Today we went to visit a remaining section of the Berlin Wall that has been kept as a memorial of a dark period of Germany’s history and can serve as a reminder of what can happen when we let bad things remain.
It was drizzling rain this morning, and the sense of the whole space was certainly gloomy and a little surreal. You see, part of the inner and outer walls remain, and the space that used to be ‘no mans land’ or the ‘death strip’ is lush and green. A stark contrast to what was before. There are memorial windows for the 136 people who lost their lives in their desperate bid to get from East Germany to West. An original watchtower still stands and there are segments from the wall that have been placed in the middle of the space and are now being overtaken by greenery.
This year, on the 9th November, will be 30 years since the wall came down. I remember seeing it on television, but not having any real understanding of what it signified. Today, as I stood with my young son at the base of the Eastern side of the wall and looked at just how high this monstrosity was I found it so difficult to understand why it took so many years for it to come down. I struggled to find the words to explain to Joshua why … why it happened, why people allowed it to happen, why it remained the status quo for 28 years. In some ways I am pleased that he couldn’t understand a world that something like this existed.
Standing in the shadow of this wall we felt sad, and confused, and disappointed in humanity because the whole separation thing felt cruel to inflict on a once unified city. Families, friends and loved ones were divided by this structure. Those in the East were told it was to protect them from the evil influence from those on the other side, but in essence was about restricting their freedom.
I trust that this memorial reminds everyone that much harm can come from building walls, but upon reflection I realise that walls are still being built today. Some physically, but others using money and power and technology to keep ‘undesirables’ away. This is not a way to live a meaningful life.
In this particular section of the Wall there was a church (ironically called the Church of Reconciliation) that was slap, bang in the middle of the East and West walls that became inaccessible to use once they went up. After much debate, it was decided by the Soviet Union to blow up the church in 1984. Now, adjacent to that site, is a rebuilt church that is a called the Chapel of Reconciliation and there is a sculpture that we immediately identified as the same one as we had seen at Coventry Cathedral. There is only one more of these sculptures, and understandably it is in Hiroshima.
Somehow, in the midst of this stark reminder of a bleak past this Chapel, with it’s incredibly simple structure and interior, was a special way for us to finish our visit to this space. It spoke to us of hope and rebuilding, not just of structures, but of relationships and lives, when walls are torn down. It spoke of forgiveness, and the need for restoration. It spoke of peace.
May there be peace on earth, and may it begin with me.