28 Years Later
February 5, 2018 12:32 PM   Subscribe

The Berlin Wall fell 10,316 days ago—meaning that as of today, it's now been gone for as long as it stood. Coincidentally, on the eve of this anniversary came news that a previously forgotten 260-foot segment of the original wall had been rediscovered in the northeast Berlin neighborhood of Pankow.

Amateur historian Christian Bormann claims that he discovered the segment in 1999 and kept it a secret over the next 18 years out of fear that it—like nearly the entire rest of the wall—would be demolished. Bormann thinks the segment is part of the original, hastily-erected stretch from the early 1960s, which was built of brick rather than concrete.

For those who can read German, Bormann made the announcement on his blog, which has quite a bit more photo documentation of the wall, as well as city maps that he thinks help to prove this stretch is part of the original wall long thought to be lost.
posted by caliche (29 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I still have the "authentic" chunk of the Berlin Wall I bought when they started selling them as souvenirs. It's still in the little cloth drawstring bag it came in and everything.
posted by briank at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2018

A lot of my friends weren't even born before it was torn down.👴🏼
posted by exogenous at 1:11 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

briank, I have a piece, too! My parents bought it for me as a gift.

I had been to Berlin in 1988, and though we only visited a couple of days, we went to the East for an afternoon and also walked along the "free" side of the Wall itself.

If you find the pictures of a giant-ass cement wall imposing, we drove out of Berlin, across East Germany, and on to West Germany and beyond -- and we thought that the raked gravel, the guard towers, and the dogs were way more scary.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:17 PM on February 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

I just spent a month in Berlin and it feels like the city has largely moved past the history of the wall. Some of the scars are still visible if you look, mostly as new tissue buildings. Most of it is entirely gone now. As it should be. Berlin is one of the great cities of the world and should be looking forward, not back. Of course the memorials need to last. I found the Tränenpalast particularly moving.

The most visible east/west remnant I saw in modern life is the differences in public transit. The U-Bahn still isn't fully properly connected. And where West Berlin has busses, East Berlin has marvelous streetcars. I quickly learned to take those preferentially, they're comfortable and provide a nice view of the city going by.
posted by Nelson at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I took a whirlwind visit to Berlin just this past October; by far the thing that affected me most was the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which is a privately-owned museum with a focus on the history of divided Berlin and some of the creative means people tried to use to escape from the East.

I think that it wasn't so much the quality of the exhibits that threw me, however, so much as it was the feeling that this was for me, a tail-end-of-the-Cold-War teenager, a concentration of all the vague creeping dread I'd been living in during those years. I knew, on the one hand, that the Staasi and the Soviets were supposed to be bad, and committed horrible human rights abuses, but on the other hand, it didn't seem like aquiring more and deadlier nukes was the way to stop it.

At the very end, there's the room devoted to the wall coming down: portions of the wall, reprints of news articles, loops of video footage. There was also a life-size statue of a cellist; I saw that it was a portrait of Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist who spontaneously came out to the wall to play a series of Bach fugues during the wall's takedown, to honor those who'd died trying to escape to the West in the years before. There was also a video of the performance there, also running on a loop; I stood there watching it about three times through, remembering what kind of relief I felt when the wall came down, and I nearly started weeping.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:38 PM on February 5, 2018 [15 favorites]

+1 for Nelson's recommendation of the Traenenpalast -- I don't cry at museums but I might have cried at this one.
posted by thedaniel at 1:59 PM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember a section of the old wall in the French Sector, that was in pretty rough shape even in 1979. I suppose this is as good a place as any to plug my Flickr set from back then.
posted by pjern at 2:04 PM on February 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

i couldn't get a properly auto-translated version of that blog post. did he say why he announced it now, after 18 years? was it because of the anniversary?
posted by numaner at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember when the wall came down and people from East Berlin flooded over. McDonalds gave out free Big Macs. One of the newcomers looked into the TV camera, brandishing his Big Mac, and said, "I never realised capitalism was so generous."
posted by Tarn at 3:51 PM on February 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is still the case because I understand they've been switching over to LEDs now, but as of five years ago you could still see the split from above.
posted by ckape at 4:12 PM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember when the wall came down and people from East Berlin flooded over. McDonalds gave out free Big Macs. One of the newcomers looked into the TV camera, brandishing his Big Mac, and said, "I never realised capitalism was so generous."

