Preserving the past in Berlin

People spent 28 years trying to get over it. Now, they are doing everything they can to keep a large section of it in place. It is the Berlin Wall. And if you have been to the reunified German capital, you know that the 86-mile concrete barrier that enclosed the western half of the city has taken on a greater significance.

The Post’s Michael Birnbaum reported yesterday on how Berliners are rallying to preserve a major chunk of the wall. “At this mile-long stretch along the Spree River known as the East Side Gallery, artists painted exuberant murals on the wall in the months after East and West Berlin were reunited,” Birnbaum wrote. “Tourists have long flocked here to see a cheerful monument to peaceful revolution in a once out-of-the-way area.” Preservation protests were sparked last week after a 25-foot section of the wall was removed to make way for a road for a forthcoming luxury apartment building.

I didn’t make it to the East Side Gallery during a trip to Berlin in late January. But the history of that city and how it deals with its past — from Nazism to Communist occupation — is nothing short of stunning. Rather than shy away from it, Berlin deals with it with refreshing bluntness. There is the sprawling, powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe across from the U.S. Embassy and near the Brandenburg Gate. Topography of Terror is a documentation center and museum that sits on the grounds of the former headquarters for the secret police and the SS.

Marker of the Berlin Wall. (Jonathan Capehart)

Marker of the Berlin Wall. (Jonathan Capehart)

During my visit, the most moving artifact in Berlin was the wall. Or I should say how the wall is commemorated. Besides the East Side Gallery, bits and pieces of it pop up all over the city. But wherever the wall used to be, a path of bricks marks its meandering march across sidewalks, under new buildings and on the streets of Berlin. The photo at right was taken en route to Topography of Terror at the intersection of Niederkirchnerstraße and Stresemannstraße.

When the wall came down in November 1989, I celebrated the folks tearing down the wall with everything from axes to the bare hands. And now I celebrate their desire to preserve a big piece of it as a reminder of how things were. But no matter what happens to the rest of the East Side Gallery, there is no danger the Germans will forget their past.

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