Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the opening up of the Berlin wall. In the days that followed, euphoric, defiant Berliners – some with their bare hands – tore down sections of the ominous structure which had dissected their city for 28 years. Constructed almost overnight in 1961, the wall had split Berlin in two, dividing families and friends, not just into two halves of the city but into two countries, and two very different worlds.
I remember watching the scenes on the news back in November 1989, witnessing the droves of East Berliners heading through the city check points into West Berlin and out of the Soviet Union.
The world of political intrigue, spies and conspiracy theories has always captured my imagination, inside the pages of novels and on the screen. One of my favourite authors is John Le Carre, and the brilliant ‘The Spy who Came in from the cold’ is one of his best. Set in Berlin in the 1960s, the story of espionage has at its centre the sinister and ever-looming presence of the wall.
In October 2015 I visited Berlin to finally see the wall for myself. From the U-bahn station right outside our hotel in the vibrant and Bohemian Friedrichshain area it was just a 10 minute ride to AlexanderPlatz in the centre of the city.
The Berlin Radio Tower dominated from above, another dark reminder of Soviet control. From there we walked to the East Side Gallery as the last remnant of the wall is now known.
The Gallery is 1,316-long and a heritage-protected landmark which attracts millions of visitors each year. It consists of over 100 paintings by internationally renowned artists. Most of the works are poignant, some hard-hitting, on themes of freedom and oppression. Below are just a few.
Over the years, ordinary Berliners have made their own marks through the addition of graffiti. Some of the damaged art was been restored, but not all. It was easy to lose perspective as we admired and took photographs of why this structure was erected and what it represented for so many people for so many years.
There is graffiti all over Berlin
and some interesting street art too
The Brandenburg Gate was built in the 18th century on the land of the Electors of Brandenburg, near to their traditional hunting ground, the Tiergarten. When the wall fell in November 1989, Berliners from east and west of the city converged on both sides of the wall at the site of Brandenburg Tor (gate), united in their determination to break down the barrier that separated them. It was spine-tingling to be standing there myself. Of course, the area looked so very different in 2015.
Checkpoint Charlie, the American Army border crossing, is now iconic, and a museum piece. The place where many lost their lives, shot down as they attempted to defect to the west, looked slightly surreal in the middle of what had become a thriving shopping street.
Throughout the 1990s and the beginning of 21C, Berlin has reinvented itself as a beacon for culture, freedom and liberty whilst cherishing and rebuilding its great heritage. I have read that there are mutterings about finally removing that last section of what many in Germany feel should now be assigned to history. I completely understand that. I’m just glad I had the chance to see it.