A photo from my trip: This is Checkpoint Charlie.

....Okay, to be perfectly accurate, it's the reconstructed checkpoint station house that was rebuilt on the spot for tourists, where three guys can pose for photo ops. But even more so - if that plus the McDonald's doesn't say something about the ultimate strength of capitalism I don't know what does.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

One of the newcomers looked into the TV camera, brandishing his Big Mac, and said, "I never realised capitalism was so generous."

the first one's always free, my friend - after that, you'll want more - and you'll pay
posted by pyramid termite at 5:25 PM on February 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

i couldn't get a properly auto-translated version of that blog post. did he say why he announced it now, after 18 years? was it because of the anniversary?

For a long time there was (understandably) a feeling that the only good section of Berlin Wall was a section of Berlin Wall being torn down. He waited until a time when there would be interest in preserving it as history (which it sounds like is being done).
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:35 PM on February 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

My father was stationed in Berlin and was about to go back home when the wall popped up overnight, and suddenly he was extended by two years to continue doing whatever he was doing there (that he kept hidden from all of us, but involved him speaking fluent German, a thing none of us kids knew he could do until after he died.) I can't help think about that as I think of my own kids, and as i think about it being as long since the wall came down as it stood in the first place, I feel more distant from him than ever.
posted by davejay at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Ode to Freedom: Beethoven, Schiller... and Bernstein The Berlin Celebration Concert, a concert performed on Christmas Day, 1989--less than two months after the wall fell--on the steps of the Royal Theater in what had once been East Berlin. In the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, generally known as "Ode to Joy," conductor Leonard Bernstein had the chorus sing the word "Freiheit" (freedom) instead of "Freude" (joy). Watch it here.
posted by tzikeh at 7:12 PM on February 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Remember the sweet, beautiful, naivete of Jesus Jones with "Right Here, Right Now"?

I remember feeling so... empowered and amazed (my older commie self thinks how foolish that was, Fukuyama-esque and all that).

Still... It certainly was a magical moment and it's sad to think kids have nothing to compare it to.

The dark mirrored reflection for today's generation is 9/11. Instead of the hope of a new world beckoning, the spectre of a dark age emergent from the ashes of the fallen towers of victory of that very new world.
posted by symbioid at 7:14 PM on February 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Well, it was an amazing moment. I did not think I would live to see the reunification of Germany, and then it happened when I was 22. But it didn't go like they said in the Big Brochure. Remember the "peace dividend"?
posted by thelonius at 7:25 PM on February 5, 2018

Remember the sweet, beautiful, naivete of Jesus Jones with "Right Here, Right Now"?
That song and "Winds of Change" by Scorpions are my personal soundtrack of the very early nineties.
posted by soelo at 7:42 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

> did he say why he announced it now, after 18 years? was it because of the anniversary?

Bormann doesn't explicitly say why, except that it is currently in good condition but under threat from exposure, and he is concerned that it could be unexpectedly demolished.

His article is pretty interesting, even if you have to endure a machine translation of it.

He says that this is the only remaining section of the original Berlin Wall ("Berlin Wall 1") still standing in original condition. This is a section of the very first wall thrown up hastily in 1961. Buildings along the wall's course were simply incorporated into the wall--and chunks of those buildings are still there as part of the wall. The buildings along this section of the wall were several bombed-out tenements. Holes in building walls were patched, cellars filled with rubble and/or entrances blocked and then new sections of wall built to connect them where needed.

The existence of this fragment of the wall is a bit of a fluke, because for a few reasons the later (taller and more advanced) wall that was built cut a corner of the original wall, leaving the original wall in a forgotten, wooded bit of no-man's land.

At the end of the article he tells what happened in 1989 when the wall was pulled down--and addresses your question as to why he is making the find public now:
While the later-built wall in Pankow, easily visible and known to everyone, was reduced to rubble and carried off to the Brehmestraße Wall Burial Ground, the original Berlin Wall of 1961 remained on the Schützenstraße corner property, unrecognized until today.

