Angels over Berlin

Posted in Germany with tags , , , , on November 10, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

In a nod to the 1987 film, Wings of Desire, by German director Wim Wenders, angels appeared on the tops of Berlin buildings on November 9. The film depicts two angels who look down on the city from their perch on rooftops, and wander through the city watching and listening to Berliners’ hopes and struggles.

In an art installation atop four buildings along the route of the former Berlin Wall, actors with angel wings stood  and looked down on Berliners. They moved in slow motion, each with a different task. One waved, holding flowers in one arm, one lowered a bouquet of flowers on a string down to the street below, and one sent an occasional leaflet to drift down. Other performance artists were stationed along the street. Among them was a woman who claimed to be an angel-ologist, standing on a ladder in her long white dress and fur coat, with her camera equipment in a baby carriage.

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My own photo-documenting activity prompted a passerby to stop and explain that the angels are commemorating people who lost their lives trying to cross over the wall. She proceeded to relate her own story: she was graduating from secondary school when it was built, and she ended up on the west side and her father on the east. She said that one-third of her class was separated from their families. Her father never believed that the wall would come down.

The Re-fall of the Wall …

Posted in Germany with tags , , , on November 10, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

With a cold drizzle that built into a series of mud puddles, crowds gathered to remember the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or “Mauerfall,” as it is being called in German. The center of attention was the long row of 7-foot-tall handpainted dominos, most painted by schoolchildren from around the world, with a strong representation from Berlin schools. Several dominos were from Mexico, and portrayed the US/Mexico wall, as well as a “death trail.”

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Once the evening’s official ceremonies started, large screens broadcast the center-stage events down the street. The dais included, among other distinguished political figures, Mikhail Gorbachev. He seemed to get the loudest cheers. Videos from the 1989 protests showed Germans shouting “Gorbi! Gorbi!”—he clearly earned folk-hero status.

The performances included a song by Placido Domingo that had the crowds bouncing and brought the dais to its feet. Bon Jovi performed, and then reflected on his presence at the wall in 1989; they project a video of his chipping off a piece of the wall from ’89.

Hillary Clinton represented my country (well), receiving cheers from the group standing on the roof of the American Embassy just next to the Brandenburg Gate. President Obama addressed the crowds via a video from Washington.

The Polish Solidarity movement was honored and given repeated, strong recognition. Several Solidarnoscść contingents were visible: one group was in charge of tumbling several of the dominos, another had large banners. Lech Wałęsa spoke from beneath an umbrella. Hillary Clinton was among those who praised the Solidarity movement.

When the dominos tumbled, they stopped midpoint at a stable concrete domino that did not budge: it was sent from the Goethe House in Beijing, and was decorated with characters that appeared to be Chinese, but in fact were invented characters spelling out a German poem. The halt at this block was set up as if it were a surprise element in the evening, and the program then reflected on the meaning of this block that was still left standing. After this intermittent moment, the domino tumbling continued, and finished its run. (After the ceremonies, this standing domino, bookended by the toppled blocks, attracted crowds of picture-takers.)

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Security checkpoints were set up as you got closer to the Brandenburg gate, just to check for things like glass bottles in people’s bags. But at some point the guards held back the crowds, and a few took matters into their own hands and jumped the barricades, in an ironic re-enactment of the wall-crashing of ’89. At one point the guards must have let them through, as a heavier crowd started swarming down the sidewalk. But later I watched people held behind the barricades, even as those toward the front were starting to leave. I have a feeling there will be commentary about the irony of these actions on blogs.

The evening ended with dramatic, crowd-pleasing fireworks.

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CNN Video of the Celebrations

U2 Concert at Brandenburg Gate

Posted in Germany on November 6, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

The band U2 gave a short concert in front of the Brandenburg Gate on November 5 to  celebrate the anniversary. They began the program with the tune “One” — a song from their album “Achtung Baby” (“Attention Baby”) which was recorded in Berlin in 1990 just after the reunification. In fact, this song drew its inspiration in part from the reunification. And the original recording of the song was a symbolic moment for the band, which was rumored to be near a break-up over disagreements over artistic direction until they recorded this.

Video of “One”at Brandenburg Gate

Check out the symbolism of the light show on the gate, and Bono’s “Happy Birthday Berlin” greeting.

Video of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”

Free U2 show leads to Berlin ‘wall’ controversy

Publicity for the November 9 Berlin Wall Events

Posted in Germany on November 5, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

I have located a few billboards here and there but am struck at how little publicity there is in contrast to the publicity campaign in Leipzig. I hear that there was an issue with funding this year. Here a few examples. The ad for “Freedom Festival” lists the sponsors–a combination of public and private entities, including Coca Cola Deutschland.

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The magazine Der Spiegel has published a special issue with a DVD for the anniversary.

 

Comic Relief, Berlin

Posted in Germany on November 4, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

I found this on what appears to be an abandoned pedestal of a former monument in front of the city hall in the former East Berlin. Assuming that Marx or Lenin once stood there.IMG_1582

Alexanderplatz, Berlin Public Display

Posted in Germany on November 4, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

Today, I strolled around this display of images and words documenting the East German resistance to the regime and the burst of freedom as individuals and families pushed their way through fences, over walls, and through the finally tumbling barricades. It is the largest public display of images from the era that I have seen so far. I learned that the designer’s purpose was to help East Germans regain their lost confidence, to demonstrate the power of their historical actions. As I read the display, a man approached me to offer his opinion. An East German who appeared to be in his sixties, he tried to explain in broken English why he was not happy with the changes. He said that before, he had work, and there was a feeling of community. Now he lives in his 1-room flat in East Berlin, and is very lonely. He said that many others are living there alone, also lonely. He told stories of suicides after 1989. He disparagingly and dismissingly gestured to a symbol of the changes just in front of us: a Western clothing store with the name “New Yorker” in shiny red letters. As he talked, tears welled up in his eyes, until he sauntered away. I am calling him “The Honest Stranger.”

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Crowds push their way into West Berlin, 1989

Posted in Germany with tags , , on November 2, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

Short documentary on the Wall, 1962

Video from a Berlin Wall checkpoint, Fall of 1989

Video on Dismantling of the Wall