“In the spring of 2013, I spent a semester studying in Rome. That March, I walked down the Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square, where I attended the inauguration of Pope Francis. This semester, I am in Berlin and last Sunday I walked down Unter den Linden toward the Brandenburg Gate to participate in another historical event. Thousands of people, young and old, swarmed the streets of Berlin on the night of Nov. 9 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Approximately 12 km along where the wall once stood was lined with 8,000 illuminated balloons each carrying a tag in someone’s memory from Nov. 9, 1989. I made my way through the city from the East Side Gallery to the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, ending on Bernauer Strasse, the site of the Berlin Wall Memorial.
As a 21-year-old American student, I did not have a lot of insight into the history or importance of the Berlin Wall. I wanted to talk to German people to get a sense of what the Wall and this celebration meant to them. I had the opportunity to speak to a couple from West Berlin who reminisced about how much confusion and uncertainty there was at the time. They remembered people going to the Wall with hammers and chisels to start chipping away at it. When the Wall finally fell, people from East Berlin flooded into the western part of the city with their new-found freedom.
I also spoke with my host mother, who shared her memories of living in the divided city. She remembered the difficulty of traveling into East Berlin and being interrogated and harassed by the East German Police. She enjoyed the balloon installation and appreciated that something that once caused so much terror and sadness had been transformed into something beautiful. For Petra and the couple from West Berlin I spoke with, the installation served as a reminder of what the city was like between 1961 and 1989. For me, it helped to put the division that characterized German society for so long into perspective.
Attending this celebration was eye opening for me. I learned that after 25 years, some divisions remain in German society, but they seem to be fading. Younger Germans I’ve spoken with, who have only experienced a unified Germany, are not as likely to see deep differences between the former east and west. They were less interested in the commemoration of the anniversary, as it was not something they had lived through themselves.
As the balloons were released one by one, the illuminated division between the east and the west slowly disappeared, as if the Wall was falling all over again. Although I was not in Berlin 25 years ago, I am fortunate to have been here to participate in the anniversary of such an important day in German history.”
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi, my name is Andie D'Agostino. I am a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. I am an Architectural Studies major with a minor in Sociology. After graduation, I hope to pursue a career in urban planning and community development.</span></p>