This afternoon, I had an appointment with our drone pilot Guido Kunze to document the condition of the wall's structure and equipment.

Given the condition of the facility, which is currently good but threatened by exposure to the elements, and the risk of my noticing any possible demolition work too late, I decided to make my find public and report it today. In my opinion, this is a structure of outstanding cultural importance and therefore of particular historical value. I hope that the responsible authorities share my enthusiasm and act promptly.

Simultaneously with the publication of this article, the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archeology and the Press Office of the Pankow District Office were informed in writing about the find and requested to press for immediate preliminary protection of the facility.
posted by flug at 7:53 PM on February 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

In 1983 I was with a university group that traveled by bus from Austria to Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

Border crossings into Communist Bloc countries were always something of an ordeal, and the crossing from Austria to Czechoslovakia was about what we expected.

But then a few days later, crossing from Czechoslovakia to East Germany you would expect to be no big deal, right? Everyone in Czechoslovakia has already been vetted to the nth degree, and you're just passing from one Warsaw Pact country to another.

But no--the crossing from Czechoslovakia to East Germany it was AT LEAST 10X worse than than Austria/Czechoslovak border. It was worse than the border crossings into & out of the USSR. My German friends liked to joke that the East Germans were dead-set on out-Communisting the Soviets.

Wenestvedt mentioned the surreality of driving the highway from West Germany to Berlin across about 60 miles of East Germany.

I never had the chance to do that, but I traveled by rail to West Berlin a couple of times. At the border they would switch the locomotive and the entire crew to East German equipment and crew, and conduct an extensive inspection of the train. Upon arrival at West Berlin or West Germany, everything was switched back to West German staff and locomotive.

One time traveling from West Berlin through East Germany, I had a compartment all to myself and was a bit tired. So I put my feet up on the opposite bench and was having a bit of a snooze, as we often did on long train journeys.

Well, that was not a good move with the East German train staff on board. The conductor came down on me like a load of bricks.

"Fünf mark! Fünf mark!"

Yeah, the guy is trying to fine me a whopping 5 marks for desecrating the valuable people's railroad equipment or whatever.

That was one time the dumb American act came in handy.

At this remove, I can't really fathom WHY I just didn't hand over the 5 marks. It's about $2, I'm sure the conductor (martinet though he was) could have used the $2 a lot better than I did, and we had been warned repeatedly and thoroughly to do whatever the border guards and such asked without fooling around--anything else & you risked arrest or worse.

Of course, they also warned us to never, ever, EVER under any circumstances exchange money in Communist Bloc countries except at the official exchange locations. The official exchange rates were kept artificially low and you could get like 10X the amount of money by exchanging on the black market.

So the moment we arrive in Czechoslovakia my friend jumps in a taxi to go somewhere and the taxi driver says, "Hey, do you want to change some money?"


So my friend changes like $100 which under the official rate was 3100 koruna, but he ended up with something like 15 or 20 **THOUSAND** koruna.

So THAT was a problem, because we were there for only a few days and you couldn't take koruna out of the country or exchange them back for dollars at the border.

You had to SPEND them.

And we were already required to change and spend something like a minimum of $20/day at the official exchange rate, and even spending that much was already something of a chore. Everything was very inexpensive from our perspective--even at the official exchange rate--and on top of that it was difficult to find much of anything we wanted to buy at all. These were just not consumer economies and they certainly didn't go out of their way to cater to the shopping needs of foreign tourists. (And the shops that did cater specifically to foreign tourists, also accepted only dollars or other western currency for payment.)

Our lodging, meals, and travel were already pre-paid. So what exactly do you spend all that money on?

So my friend had quite a rough go of it--but he did manage to unload it all by the time we hit the East German border. It took us a long time to figure out why he never seemed to be around for our "free" breakfast or dinner at the hotel.

