Last night I watched in tears on my computer the 8,000 balloons drifting up over the city of Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. It was the first and only time I wished I was back in Berlin to experience this. I have a hate-hate relationship with the city and my time there was difficult but an understanding of the impact of the Berlin Wall made me understand the city I lived in more. It didn’t make me like it any more but it made me understand it better. I lived for 18 months in former East Berlin and real solid East Berlin and I saw on the faces of the older generations how this separation had informed and influenced their view of the city, life and the world around them. You still have a massive awareness of the Wall in everyday life in the city from the difference in architecture of the two sides and the obvious affluence of West vs East, even now this can be seen despite the gentrification of parts of the city and the sheer number of cranes working on development. There were apartment buildings on our street that still bore the signs of bullet marks from the liberation at the end of the war. Berlin as a city is still relatively poor and this is part of the legacy of the Wall. Whilst East Berlin and East Germany was separated from the rest of Europe, multinational companies set up shop in West Berlin and major airports were created there. For a capital city Berlin still have very parochial airports in comparison with Frankfurt for example. Berlin is a city that is still catching up.
In the time I lived in Berlin I spoke to a handful of people of my age about their experience of the Fall of the Wall. Whilst I sat, age 14, in my comfortable living room in the south of England watching momentous scenes in Berlin, but for my peers there it was something else, almost incomprehensible. Last night there were crowds again and a massive celebration, only this time being captured on smart phones.
In the first few weeks living in Kreuzberg I spoke to a dad in a playground whilst our kids swung on a swing. He was 16 when the Wall fell and had grown up knowing only a divided city. He told me that in the week after the wall fell his friends rushed to cross over to West Berlin and he was too scared. He couldn’t believe that it was true that you could go across and come back again safely and it was OK. It took a long time for it to sink into his mind and he still had a feeling that he lived in a divided city. Talking about it made him quite emotional.
Another was a man who was married to a French woman and lived in Paris. His family still lived in Pankow, where we lived, and they had been high up in the East German government. He recalls only tens of years ago the poverty and underground bars in Prenzlauer Berg, where now yuppies live with their underground parking where the dive bars were. Whilst he came from an upper middle class background he was very disparaging of the gentrification of the city and the flow of incomers.
Another friend was my hairdresser, she grew up and still lived in Lichtenberg (East), she was a couple of years younger than me and admitted that there were great parts of the former West Berlin that she had never been to as she had no reason to. All her friends and family lived in her area and because of growing up in a divided city she knew no one there and had no reason to go there. She felt that her son would have it better if the Wall still stood as he was now a teenager with influences on him that didn’t exist for her. When I suggested that this was just the time we live in now, she was unsure. She had, to me sad, memories of a childhood under communism but for her they were better and more simple times. I wonder how she viewed the celebrations tonight?
I for one thought that the simple but uplifting (no pun intended) way of celebrating this amazing time in our history was incredibly moving and I envy friends who got to experience it. Thank you to everyone I follow on Instagram in Berlin for bringing last night alive for me (you did a better job than the BBC!).
If you were there last night I would love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a comment.
*If you are on Instagram just check out the hashtag #fallofthewall25 for a personal view of the evening. I loved how Berliners shared old family photos from 1989. This is all still something in our living memory.