Berlin Wall


It fell with almost the same speed and surprise as it had risen 28 years earlier. From the evening of August 13, 1961 to the evening of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall encircled West Berlin, effectively cutting it off from East Germany which surrounded it on all sides. The wall was a physical barrier that cut through a city dividing friends, neighbors, and family, but more importantly it was an ideological barrier between capitalism and communism, and a powerful symbol of the Cold War.

This summer, I traveled to Germany, a country I have wanted to visit since I first read about the Berlin Wall in world history. The wall was constructed almost overnight on the night of August 13, 1961 by the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) communist government. The wall was called “Antifascistischer Schutzwall” by the GDR government who claimed that the primary purpose of the wall was to keep the West German fascists, who wanted to undermine the socialist regime of the east, out of East Berlin. In reality though, the wall was built to stop the mass defections that were occurring daily with people leaving East Berlin for the west. The GDR government was concerned about their dwindling population and the impact it would have on the East German economy.

With the slow demise of communism in parts of Eastern Europe, the GDR government too, in a most unexpected and unplanned way relaxed the barrier and on November 9, 1989 announced that “effective immediately” East Berliners would be allowed to travel to the West. The euphoria that followed this unexpected announcement was such that people started to climb the wall and started chipping away at it the same night. Within a couple of days, Helmut Kohl, then Chancellor of Germany, started to address the issue of “German Reunification,” thus putting events into motion that have eventually led to the Berlin of today – a city that seems to be bursting with life; still celebrating reunification.

While most of the wall is gone for good, an almost 1.5-mile-long section of the wall remains standing along the river Spree in the Friedrichshain section of Berlin. This longest intact section of the original 90-mile-long wall has become the world’s largest outdoor museum of sorts. The 105 sections of the wall have been painted by artists from all over the world, each one a unique showcase providing its own commentary on the wall, its fall and freedom.   

Unlike the graffiti artist of the 1980s, these artists painted by invitation and had no fear of getting shot by the East German guards patrolling the wall. So while the East Berlin Gallery is an incredible piece of art that celebrates freedom and humanity, it does not have the intensity and  rawness of the street art that covered the wall prior to 1989. The first artist to paint the wall was French artist Thierry Noir, who lived along the wall and painted sections of it with incredible street art almost on a daily basis. The amazing gallery that stands today is because of pioneer street artists like Thierry Noir who by painting the wall attempted to psychologically destroy it.   

The Power Shift

Dress, 1960s
Museum of London Display Case   

How do you roll up the Vietnam War, the civil rights marches, the youthful and modern presidency of John F. Kennedy, the voice of Martin Luther King, the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, the landing on the moon, Twiggy, the liberation of women, and above all the magic of the Beatles into one thing? For me the answer lies in the Museum of London in a simple short black and white polka-dotted mini dress with a diagonal line across it;  the faces of the Beatles on one side, and a guitar on the other. 

The power of this dress lies in its simplicity, its lack of fussiness, and its revolutionary length – all of which defined a generation.  The generation that was born at the end of World War II, came of age with the uselessness of the Vietnam War, spent their college years marching for equal rights for all, refused to dress like their parents, or listen to their parents music – this generation perhaps made the world a better place for future generations more than any generation before or since then.

It was a simple shift dress, the kind that is worn by a young girl – it defied the hold of Paris couture houses and rose from the streets where the young people marched and demanded a better life for the rest of us.  It was a dress that an unskilled young girl could have stitched together – but it made the most skilled designers in the world sit up and take notice.  The shift was shifting power – from the couture houses to the street tailors, from the upper classes to the middle classes, from the elite to the masses, from Harvard to Greensboro state college, from Oxford to Liverpool, and for the first time, in tiny amounts, from men to women.

A sense of gratitude washed over me as I stood in front of this dress, and the generation that wore it – they made it possible for me to be in control of the length of my hemline – and of my future. 

Beatles Dress.4

This is a guest post from Tara Sawhney who is studying in London for one semester.  This was a vignette she wrote after a visit to the Museum of London.

Lychees in London

In the first week of August, my family and I went to London to drop my sister to college and squeeze in a family vacation in what really has to be considered the heartbeat of the world. Every nook and cranny of that city is bursting with life – and with diversity – a true microcosm.  One of the places I enjoyed the most in this trip was Borough’s Market.  A market has existed in the place since at least 1014 -so it’s over 1000 years old – which is a difficult concept for a girl from Orlando to put her head around – by comparison Disney has existed in Orlando since 1971 – not quite 50 years yet!! According to Conde Nast Traveler, “London’s oldest market is a warren of smoking street food, old-school fruit-and-veg shops and the finest pubs, bars and restaurants.”

 

 

There were sizzling stalls of North Indian, South Indian, Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Thai cuisines; there were bakeries to salivate over for days; butchers, fishmongers – a seemingly endless parade of stalls.  One of my favorite stalls was an old fashioned fresh fruits and vegetables stall -something that had perhaps remained unchanged over hundreds of years. The place was simply bursting with color – and freshness.  It was such an absolute delight to see the store – and to meet its very happy and friendly owner Michael.  Of course I bought lychees from this very proper English greengrocer – and that pretty much is what London’s all about!!

Georgetown University & Cupcakes

At the beginning of summer vacation, I went to Washington DC with my sister and mom. After a busy end of school year full of projects and finals, it was a perfect break.  I’ve been to DC a few times, and after seeing the museums and such, I love to head over to the M Street area to get right in line for Georgetown cupcakes.  It’s always such a treat – and I think standing in line in anticipation of the cupcakes makes them taste that much better.

Georgetown.1
Georgetown University

This time, we decided to explore Georgetown University’s campus before heading down to get the namesake cupcakes. The campus was almost empty except for a truck company picking up tents – perhaps rented for graduation ceremonies the week before. I don’t know what it is about old University campuses – but they just radiate history – it’s almost as if time has stood still there while the world around them has moved on.  The feeling of time standing still was made even stronger by an empty building with no students and iPhones to bring us to the present.  And almost like a prop, on one of the old wooden benches that line the hallways of Healy Hall, sat a formally dressed young student hand writing something in a beautiful leather bound journal. I couldn’t have made that up even if I tried – the scene was so surreal.  And suddenly, I could see myself there, studying where so many have studied before me, studying simply for the sake of knowledge – what a privilege to immerse oneself in a quest for knowledge in a place like this for four years!!

Georgetown.9.

And this time the line was shorter, and the cupcakes tasted better than ever – a sign perhaps??