Our day started earlier than the day before. Our hosts assuming our bout with jet-lag is over. Not for me. But that was the only time the other visiting journalists and I could sit down and meet Erik Kirschbaum, Reuters Berlin Correspondent. He covers economic issues, including German’s thriving Renewable Energy industry. But most intriguing was his talk about who and what event “really” brought down the Berlin Wall. Well, in Erik’s book, “Rocking the Wall,” it seems Bruce Springsteen played a MAJOR role. Some 300,000 young people, screaming for change, packed his East Berlin concert, half of them didn’t even have a ticket!
Well, most of my fellowship, so far, has been spent in the former Communist East Germany. (My hotel is considered in the middle, walking distance from “Checkpoint Charlie.”) Much of today was spent in a hidden EAST neighborhood, home of the former Stasi Prison and a tour of the Hohenschonhausen Memorial.
The Stasi Prison is where the Soviet Secret Police “banished” resistors and people trying to flee East Berlin. Many prisoners were kept in damp basement cells called the “submarine.” The rooms recalling this brutal history was made even more real with a photo exhibit of the prisoners.
We later met with Richard Meng, a spokesman for the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and Undersecretary and Speaker of the Senate of Berlin. He touted “tourism” as one of Berlin’s biggest economic sectors. And I see why. When we left the prison, I noticed a sign alongside the road – “Welcome to DDR-land.” DDR was the East’s ruling party, also known as GDR (German Democratic Republic.) So you can see, everybody is making money off Germany’s sordid history.
Before heading West, we jumped out of the van to see and touch the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing. It’s more than a mile long. The “East Side Gallery” consists of more than 100 paintings and murals along the wall. Artists from around the world were invited to paint on the East Wall in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall fell. One of the most famous paintings in/on the “East Side Gallery” is the famous communist kiss between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. Of course, the real “kiss” took place a decade before The Wall fell, and for a totally different reason. I thought I would throw them a kiss anyway!
The “East Side Gallery” project was initiated by Kani Alavi, a German-Iranian painter. (NOTE: My BLOG header is a photo I took of Alavi, as he gave us a tour of the wall and of his painting.) In 2009, artists came back to touch up their work. You know, when Berlin was divided, it was against the law to paint on the East side of the wall, you could be shot! Much of the beautiful artwork is tainted by graffiti. Alavi calls it down right vandalism and he hates it! Funny, foreigners like myself consider Germany synonymous with graffiti. It is EVERYWHERE, just like I suspected. Maybe it’s because of my age, and how I became an adult at the end of the Cold War, I consider it an acceptable form of expression in many parts of the world. But also because of my age, I would personally make sure someone who painted on my “house” in the US spent a lot of time in jail!
We are fast approaching the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall – it is an honor to be here.