runningtheberlinwall

What?

Between 15-23 May, I accompanied a group of 34 Germans on a relay run over the length of the Innerdeutsche Grenze – the Internal German Border that used to divide East and West Germany. This historic event was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of “Die Mauerfall” – the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Organiser Stefan Esser had already recorded GPS coordinates, and we traced the route stopping off at relevant museums and monuments. We did not pass through Berlin itself, which was a unique in that it was island floating inside the GDR. But the name “Berlin Wall” is hugely symbolic and is understood across the world; hence the blog title.

Despite not speaking much of the language I joined the group as the only non-German. At 38, I was one of the youngest there; so most of the others remembered the 1,393km barrier whose path we followed south to north. Both ‘sides’ were represented, and I was allocated to the team comprised principally of former ‘Ossis’. My ‘Genossen’ (comrades) were mainly from Burg bei Magdeburg, and most had completed national service with the GDR army.

It was interesting to hear their reflections: on my travels in Central/Eastern Europe I have noted an ambivalence towards the end of Communism.  Ostalgie may seem like a kitsch fad or a tourism moneyspinner, but there are those who regret the changes and are only half-joking when they mutter “I want my wall back”.

Starting on 15 May at Modlareuth, known as “Little Berlin”, each person ran a minimum of 6-10k per day until we arrived at the Priwall Peninsula on the Ostsee (Baltic) near Hamburg on 23 May. We ran in groups of two, accompanied by a guide on a mountain bike with a GPS base unit, first aid kit and telephone. Between stages we used minibuses, while accommodation was basic, a mix of hostels and school halls.

This was a small piece of history: 2008 saw more talk of a new Cold War and the banking crisis has seen even the staunchest capitalist reflect the downside of the free market. The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and the eventual unstitching of Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain, is a good time to take stock of what those changes have meant for the people of the East.

And while technology makes it ever easier for governments to record intimate details of citizens’ lives, and the Information Commissioner talks about the UK sleepwalking into a surveillance society, we may stop to ponder – in this country where the Stasi secret police spent millions of man hours pointlessly tracking the movements of anyone who might dare to deviate from the party line – where the individual ends and the state begins. And what it means to be free.

All material ©Running the Berlin Wall 2009

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