The Wall in the head
Five years after the Berlin Wall tumbled, divisions between east and west remain, argues Frederick Baker, while on the following page, The List looks at the city’s vibrant arts scene, post—unification.
fter the democratic revolutions of 1989, Europeans are united by what used to divide them — the Berlin Wall, the most brutal heart of the Iron Curtain, which split Europe from the Baltic to the Balkans. Spend a few lingering at the former bordercrossing Checkpoint Charlie and you’ll see Spaniards, Poles and Scots confused and all asking the same question, ‘Where was the Wall‘?’ The Berliners don’t need to — they have the Wall in their heads.
The souvenir sellers are only too happy to assure tourists that the brightly coloured rocks they sell for a couple of marks are the real thing. Insiders know these are fakes and you’d be better off checking out one of the many roadworks choking Berlin. Most ofthe real Wall was collected in so called ‘Wall graveyards’ before being crushed and turned into hardcore for new roads relinking East and West Berlin. The rest ofthe Wall is spread around the world: outside Japanese banks and Hard Rock Cafes. and by the cognac heiress Ljiljana Hennessy’s fireplace.
Today. Berliners are in a bottleneck. caught between more than 40 years of unfinished business and the glittering future that they hope the city’s becoming the seat of government will bring. Caught in thisjam, it is a frustrated city. desperate to flee its Nazi and Stalinist legacy. longing to escape into a future of prosperous normality which Stuttgart and Hamburg enjoy. The money that was used to fund artists and exhibitions is now going into tunnels and bridges. Berlin is the biggest building site in Europe. The city’s skyline is full of huge cranes building the new Berlin. They swing
palettes through the air like enormous metal storks bringing the next generation.
The problem for Berliners is that in building high for the future capital they have to dig deep into past layers. including the foundations laid by Hitler’s architect Speer for the Nazis’ dream
capital. Today, Britain’s star architect Norman Foster is grappling with the conversion of Berlin’s new parliament building the Reichstag. One of his tasks is to remove the bulletholes left by the Red Army on what they saw as Germany’s Kremlin. That the capture in 1945 of a symbol of democracy, the Reichstag. rather than one of dictatorship, Hitler’s Chancellery, caught the occupants of the Kremlin’s imagination. clearly signalled that for Berliners the war was not over. This generation of young Berliners were born into their occupiers’ East-West conflict and, though the old watchtowers stand empty, the division still occupies Berliners’ minds, producing a sectarianism that became very clear when the Allies were leaving. The West Berliners waved Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes, the East Berliners waved Red flags. East Berliners are fighting to preserve parts of their old identity, and paradoxically feel closer to the Russians — and other elements of the past like eastern rock bands or soap powders — than before the wall came down. Gerlind Klemens. a young East Berlin photographer, grew up with the Wall and a distanced awe of the Soviets. Only while exploring one of the many deserted Russian barracks in and around Berlin and stumbling across a remarkable collection of photographs showing life behind the barrack walls, did she feel any familial ties to what the party dubbed her ‘Big Brother’. Now that Belfast. another divided European city. also has a ceasefire, the lesson from Berlin five years after the death strip claimed its last victim. is that the concrete Wall is easier to remove than
i: - a the Wall in the head.
Frederick Baker is an Assistant Producer
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12 The List 21 October—3 November 1994