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Remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 25th anniversary of its demise

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Berlin Wall

BERLIN, November 3 2014: The Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany fell on the night of Nov. 9, 1989 — an event that captivated onlookers around the globe and inspired enthralled Germans to rejoice in the streets. This week, the wall will rise again.

Germany isn’t redividing; rather, the “wall” — a temporary installation of 8,000 helium balloons, lit from within — will rise along an 8-mile stretch where the barrier once stood, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise.

For two days, the installation, called the Lichtgrenze, will serve as a beautiful representation of the heartbreaking division the city experienced for 28 years.

Then, at 11 p.m. on Nov. 9, the biodegradable balloons will be released one by one into the sky as the Berlin State Opera orchestra plays the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — a symbolic crumbling of the boundary and a celebration of freedom and unification.

It’s one of a number of ways the spectacular fall of the wall — a potent symbol of the Iron Curtain that separated democratic Western Europe from the Communist Eastern Bloc — is being observed this month. Events and temporary exhibits will commemorate the historic moment and remember those whose lives it touched. Add several permanent exhibits and the living museum offered by the remains of the wall itself, and there are numerous ways for a visitor to Germany’s capital to observe the anniversary and consider the wall’s legacy.

That legacy is a powerful one, given that the wall divided Germany’s largest city, isolating East from West, cut through neighborhoods and divided streets, separating families and making strangers of former neighbors.

Erected by the East German government to keep its citizens from defecting, the 12-foot concrete monstrosity was topped with barbed wire, dotted with 302 watchtowers and 20 bunkers, protected by hundreds of alarms and miles of ditches and patrolled by thousands of armed soldiers and their guard dogs. Despite the imposing barrier, more than 5,000 people managed to escape from the German Democratic Republic in the East to the freedom of the West; 136 others died trying.

Today, the best place to start a tour of the wall’s main sights is the Berlin Wall Memorial, which runs for a mile along Bernauer Strasse in the city center. One stretch of the original wall remains at the site; where the wall no longer exists, metal posts are used to mark its former location. Closely spaced but offering a view to the other side, they’re a representation of just how close — yet so unreachable — were family and friends on the opposite side.

The memorial also marks the escape tunnels that were dug beneath the wall and features photos and exhibits that detail how the lucky few managed to flee the East. Next Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will unveil a permanent exhibition, “25 Years Fall of the Wall,” at the memorial.

Physical remnants of the wall exist elsewhere throughout Berlin, and can be easily reached on foot or bike (many companies offer bike tours that focus on the wall). The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch; it was transformed in 1990 into an open-air art gallery along the River Spree, with sections decorated with murals by 118 artists from 21 countries.

At the Mauerpark (or Wall Park), another section provides a backdrop to one of the city’s most beloved green spaces.

One of the most visually striking exhibits about life in divided Berlin is Yadegar Asisi’s Panometer, which is open through spring 2015. Inside, the 50-foot-tall panorama depicts an autumn day in Berlin in the 1980s; it’s viewed from a platform that represents the scaffolding of a house under construction in West Berlin.

Visitors see people running errands, children playing, graffiti artists painting on the Western side of the wall and a group of curious West Berliners standing on a ladder to peer over at the East, across the infamous “death strip” that separated one side from the other. As night turns to day and life continues on both sides of the Wall, soldiers from the East keep watch for potential escapees.

Across the street from the Panometer, the most famous border crossing in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, is now packed with tourists who happily pose for photos with the “soldiers” stationed there. It may be a tourist trap, but the adjacent Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie is a worthwhile, if crowded, place to learn more about the infamous border station, once the site of American and Soviet standoffs.

The museum, which opened in 1962, continues to tell the story of the wall, the Cold War and the few brave people who managed to cross from East to West in tunnels, hidden in cars, and even in hot-air balloons.

On the opposite corner, the new Black Box exhibit at Checkpoint Charlie is an extension of the museum, with special attention given to explaining the events that led to the construction of the wall and, eventually, its destruction.

Round out your education with a visit to one of the three watchtowers that remain of the original 302. The former Kieler Eck tower is now surrounded by apartments and serves as a memorial to Gunter Litfin, the first person killed while trying to escape the East. Litfin was shot as he tried to swim across a canal to West Berlin on Aug. 13, 1961, just 11 days after the wall’s construction began.

It’s just one more of so many everyday reminders of the tragic history surrounding the Berlin Wall, and the way it continues to shape the city 25 years after the wall’s end.

Source: New York Daily News

Several other museums offer visitors a glimpse of life in divided Berlin. The Palace of Tears is set in a former border-crossing station at Friedrichstrasse, where from 1962 to 1989, hundreds of thousands of East Germans said goodbye to loved ones visiting from the West. In 2011, the site of so many tearful farewells was reopened as museum that tells the story of those separated by the wall.

 

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