27 Feb Berlin’s Semi-Permeable Wall
Pedaling up into Prenzlauerberg the other day, enjoying the warm summer late afternoon, I came to a break in the buildings where a long strip of green runs along Bernauer Strasse. A famous street in the history of the Cold War, this is one of the places where the Berlin Wall used to stand–dividing East and West, ideologies and economies. The neighborhood lining this section of the wall was the site of many escapes from the East – with tunnels dug surreptitiously deep beneath the decaying city, providing a passageway leading to the freedoms promised in the satellite bubble of West Berlin.
The tall concrete structure is gone now. There are no more watchtowers on this stretch, no more razor wire to cast forbidding shadows across the earth. The dead zone between worlds, No Man’s Land, has been replaced by a sparsely grown strip of green; strewn with random wild flowers and empty liquor bottles. As I steered my bike onto the sandy path that cut through the urban wildlife, I passed a pair of old men sitting on a weathered bench, cracked paint peeling into a patchwork of distressed wood and patina, set against the ancient, bronzed skin of the two men. The golden glow of the sunshine glistened off the bottles of beer they slowly raised to their lips. No need to rush, no hurry here they seemed to announce, as if the pair had been sitting there since the wall went up in the 1960’s, patiently watching time slip past.
Behind them, a long single column of tall green trees lined the edge of grassy strip–announcing an organic barrier between East and West. One can walk freely amid the trees, passing between the once forbidden zones through the natural boundary. As I pedaled past I thought to myself about this new, green wall that divided the old zones of East and West. Like human cells with a permeable membrane that carefully separates while also allowing information to pass– the once divided sections of the city now freely cozy up beside each other. But like with the body, these cells do not merge into one. A simple walk north across Bernauer Strasse brings you through to the other side of the wall–once an impossibly dangerous task. But, despite the recently reclaimed ease of passage between the territories, the mental walls, the different social traditions and customs still hold a barrier in place. The socialist ideology of the East continues to resist the imminent envelopment of the West’s consumer drive. Like the row of trees standing there today, it may be more permeable now but the boundaries still exist between the East and West and will take generations to dissolve.