate to say that Berlin was divided in half. It is more accurate to say that West-Berlin was surrounded by a wall. The Berlin Wall. One day in 1961, the Russian army started stringing barbed wire across the town to isolate the east from the west. They wanted to prevent people from moving (escaping) from east Germany into west Germany. The wall came up and people could no longer move freely between east and west Berlin. Families were separated, sometimes in the middle of the night, and in many cases, never saw each other again.
So…how do you get to west Berlin if you’re somewhere else in Europe? To get to Berlin from west Germany you have to drive through most of east Germany, which was a separate country – easy to get into but hard to get out of. Not really practical. West Berlin has two airports, so this became the “air bridge” that connected west Berlin to the rest of the world. One of the two airports, Tempelhof, was closed a few years ago after the wall came down, and is now a public park. The runways are still there and people go there to gather with friends, fly kites, have picnics, etc. Pretty cool. It looks like they will keep it that way.
The wall eventually came down in 1989, after having separated the two Germanies for almost 3 decades, and the two countries again became one. They call it “the great reunification”. The Berlin Wall was quickly demolished but they kept a few sections around the world to remind us of what happened. Some were sold on eBay in chunks. Seriously – pieces of the Berlin wall were sold to whoever wanted to pay for a piece of rock.
History lesson ends here.
I went to see one of the two surviving sections of the wall today. It’s strange to think about how this wall divided people. I work with people who used to live in east Germany. They learned to speak Russian in school (believe me – French and Spanish is a LOT easier!) and one of my colleagues told me he could see west-Berlin from his apartment window when he was young. I took a few pictures so you get an idea how it looks today. Of course it looked much different all those years ago. No graffiti, just watch towers, mine fields and machine guns.
This one photographer traveled the world and took pictures of such walls that are still in existence. Those pictures were pasted in large scale onto the Berlin wall. You may have heard about North and South Korea and Israel/West Bank, but did you know there are such walls in Cyprus? Iraq? Spain/Morocco? Northern Ireland? USA/Mexico? Some of these walls are built pretty recently.
I think the photographer said it best:
“Walls cannot solve political conflict. Instead, they reflect the failure of politics.”
When people can’t figure out how to get along, they build walls. But walls never solve anything and eventually, every wall must come down.
Okay I wasn’t quite sure if I should include this last bit, but if you know Odd, he’ll do anything to make us laugh. So with all seriousness aside, he ends the email with –
P.S. I wrote this while sitting at a street café at Alexanderplatz. Please say no to crack. Seriously. I wish there was a wall separating me and this dude right now.