Nobody intends to put up a wall!
November 8, 2014 6:21 AM   Subscribe

The history of the Berlin Wall in 36 iconic images. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, Berlin is once again divided, this time by an 3.5 m (11 foot)-tall, 16 km (10 miles)-long "border or light" (Lichtgrenze) made of 8000 illuminated balloons, created by German light artist Christopher Bauder.

The title of the FPP is a quote (Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!) by GDR leader Walter Ulbrich, 2 months before the Berlin Wall was erected.
posted by elgilito (21 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Neun und neunzig Lichtballons?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:31 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, my first reaction was that not including 99 red ones was a missed opportunity, but on reflection I don't think an effort to commemorate the cruel, arbitrary political division of a country doesn't need to include a cutesy pop-culture sight gag we can feel clever for recognizing.

I'm vaguely ashamed my initial reaction, in truth.
posted by mhoye at 6:43 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was just in Berlin about a month ago and I was amazed to see that picture of the Brandenburg Gate in that article. It looks completely different now. The US Embassy occupies most of the vacant lot to the right as you're looking into what used to be East Berlin. The left side is now occupied by, not surprisingly, the offices of various commercial interests. You could feel the anticipation in the air for the anniversary. Berlin is just a fantastic city - I'd love to be a 'writer in residence' there for a year or something (but I work in health care, so that's not gonna happen!)
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 7:01 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the great link, which I'll be sure to share!

This video dissects the construction of the Berlin Wall (and a rural border) auf Deutsch in great detail. The visuals are pretty clear but I'd be glad to translate excerpts if anyone has specific questions about the script.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:04 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's an awesome installation. Can't wait to see the film of the balloons going aloft!
posted by Renoroc at 7:12 AM on November 8, 2014

See also: History of the Berlin Wall through maps.

Berlin is great. I've visited a few times now and this most recent visit I decided to try to see the place without focussing on the history of the Nazis, the Stasi, the Wall. Those are all important parts of Berlin history and the government has done a fantastic job making it available and understandable. Particularly liked the Topography of Terror museum. But it's an awfully grim history and after having seen so much of it, I was ready for something different.

What's exciting about Berlin to me is its future-looking direction. Berlin has a lot of amazing stuff going on, young people ambitions, art and music and tech startups and good food. It's still a relatively cheap city (for Europe), so a lot of young people choose to live there. And the German economy is also pretty strong (for Europe), so there's a fair amount of opportunity. I'm kind of looking forward to the time when we can talk about Berlin without talking so much about the Wall, that it's a distant historical memory.

So I like this, a temporary art installation. Beautiful, creative, and then gone. I don't think the Nazi era ever can or should be forgotten, but I kind of wonder if the Wall mostly can be. Maybe in another 10 years the fetish to have concrete slabs just kind of standing around without context, 1km+ away from the actual wall, will be over. They've already built over most of the wall's path in the center of the city, and other parts of open space becoming parks. Let the city breathe again.
posted by Nelson at 7:32 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I remember visiting the remains of the wall when I was a teenager and reflecting on how strange it was to have such a potent symbol of an age chipping away and decaying.

I was born a year or so after the wall fell. The time that it symbolizes is one I never knew, but I could feel the remnants everywhere, like the bullet holes in the statues in Warsaw.

I wonder what the remnants and symbols of my age will be. Bits of the WTC, perhaps, or the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank.

Time goes on, and all of these monuments to violence, control and fear fade away like so many illuminated balloons. I suppose that's the point of the piece.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 7:50 AM on November 8, 2014

I was there, both right before and right after the fall. I had business in West Berlin in the summer of 1989. My hosts took us to the wall at the Brandenburg gate one evening. There was a crowd and the atmosphere was exciting/scary. If I remember correctly there was very limited official passage between the sides, and people on the wall, but you could also see the East German guards with machine guns milling about on the other side (seen through holes knocked in wall). The energy level was one of "yea this is cool but _something_ could happen at any minute, that might involve gunfire (or worse) and we oughta clear out for self-preservation" - and I was with locals! Then we got on the subway and rode into East Berlin. Went through passport control in the subway station, then emerged on Unter Der Linten east of the gate and strolled up a adown a bit before returning.

Later, on a whim, I had my contact there buy me ticket for the Pink Floyd "The Wall" concert. When I told my boss he said "well, I guess you need to go back to check on the project", so lo and behold I returned and went to the concert. I'm a wanderer and explorer, so one day I set out and walked from West Berlin, past Brandenburg Gate, down UDL, and just explored. It was surreal; the city seemed deserted and almost everywhere I turned there were what looked like bullet-caused pockmarks on the stone buildings. The concert was amazing. I bought little pieces of the wall on both visits.

I've been back twice more in the late oughts. One time my hotel overlooked a street where the wall ran. In many places it is now marked by bricks embedded in the ground, so the view out my window showed this strip running down the middle of the street, just like in the balloon exhibit.

The changes to the old no-man's-land strip are just amazing, especially around Potsdamer Platz, where the concert was. What was a bare-dirt expanse has been turned into ultra-modern commercial area and parkland, including the moving "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" (map).

