On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. We’ve all read about it. People from the East and West rushed across the border, hugging and kissing and celebrating with anyone and everyone in sight. The Peaceful Revolution had worked: the German Democratic Republic had crumbled. Earlier this month, as people celebrated the 30th anniversary of German Reunification, emotions were high for many Berliners as they reflected on the anniversary and the time since. I have felt so lucky to be here to experience the celebrations with the Germans that it affected personally.
One of the first big celebrations of the anniversary was on Monday, November 4th. There was a production at Alexanderplatz, a square in the former East, for the anniversary of a demonstration by people fighting to allow travel visas for East Germans. The show was actually directed by one of my teachers at IES Abroad, Susann Neuenfeldt! She teaches my pop culture class as well as a class about theater in Germany, so it was really cool to see her in action about something she is so passionate about. She is from East Germany and has shared many stories about her experiences during class. Even though I could understand the German being spoken, the play itself was a bit abstract, making it hard to fully understand what was going on. I enjoyed the experience nonetheless and was impressed by not only Susann’s talent but the talent of all of the performers.
On Saturday, November 9th, the actual anniversary of the wall coming down, I went to the East Side Gallery and walked along the section of the wall covered in street art by artists from all over the world. I had been to the Gallery before, but not for a few years, so I was blown away by the artwork even more so then than I had been before. I feel like my understanding of what the wall meant to the people in Berlin has increased by leaps and bounds since being there last. Being there this time was much more emotional. Visiting the Gallery on the actual anniversary of the fall of the wall obviously meant that it was extremely busy, but I thought it was interesting to overhear the people around me talk about both the wall and the artwork.
Growing up in the United States, I only ever heard the perspective that everything was wrong in East Germany and I did not learn much about everyday life. After living in Germany (now twice), I have a fuller view of what normal life was like. Of course, East Germany was a dangerous dictatorship where people could be arrested or killed for the smallest step out of line, but in some ways and for some people, the system worked and life felt “normal." In fact, there were some relatively positive aspects about the state, like the ability for women to work, the security that a child would have a spot in a kindergarten, and the lack of homelessness in the country. One of my favorite museums in Berlin is the DDR Museum (DDR = East Germany), which I went to for the first time five years ago. Reading about “normal” life in East Germany at that museum was the first time I saw representations of the East that showed some of the everyday and even positive parts of life in the communist state. Since my first visit to that museum, I have slowly been able to build a new image in my mind about what life was truly like in East Germany.
Talking to people about their personal experiences with the reunification has been eye-opening and one of my favorite things I have done so far in Berlin this semester. When I lived in Hamburg three years ago––since the city is not very close to the former border of East Germany––the wall coming down and German Reunification was not as relevant to daily life as it is in Berlin. As I mentioned in my last post, Living in a Wohngemeinschaft, I had to do a project for one of my midterms a few weeks ago that required conducting interviews with people from the former East and West. I was blown away by some of the stories my interviewees told and some of their personal feelings about reunification. I had no idea how complicated reunification was and the divide that some Germans still experience. I had never thought of the kinks and growing pains the reunified country went through in the early 90s up through today.
During the anniversary week, and honestly this entire semester, I have been reminded constantly of how fortunate I am to be in such an incredible city with so much rich and recent history. I only have a few weeks left before I go back to the States, and as excited as I am to go home, I know I am going to miss this city with so much life and activity.
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<p>I am a rising junior at Connecticut College majoring in Architectural Studies. When I am not studying or constructing three-dimensional architecture models, I can be found playing ultimate frisbee or helping run the Womxn's Empowerment Initiative at Conn. After graduating from high school, I took a gap year to work as an au pair near Hamburg, Germany, so I could not be more excited to return to the country and share with you my adventures!</p>