Berlin: The Wall Memorial

Monday, August 11, 2014

I never loved history in school. So many battles and dates and kings to remember, so many things that I could not connect to anything. I did like stories on how common people lived back in the ages and what they did and how they spent their time, but no teacher wanted to teach that. They all had a plan they had to stick to. It wasn't before 2nd or 3rd year in the uni that I realised the awful truth: they were bad teachers - or the system itself was bad, because none of them ever even tried letting us see the bigger picture. They taught lessons as completely separate units, and that's how we students perceived them. We were never told about the connection between things and events that there were. I don't know why that is, but I do feel that I'm lacking an awful lot of knowledge of the world's history. 

That especially applies to the 20th century. In Serbia it is taught in 8th grade of the elementary and 4th grade of high school - both times it's the final year and everybody's concerned about getting to the high school they want to enrol in, or university. The teachers know that, so some of them don't really ask much from students. And here I was last year, in my mid-twenties, coming to Berlin for the first time ever, and having no idea of the Berlin Wall and the post-war events and the GDR and the fall of the Wall... EMBARRASSING or what!

So when I was late for my yoga class one afternoon because the trains stopped for what seemed like no reason (oh, S-bahn, how can one not love you), after staying underground for 15 minutes I decided to go up and then catch a tram or a bus towards the center, because I had no idea where I was. Up I went, only to discover that the station was just next to the Berlin Wall Memorial Park. There is also a Documentation Center that is a part of the Memorial and shows movies, but the one that was starting right then was in German, so I skipped it and took a walk down the Memorial. I found out a whole lot about the Wall and the life in Bernauer Straße - the one I was walking down, one of those where the Wall was. The Memorial shows how the border facilities were constructed and provides a lasting impression of the construction, which once divided the whole country.

I don't want this turn into a history lesson (I mean it would be highly hypocritical haha), so if you want to know more, hop over to Wikipedia page. I'll just shortly say that after WWII Germany was divided between Russia (East), USA, UK and France (West), Brandenburg state "belonging" to Russia. As Berlin is a separate state inside the Brandenburg area, it was also divided between the East and the West, and a wall was built in the sixties to prevent people fleeing from one side to the other - or more accurately, from East to West, because West was going through progress, while East remained poor and under very strict socialist regime. Before the erection of the wall, millions of people (!) had already migrated to the West. (Once more, to get to know more about Eastern Germany back in the days, or GDR - German Democratic Republic (DDR in German), watch The Lives of Others if you still haven't.)

Basically, it meant that Wall was now separating one side of a street from another. People from one side just couldn't get to the other - friends and relatives were now separated. At one point the windows were bricked up so people couldn't jump through the window and try and run away.

Of course, it didn't mean nobody tried. They did, and whenever guards would spot someone trying to jump over the (very high!) wall, they could just kill him. Or her. One of the interactive thingies in the Memorial plays names and ages of the victims when you press it. I stood there for as long as it took me to read the info below, say - 2 minutes? Everyone whose name I heard was around twenty.

The Wall stood there from 1961 to 1989.

Me standing in what used to be somebody's kitchen
Escape tunnel

If you find yourself in Berlin and would like to know more about the Berlin Wall, don't miss this unique exhibition. You can start your walk from the Documentation Center, which is right at the Nordbahnhof station of S Bahn (lines S1, S2, S25). 

I hope you have a nice week! 


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