I have known about the wall and its direct connection to WW2 and the cold war my entire life. I have watched the anniversary earlier this year and observed the effects of the fall as well as the cultural changes still taking place twenty years later. I studied and repeatedly watched clips of famous speeches at the wall, including Regan, up until minutes before heading out to my CBYX interview. Even so, arriving in Berlin and actually seeing the wall surprised me.
It exemplifies the saying "you have to see it to believe it". However, it is still hard to believe - it is hard to conceive that any of this history was even possible, and that it is still standing in places for the most part only just now becoming a symbol and landmark of history - but just years ago this wall had a very different purpose, and that is what is hard to fathom.
Trying to sum up Berlin to my parents in a brief phone call back home to check in was difficult. I have already addressed how overwhelming the city was, but trying to verbally map out the wall was also hard. How naive of me to envision a wall that would be a convenient straight line dividing the city in half. Touring through the city it was easy to get mixed up - one moment in the former east, a moment later in the west - American sector, now French...
The remnants of the wall seemed to zig zag through the city sporadically. Even more than just a divide, seeing the wall in person emphasized that this structure did more than just separate two different political ideologies. Areas where communities were physically segregated from their church because the building lied on the eastern half, and the wall unsympathetically ran right in front of the entrance - the church later being unceremoniously torn down.
The other very difficult concept to conceive was the fact that the generation living with the wall ultimately had little if anything to do with the history that led to its creation. This was almost 20 years after the war - Germany was facing a new dilemma. A new generation was beginning to unearth the horrors that took place during their parents era, and at the same time, complete communities and even families were torn apart from a wall that was caused by other countries endorsing their governments ideals into the rebuilding nation.
I witnessed a lot around the city. The East side gallery displayed a wide array of varying images of peace, utopias, dystopias, and destruction all alongside each other on the wall. In other parts of the city, the walls were bare, signifying a different side of the wall - a different control of personal expression and freedoms. This is where the concept of the wall is really unimaginable, especially with the rest of Berlin sprawling in the distance, and for decades, this was almost a complete mystery on the other side of a stone barrier.
I obviously didn't have enough time to truly examine as much as my curiosity wanted, but I received a very diverse first impression of the wall. I witnessed communist bloc communities where the buildings were simply polygons with numbers with small rooms of metal framed beds, and communal kitchens. I also saw check point Charlie - the area to officially cross into the American sector, which coincidentally now has pedestrians whizzing by on bicycles with no second thought past the stands of tourist stands which used to be a secure militarized zone.
There is still so much that I have to learn, but this experience of seeing the wall, especially after witnessing history this year with the anniversary, discussing the history with friends and family here in Germany, and also discussing the relevance of the wall in EU and world politics in my university courses, I am leaving Berlin with even more inspiration to discover the history of this country, and I am left with even more curiosity and questions for when I inevitably return, hopefully more than once this spring.