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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Up Against the Wall

UPDATE, October 25:  And now, a few months on:  Deal just announced for Paul Greengrass film based on my upcoming book related to this subject.  

Earlier, May 2: Back home after six full days in Berlin, visiting daughter, husband, grandson...much to report and reflect on...but for now....Experienced much Cold War history, though not nostalgia, as we were staying in Eastern Berlin and, in fact, nearly every place we visited had been in the old East (well, there was also the soccer match at Hitler's 1936 Olympics Stadium in the West).  We toured the DDR Museum, which includes a Stasi interrogation room and prison cell, and so on, but Tuesday was the highlight:  a visit to the main Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse.

 It extends for several blocks and includes not only rare lengthy sections of the original and the renovated Walls, and "death strips," but also tributes to the more than 135 shot or otherwise killed trying to escape;  a small visitors center with photos and films; and much, much more, and very tastefully done.  There's even a sculpture that has also been placed in... Hiroshima.  All in all, one of the most impressive public memorials I've ever seen and at the very spot of so much drama and tragedy, not re-created in a perhaps more central, Disney-fied area.  You can really visualize and feel the history.  Apartment buildings bordered the sidewalk and street which were in West Berlin--and they could, and did, leap from windows, some to their deaths, before the East Germans bricked up the windows...Of course, the fall of the Wall plays a key role in current acclaimed film on Beethoven's Ninth that I co-produced.

A few photos.  First, perhaps the most moving spot, which displays the faces of some of those who died, on semi-transparent material through which you can see the remnant of Wall itself.

A large church once stood right up against the Wall and there are fascinating stories about people trying to escape via front door before Wall built higher.  But behind it, in East Berlin, was a cemetery which got partly dug up, and partly closed off with an inner wall, which still remains, viewed here from a memorial on the old church grounds where they hold daily services for the dead.   Folks tried to sneak through cemetery to freedom but even this inner Wall had signal devices to warn guards.  You had to get over this wall and then crawl across death strip to reach outer wall. Guards had shoot-to-kill orders.

Some of the former church people, after the fall of the Wall, gathered up some of the semi-smashed pieces and erected their own monument to protest what had happened decades earlier.

Meanwhile, on the West side of the Wall...

Underground at the site are remains of some of the tunnels people dug to reach the other side.  In one famous 1962 episode, 57 crawled through to freedom on a single night before someone finked and the tunnel blocked.  Still, others kept digging....And one more victim who died in escape attempt:


paula said...

I did a series of posts on the wall on the 20th anniversary of its fall, available here: http://bit.ly/MWsvVF
The posts are a bit clunky, but you'll find some choice nuggets in there, if you read the whole thing. I'm sorry the
Spiegel TV footage is no longer available, but will try to find a link for you. It's raw news footage taken on the night of the fall at one of the crossings. Best to you.

paula said...

Bingo! http://ryeberg.com/curated-videos/ryeberg-playlist-the-berlin-wall/

In 2011 this video footage was voted into UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register. I'm surprised I was able to find an archived copy. Amazing reporting.

paula said...

I look forward to reading more of your takes on the memorial. Apparently, not everyone is moved by it. My German daughter-in-law finds American interest in the wall weird and intrusive, but maybe that's just her. If I had not been in Berlin and Leipzig a few months after the breach but before unification, I might not have found the story so compelling either.

Greg Mitchell said...

Paula, thanks for all your comments. I will be doing posts on other aspects of my Berlin visit. As someone who has written two books and hundreds of articles on the atomic bombings, it was interesting to see sculpture the artist placed both at the Wall and Hiroshima (and Coventry). You should check out book linked to our Beethoven movie for full chapter on young East Berlin woman.