Irony is a wonderful thing. It greets you at the most unexpected place and restores your faith in the designs of fate. Consider for a fact that Berlin’s most famous tourist attraction is a place that does not, really, exist anymore. When it stood as the most potent symbol in the Cold War era, it not only divided a city but also the complete idea of humanity. For 28 long years it stood, silent and cruel and then one night in 1989 it was demolished, putting together not just a city but an entire definition of humanity.
Ever since its inception in 1949, the German Democratic Republic had faced a constant trickle of human resource drainage. In 10 years, nearly 3.6 million people had left for the West, leaving GDR in a precarious state. And thus in a last ditch attempt to stem the rising tide of outgoing flux, East German soldiers rolled out miles and miles of barbed wire one August night in 1961. The barbed wire was soon replaced with concrete and a sense of belonging with rootlessness. The 155 km long wall was initially called the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier’. Wet Berlin stood, a lone beacon of democracy in the middle of Socialism. Over the decades of its existence the Wall became a symbol of ruthless oppression, complete with attack dogs, electric fencing, floodlights and trigger toting guards. It claimed its first victim a few days after it came to exist but the most horrifying story is that of an 18 year old being shot and left to bleed to death in plain sight of the Eastern German soldiers.
On 17th August, 1962 Peter Fletchener met his end at the Berlin Wall. Today a memorial has been erected on the spot that he died in Zimmerstrasse. It took three decades of East Germans taking to the streets to finally tear down the Wall. The East Germans were up in arms against
the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED) monopoly but the system looked as powerful as ever. And then in an yet again unexpected twist, on November 9, 1989 SED spokesperson Gunter Schabowski announced on the GDR TV that all restrictions to travel to the West would be lifted. The two Berlins came together in a mad celebration as revelers assembled to dismantle the concrete barrier with fanfare and gusto. Berlin had a party like never before.
Today only 1.5 km of the once dreaded concrete barrier stands. There is so little visual difference between the Eastern and Western parts of the city that it is impossible to ascertain where the Wall once stood if not guided by a 5.7 km long double row of paved cobblestones that stand today.
One can avail bike tours along the original course of the Wall. A 160 km long signposted walking trail exists around the wall’s former fortifications. It is called the Berliner Mauerweg and is equipped with 40 multilingual information centers.
A 140 meter long section of the former Wall was re-erected at Checkpoint Charlie in 2004. In a field situated in the vicinity one thousand and sixty five crosses representing all the victims of the GDR era were put up. The temporary installation was demolished in July 2005.
War Veterans’ Cemetery
One of the aftermaths of the demolition of the Berlin Wall was the reopening of the War Veterans’ Cemetery or Invalidenfriedhof. In the GDR era there was a blanket ban on foreigners entering the area and even GDR residents required special passes to visit. Today anybody can visit the tombs that stand with their share of history. Some parts of the original wall and patrol road also exist.
East Side Gallery
The most visited and aesthetically appealing part of the remnants of the Berlin Wall today is the East Side Gallery. It is here that the erstwhile symbol of ruthless oppression has been transformed into a living monument of freedom and spirit. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km stretch of the former wall that has been adorned in murals by critically acclaimed painters near the centre of Berlin in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. In 1990, artists from all over the world gathered to paint the east side of the Wall in colors of freedom. 105 murals of great merit have converted this to the largest open air art gallery in the world. It symbolises hope and dreams for a better future n an unparalleled way; rising from its own ashes like a phoenix.
Notable artists whose work can be seen here include Narendra K. Jain, Kikue Miyatake, César Olhagaray, Gunther Schaffer and Bodo Sperling. One of the most famous paintings is the Fraternal Kiss by Dmitri Vrubel. It is a depiction of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker engaged in a passionate kiss. The mural reads, ” God help me stay alive, among this deadly love.”
However unfortunately due to lack of restoration initiatives, two thirds of these valuable works were destroyed due to vandalism, encroachment and graffiti. Non- profit initiatives in the recent years have restored some works to their original glory and yet circumstances are bleak. Some parts of the gallery are being demolished to make way for luxury apartments. Irony, as they say, is everywhere.