Archive for October, 2009|Monthly archive page

Write the Berlin Wall

In Art, Berlin Wall, Germany on October 24, 2009 at 12:08 pm

The energy generated by the anniversary is expressing itself in many different ways, and it’s not just historians who are making hay. Berlin is pulling in artists – or even more than usual – from around the world for projects like Wallbreakers. In the rush to remove any trace of the Wall, little thought was given to future monuments. Everyone was so glad to see it go, no-one considered that part of the border ought to survive as a reminder of four decades of division.

Fortunately, a few sections escaped the chisels of the souvenir hunting wall-chippers and the bulldozers of local authority on either side. Places like the East Side Gallery provide a place to remember, but also a great empty surface for a new generation to express themselves on. Write the Wall outside Tape nightclub is another project where the concrete becomes canvas.

Berlin has its own peculiar energy at any time, but this promises to be a very special month in a very special city.

Berlin November ’09

In Berlin Wall, GDR on October 23, 2009 at 10:19 am

From 26 October, I will be travelling through Germany taking the national temperature as a reunited Deutschland gears up for the celebrations that will mark 20 years since the Wall opened. I will be talking to as many people as possible and taking part in as many events as possible, to understand how both sides – but particularly the former GDR-citizens – are coming to terms with this enormous event.

This will also incorporate the Berlin regional ‘Burn’ a party for the German Burning Man community. The trip will culminate in a flash mob on the anniversary (9 Nov) where people will join hands forming a human chain along the former route of the border in this iconic city.

Provisional itinerary: Bremen; Hannover; Leipzig; Rostock; Berlin.

Hero or villain?

In GDR, Germany on October 20, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Flicking through a broadsheet in a Trieste library, I read that Egon Krenz, leader – very briefly – of East Germany at the time of Die Mauerfall claims he should be congratulated for ensuring there was no bloodshed. Krenz took over as the inertia of the Peaceful Revolution was too much for a government abandoned by Moscow. The day before, I had read a German clergyman’s assertion that media plaudits for the East German church’s revolutionary role had quickly turned to allegations of collusion.

One man’s activist is another man’s agitator; the man at the helm when the government crashes says he was going to bring it down anyway. People are fickle, memories are short and truth is a much a construct as any wall; revisionism is an inevitable consequence of postmodernism. The past is changing: this will not be the last attempt to mould memories of this dramatic time.

Runner’s World UK

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Germany, Running on October 20, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Read my article about running the Innerdeutsche Grenze (internal German border) in the Nov issue of Runner’s World.

Longer and older than the Wall in Berlin, it was just as well defended. This is where NATO faced-off against the Warsaw Pact.

A matter of time

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Germany on October 16, 2009 at 11:17 am

20 years ago today in Leipzig the opening of the Wall was now almost inevitable. The weekly Montagsdemonstration (Monday demonstrations) from the Nikolaikirche were rocketing in size, especially after the decision on 9th October by the GDR government not to use military force against 70,000 increasingly-confident – and determinedly peaceful – protesters.

Gorbachev had made it clear that the Brezhnev Doctrine was obsolete and the GDR government found itself isolated as it realised there would be no reinforcements from an already preoccupied Moscow.

Tonight would have seen hundreds of thousands of East Germans slowly walk through the streets of a city that had a big Stasi presence, singing hymns and carrying candles their now regular non-violent marches around the Tröndlingring.

One can only imagine how they must have felt to be a part of history, to be shaping European politics – about to precipitate the biggest event in German history for 40 years. They were the people.

Leipzig marks turning point

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Germany, Wall on October 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm

With a series of events that includes a recreation of the famous ‘Monday Demonstrations’ that started at the St Nicholas’ Church (Nikolaikirche), Leipzig today celebrates the marches that cranked up pressure on the GDR regime over the course of 1989, eventually leading to the opening of the Wall on 9th November.

9th October was a turning point (see this article for an eyewitness account) when thousands of marchers played non-violent brinkmanship with the authorities – pushing them to see how far they would bend. The authorities had large forces at their dispersal, and were ready to use them. But, for reasons that are still slightly vague – owing to history being a subjective area and of course the regime’s secrecy – this power was not used.

This could easily have been a violent massacre: the East German government had recently praised the response of their contemporaries in China to the Tiannenmen Square protests. But for whatever reason, be it compassion or simply confusion and indecisiveness, the authorities backed down. Maybe they saw the writing on the metaphorical wall. It was the beginning of the end.