Light against the Shadow of the Berlin Wall
„No one intends to build a wall“, said East German leader Walter Ulbricht only weeks before the Wall was built. Deception, death and desperation – that’s the story of the Cold War’s most important piece of concrete, retold through a huge art installation.
Imagine waking up on an ordinary Sunday morning, looking out of your window and seeing barbed wire borders and soldiers lined up along the middle of your city. Families and friends torn apart because of their address.
A little girl was visiting her grandmother in East Berlin and wasn’t allowed to return to her parents in the West. After witnessing this, East German soldier Conrad Schumann decided to desert the army and flee. Because the Wall wasn’t fully built yet, he signaled to foreign journalists to distract the other guards and then jumped over the barbed wire fence. He feared the East German Government’s revenge for the rest of his life – he was lucky, because at least he still had a life.
This iconic jump into freedom happened right at my doorstep and I didn’t even know it – the city grew over the scars of its separation quickly. The former death-strip close to the place where Conrad Schumann fled became a popular park and now people go there on Sundays to watch open-air karaoke. A big part of the wall was converted into the world’s longest open-air gallery and other parts became an open-air museum. That’s the important word – open.
For 28 years, the 155-kilometers-long (ca. 100 miles) Berlin Wall separated the city and its people. At the beginning, families and friends waved at each other from opposite sides of the border, but soon the East German government declared even that a forbidden activity. They built the Wall through apartments, closing up windows brick by brick until they forced people out of their homes to use the apartments along the border to spy on people in West Berlin.
Now it’s hard to imagine what it felt like to live in a state where a huge part of the population were government spies, being under a constant threat of imprisonment and torture for having a negative opinion about the state, or simply not being allowed to use the subway, because it also runs through the western part of your city.
Digging tunnels underneath graveyards, swimming through a freezing river and secretly making a hot air balloon out of old bed sheets to fly over the death-strip – the desire for freedom led many East Germans to be creative. Now, the Berlin Wall leads to creativity again – but this time with a border of light commemorating ist fall.
A symbolic border made of lights, the Lichtgrenze art installation consists of 8000 illuminated balloons, tracing a part of the Wall’s path for 15km (around 10 miles). Each balloon has a “godfather” or “godmother” who will send their personal stories about the wall into the air when they release the balloons on the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, thereby freeing Berlin of its internal border once again.
Along with the balloons, 100 personal stories about life and death in the shadow of the Berlin Wall will be told. You can read 50 of them here.
After years of peaceful protests and political pressure, 3 seconds of a mistake at a press conference made the Wall fall: the East German government decided to allow its citizens to cross to the West and held a press conference about the new rules. A journalist asked when these changes will start and politburo-member Günther Schabowski, looking through his papers, mistakenly said: “Immediately, without delay.”
Actually, the new rules should have come into effect later, they were still strict and people still had to apply for visas. But because of Schabowski’s mistake, tens of thousands of people went to the border crossings immediately and couldn’t be stopped by the overwhelmed and confused guards anymore. And that’s how the Berlin Wall fell.
The East German government called it the „Antifascist Protection Wall“, but that doesn’t make sense when you walk along your neighborhood and see a memorial to an elderly lady who died after jumping out of her window in the East to reach the pavement that belonged to the West, where her daughter was waiting for her.
Olga Segler was one of at least 136 victims of the Berlin Wall.
Rest in peace, heaven is borderless.