I'm no Berlin expert, but I think the wall was a wound, that now healed has left a moving, beautiful scar.
posted by achrise at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

The balloons appear to cross lanes of traffic, and the text says there's a carbon-fiber pole beneath each. Are German drivers just orderly enough to go between them?
posted by LogicalDash at 8:28 AM on November 8, 2014

I love this idea, but question the ultimate release of eight thousands of these being released. At what point do the message-laden "symbols" become just so much detritus? I picture deflated balloons in trees, in fields, and floating on water. Hopefully nothing will try to eat them; I've seen too many sad acounts of animals dead with bellies full of plastic.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:06 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was just there and walked down about half of the way, it's quite impressive. (I took some crappy camera phone pictures here).

The balloons are not right on the road, but people following the path frequently get into the traffic and there was quite a lot of honking and shouting...
posted by ts;dr at 2:26 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some pure joy there in photo #35. Thanks for sharing. Crazy I was born the year this wall was torn down.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:28 PM on November 8, 2014

Speaking of anniversaries related to German unification, it's also the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
posted by grobstein at 7:23 AM on November 9, 2014

I believe that the East Germans claimed that the wall was erected, in a large part, because at least 205 western intelligence agencies were operating out of West Berlin. That little detail is often left out of the Wall narrative.
posted by fredludd at 8:12 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Death of a Communist State that could only exist by violently confining it's citizens.
posted by TSOL at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2014

My first day in Berlin, I randomly picked up Peter Schneider's The Wall Jumper. Short read, fiction, delightful. Alternating between random walks across the scars of the Wall and reading a few pages of this book was a downright Borgean experience, and made a pretty strong impression on me.
The one sure thing - and here the dialogue on the Wall could take a philosophical turn - was that every improvement in the border system had spurred the creative drive to find a new loophole. The urge to master the Wall didn’t differ in substance, perhaps, from the impulse to climb K2: the Wall, like the mountain, was there; and the challenge would persist as long as the Wall remained standing.
posted by rufb at 11:59 AM on November 9, 2014

I just finished Stasiland, which I found recommended on here — it was incredible.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:06 PM on November 9, 2014

Our Own Private Germany. "After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of squatters from East and West set out to build their own unified Germany. And, despite endless parties, questionable hygiene, and neo-Nazi turf wars, they pulled it off."
posted by Nelson at 4:00 PM on November 9, 2014

Here's an amusing little graphic: Berlin wall vs Palestine wall.
posted by fredludd at 6:55 PM on November 9, 2014

"The Berlin Wall Fell, but Communism Didn’t":
In January 1973, a young mother named Ingrid hid with her infant son in a crate in the back of a truck crossing from East to West. When the child began to cry at the East Berlin checkpoint, a desperate Ingrid covered his mouth with her hand, not realizing the child had an infection and couldn’t breathe through his nose. She made her way to freedom, but in the process suffocated her 15-month-old son....

1.5 billion people still live under communism. Political prisoners continue to be rounded up, gulags still exist, millions are being starved, and untold numbers are being torn from families and friends simply because of their opposition to a totalitarian state.

As important as the fall of the Berlin Wall was, it was not the end of what John F. Kennedy called the “long, twilight struggle” against a sinister ideology. By looking at the population statistics of several nations we can estimate that 1.5 billion people still live under communism. Political prisoners continue to be rounded up, gulags still exist, millions are being starved, and untold numbers are being torn from families and friends simply because of their opposition to a totalitarian state.

Today, Communist regimes continue to brutalize and repress the hapless men, women and children unlucky enough to be born in the wrong country.

In China, thousands of Hong Kong protesters recently took to the streets demanding the right to elect their chief executive in open and honest elections. This democratic movement—the most important protests in China since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and massacre 25 years ago—was met with tear gas and pepper spray from a regime that does not tolerate dissent or criticism. The Communist Party routinely censors, beats and jails dissidents, and through the barbaric one-child policy has caused some 400 million abortions, according to statements by a Chinese official in 2011.

In Vietnam, every morning the unelected Communist government blasts state-sponsored propaganda over loud speakers across Hanoi, like a scene out of George Orwell ’s “1984.”

In Laos, where the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party tolerates no other political parties, the government owns all the media, restricts religious freedom, denies property rights, jails dissidents and tortures prisoners.

In Cuba, a moribund Communist junta maintains a chokehold on the island nation. Arbitrary arrests, beatings, intimidation and total media control are among the tools of the current regime, which has never owned up to its bloody past.

The Stalinesque abuses of North Korea are among the most shocking. As South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye recently told the United Nations, “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the Korean Peninsula remains stifled by a wall of division.” On both sides of that wall—a 400-mile-long, 61-year-old demilitarized zone—are people with the same history, language and often family.

But whereas the capitalist South is free and prosperous, the Communist North is a prison of torture and starvation run by a family of dictators at war with freedom of religion, freedom of movement and freedom of thought.
posted by John Cohen at 6:36 AM on November 11, 2014

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