In case you didn’t know, I studied for two summers in Berlin, Germany at Humboldt University. (I actually kept a blog the second year and it still exists! Short but sweet, I lost momentum quickly since getting to the computer lab was sporadic and I wanted to be out in the city, not sitting in a stuffy room at Uni.)
The program was a cultural and linguistic immersion, four weeks packed with language classes, phonetics training, and cultural and extracurricular activities. Best two trips of my life, needless to say. And not only did I learn German, I got to know Berlin. It is a city with a rich, deep and painful history.
Size and population-wise, Berlin reminds me a lot of Chicago. Big, broad, busty, bold, with a river running through it. This is likely why I feel so at home there. But Chicago is much younger and was not destroyed by World War II and, probably most importantly, was never a focal point of Cold War communism.
The modern, reunited Berlin still carries the scars of a city whose transitions have caused literal worlds to be turned upside-down. Or right-side up, depending on what side of the wall you happened to be on.
As such, Berlin’s art reflects these scars, these revolutions.
One of my favorite things about my time in Berlin is the fact that I had plenty of opportunity to see such large icons of historical significance, such as what was left of the Wall at East Side Gallery. So I was quite sad to hear from a dear friend in Berlin the fate of this special section of the wall. I feel like a piece of my own past is there too, since my time in Berlin had such a profound impact on me.
The entire story of the wall is fascinating, from how quickly it went up in 1961 to how quickly it came crashing down one evening in 1989. Of course, all the reasons the Wall even existed were so wrought with tension that it is no surprise that after reunification die Mauer became a prominent canvas for political art.
The largest open-air art gallery in the world, the East Side Gallery commemorates and remembers the extreme political tensions of two sides, East and West, and not just in the name of Berlin, the city, but as two sectors of the entire world. This is globalism before the Internet, folks.
So it is quite sad to me that in the middle of the night sometime in March that contractors removed a section of the Wall in order to pave a road leading to an eventual luxury apartment complex.
Taking down what is left of the Berlin Wall for the sake of a capitalistic pursuit seems, so, well, American. I realize that great minds have likely planned every detail of this venture, and I am sure it wasn’t a hasty decision, given that this is Germany we are talking about, after all. But it also feels so wrong to replace it with fancy condos.
Sometimes I am hesitant for change. This is human, I think. Other times, I want to change everything. I miss Berlin, I miss the life I was planning to make there, I miss who I am and how I feel about myself there. Which is completely different than how I feel at home, stateside. Lately I’ve been feeling really nostalgic for that time I spent abroad and resentful that life changed so suddenly that I had to completely re-organize my plans to teach and study abroad for grad school. I love my family and I am still getting used to this motherhood thing, but I am so strapped for time I feel this part of me slipping away. So somehow this change in Berlin also kind of marks a symbolic end to my time there.
And that is why the removal of the East Side Gallery makes me tear up.
Berlin, ich hab’ dich Lieb!