The Berlin Wall came down when I was 10 years old. Living in California, we had just experienced the Loma Prieta quake and were still cleaning up, rebuilding and a bit shell-shocked ourselves when Berlin had it's own life-changing event. I vaguely remember seeing news footage of The Wall being broken down and people celebrating, but world events weren't high on my list of interests in the fifth grade. Even so, I was too young to understand what had happened before to make a simple city wall coming down such a momentous occurrence. It wasn't until I was living here in Berlin, and until this anniversary celebration that I began to witness the impact for myself.
Last weekend, Berlin put up the art-installation Lichtgrenze (light border) to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of The Wall and the success of the Peaceful Revolution - 8,000 white balloons lining 15km of its former path through the middle of Berlin - which lit up in the night. The balloons, which had personal wishes and messages attached, were released into the air on the evening of November 9th, the same night that marked the beginning of the end of The Wall. But it was not only the continuous line of lights that really drove home the city's divide, but the stories that reminded us of all the people who lived - and those who lost their lives - during this tumultuous time. The 80-year-old woman who leapt out of her apartment window right where the wall was starting to go up, but broke her back in the attempt to flee. The man who was shot when caught as part of a group escaping the East through underground tunnels, the truth of which only came out after the fall of The Wall. The young soldier who took a chance trying to get a little girl back to her family, separated in the chaos and haste with which The Wall was going up.
These 'Wall Stories', stationed every 150 meters along the Lichtgrenze, were telling of the way of life around The Wall. The oppression. The violence. The sadness. Rare video footage from the time was also shown on large screens at several notable locations along the path as well, showing everything from politicians to soldiers to sobbing children saying goodbye to family that ended up on the other side. At once upsetting and uplifting, experiencing these reminders of The Berlin Wall brought to life this time in history and just how monumental The Wall coming down was for the people of Berlin back then. Without this moment in history, I'm almost sure we never would have ended up living in this city and it certainly wouldn't be the amazing place that it is today. We were very lucky to have been a part of the celebration, 25 years later.