I started my day at the East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin wall that is covered in about 106 paintings by international artists. As a memorial for freedom, it’s as much an art gallery as it is a historical monument. It’s .81 miles (1.3 kilometers) long and is preserved where the original East wall stood. Unfortunately, as you can see from these pictures, it suffers from a lot of tagging over the paintings. But I guess if it was a completely sterile art installation it wouldn’t have the same effect.
I wish that the people who still want to build barriers would come to the East Side Gallery on a cold February day and think about the legacy of the Berlin Wall. Families were separated, people lost their jobs, many were killed trying to cross it. Yes, the East German economy was improved, but the overall impact was one of oppression. It shocks me that there is support for a wall between the United States and Mexico or in the West Bank. But I guess the story of humanity is one of repetition. I’m sure every mistake I’ve made in my life has already been made by hundreds of others. For some reason, we just can’t learn.
While walking along the East Side Gallery I saw the Oberbaumbrücke, a bridge over the Spree River. It connects two parts of town that were separated with the Berlin Wall and it sustained damage in World War II. It’s now is crossed by cars, pedestrians, and the U-Bahn and is a symbol of unification.
One of the more tourist-heavy areas was surprisingly around the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), a church that was heavily bombed during World War II. Although a new church was built around it, the original church was left standing in its post-war condition as a war memorial. As you can see, the top of the spire is missing, many of the windows were shattered, and parts of the stone are blackened from fire. It was very haunting and let me imagine how the whole city must have looked after the war.
I’d heard good things about the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) and it more that surpassed my expectations. It’s fairly new, opened in 2001, and covers the history of Jews in Germany. The museum is shaped like a zigzag and is supposed to resemble a distorted Star of David. Three tunnels are at the beginning of the museum, with one leading to the Holocaust Tower, an empty, silent, dark room with a slit of light coming from a sliver of a window in the ceiling. Another tunnel leads to the Garden of Exile, which has pillars reminiscent of those at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The third goes to an impressive exhibit area that was very engaging and interactive in its presentation of the experience of Jews in Germany. Another feature of the museum are “voids,” which cut through parts of the building. Some of them are empty rooms and you can see them from windows in the gallery space. One, pictured above, is full of 10,000 iron faces. You can walk out on the faces, and the sound from your feet moving the steel echoes through the silence. I said that the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was haunting, but that would be understatement for the voids. I guess I would equate them with Cy Twombly paintings, where the empty space says as much as the splash of paint or burst of text. There are voids all over Berlin, most invisible, where people and places used to stand and where war and tyranny erased them.
That night, I saw “Für Miriam” at the Berlinale film festival. It’s a German movie about a teacher who kills one of her students in a car crash. Although it wasn’t her fault, it destroys her existence. After the film, I had some delicious strawberry ice cream before seeing a group of short films. They were very diverse, coming from Mexico, England, France, and Germany. For all of these films the cast or director was there to take questions after the screening.
One more day of Berlin adventure left to blog.