The first few days of my stay are spent in Friedrichshain along the Spree. Jetlagged beyond belief, I take a walk at 5 AM and realize that I’m staying next to the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall that’s still standing, known as the “East Side Gallery”.
The wall, or officially the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart by East Germany’s GDR, wasn’t built to repel invasion as the name suggests, but as an emergency effort to keep their own population in. Flight to the west was so bad that it was compromising the viability of the country’s economy, with departees disproportionately of working age and professionally skilled.
Khrushchev and Ulbricht conspired to close the border in August 1961 despite the inevitable damage it would do to communism’s PR. The wall started life as barbed wire entanglements on August 13th (“Barbed Wire Sunday”) and a few refinements later would became the Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall 1975) of 45,000 prefab concrete blocks that we recognize today.
At the begining of 1989, GDR leader Erich Honecker predicted that the wall would stand stand strong for 50 or 100 more years, but that same year, a refugee crisis pressured the East German government to revise crossing regulations with a provision for private round trips. Miscommunication in the party’s hierarchy caused a spokesman to suggest that the new rules would come into effect immediately, when they were supposed to activate the following day to provide time for border guards to be briefed. Televised broadcasts prompted huge gatherings at the wall’s six checkpoints demanding to cross. As pressure continued to build, the vastly outnumbered soldiers would eventually allow it as no one was willing to authorize the use of lethal force.
Since then, sections of the wall have been exported around the world and can be found everywhere from Manitoba to Indonesia to Estonia. Graffiti had been a common fixture on the west side of the wall for some time, but graffiti on its east side, like that pictured below is new, appearing only after the ‘89 collapse.
Published June 9, 2019.