28 October 2010

The Berlin Wall

"The biggest tourist attraction in Berlin is the one that no longer exists."
That phrase is mostly true, but not completely. Of course, the Berlin Wall does not exist in remotely the same way as it once did, but I was able to visit the longest remaining piece of the outer wall.
I had a map with an icon that said "Wall Monument" on it. From what I had read, it seemed like a tasteful tribute, as opposed to the tourist-ccentric Checkpoint Charlie, complete with actors dressed as border guards.
The memorial site displayed fragments of the wall in a way that was less literal than it was evocative. I loved this section, where they allowed vegetation to just grow up freely between, on and over the concrete slabs. It was like the wildlife was pulling the relics down into the earth, into history.
There was something about the wall fragments, man-made symbols of permanence and order, overcome by the natural chaos of ivy and weeds that was really striking.
Of course, the Berlin Wall was not simply a concrete wall and remnants of the "death strip" that lay just on the other side of it were there to view. There was a signal line that stretched directly across, surrounded by perfectly smooth soil. If someone managed to scale the wall and the barbed wire, this would trigger a silent signal to the guards in the watchtowers, who could then clearly see the footprints of the escapee in the soil. There was a bed of nails, attack dogs and a triggered machine gun before you could reach the other side of the "death strip."

About 200 people didn't make it and those who perished were memorialized here.
While I was there, I saw people riding their bikes home from work, pushing strollers through, strolling across on their cell phones. It made me think, like at Dachau, how strange it must be to live right there amongst these tourist sites that attract people looking to see "Germany" as defined by so much horror - even as their lives move on and their cultural identity redefines itself.

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