The good old days . . .
posted by flug at 9:12 PM on February 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh I vividly remember the night the wall fell. I was sleeping peacefully when my then-husband woke me all upset, telling me the wall was coming down. I thought I must have misunderstood him and mumbled, "that's a good thing, isn't it?" No! he said. Turns out he was upset because he had never seen it.

I mean.


I guess all I can do here is point out that I divorced him eventually.
posted by janey47 at 10:04 PM on February 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

I was watching the BBC that night when Olenka Frenkiel came into the studio during an interview and placed a piece of the wall on the studio table. Stunning live television showing history as it was happening. NSFW a few seconds later.
posted by epo at 2:13 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

"I never realised capitalism was so generous."

Then the demon came in and said, “OK, lunch break's over, back on your heads!”
posted by acb at 3:44 AM on February 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is an interesting article from Stars & Stripes, dating from the period just before the Berlin Wall was built, about traveling via autobahn through East Germany to Berlin:
The speed limit on the road is 50 miles per hour and you are given between 2 1/2 to four hours to make the trip. Your mileage is checked and noted as is your time of departure. This is relayed to Checkpoint Bravo.

If it takes you' more than four hours to arrive at your final. destination, American officials will begin the search for you.

You are also briefed on the trip. You are told that after leaving the checkpoint you move 175 yards to an East German customs police barrier:

Here a Russian soldier meets you, directs you through the barrier and leads you to the Soviet checkpoint 50 yards inside of East Germany. You park your car in the center strip behind a low wooden building; the Soviet soldier checks your document and sends you into the building.

Inside the darkened room, where portraits of Lenin and Marx stare unsmilingly down at you, there. is a little window with the glass painted white. You tap it lightly and stand before it. It opens quickly and a hand reaches out to take your documents. In that instant you must ascertain that the hand belongs to a Russian military official in uniform. You may not deal with Germans or civilians.

You present the documents, then wait. Sometimes you are kept waiting 10 minutes, sometimes a half hour. Finally you get your papers back (they must be returned by a Russian military man in uniform), step out into the refreshing sunlight, show them to the Russian soldier again and get into your car,

Your documents are now stamped by Soviet authorities and they have also given you another barrier pass.

The Soviet soldier leads you for 100 yards, then you drive about, another half mile where there is an East German policeman. You hand the pass to him, but do not show him any other documents. He raises the barrier and you're on your own.

You go through the same process in reverse at Bravo Checkpoint in Berlin.

If your car breaks down, you have in your possession two accident report forms. You complete them and hand one each to an Allied or West German driver going in opposite directions. Once you hand in those accident repair forms you must wait where you are until help comes.
posted by flug at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

If your car breaks down, you have in your possession two accident report forms. You complete them and hand one each to an Allied or West German driver going in opposite directions. Once you hand in those accident repair forms you must wait where you are until help comes.

I've heard an urban legend about a Western truck driver who was summarily executed by Soviet troops after his truck broke down on the road between the border and West Berlin due to some misunderstanding about the accident reporting procedure. Not sure if it actually happened, though it seems unpleasantly plausible.
posted by acb at 10:10 AM on February 6, 2018

This Vice News segment about Christian Bormann and the unveiling of the section of original wall he discovered is quite interesting and features Bormann talking about the discovery in a bit of detail. Direct link to Youtube video.
“I kept it a secret because the place needed to gain historical importance," Bormann told VICE News. "It would have been torn down because it was a hazard. Now, it’s historically unique.”
posted by flug at 10:16 AM on February 6, 2018

Bormann's local history Facebook page is also worth visiting. A recent post confirms that the find has been officially confirmed as a section of the original wall and will be protected and preserved as part of the Berlin Wall memorial system.
posted by flug at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2018

Direct link to Youtube video

This comment on the Vice Youtube video is a thing of beauty:

So many stupid people commenting. There is a difference between wandering morons like all of you, and the idiots tagging the thing, simply passing by the wall and being aware of its substance, versus realizing it is a part of the Berlin Wall. That is the significant part. The taggers, the train riders, all of you morons commenting, it would be like giving credit to deer or rabbits for knowing about it.
posted by thelonius at 6:14 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Japanese Prints of Western Inventors, Artists and...   |   Rustic pâté, after Frank Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments