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When all roads led to Berlin

Three days after the breathtaking show at Brandenburg Gate to commemorate the fall of the Wall, Berlin — bombed to nearly rubble 65 years ago — has turned itself into a theme park to celebrate the event that led 20 years ago to Germany’s reunification.

world Updated: Nov 14, 2009 01:09 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

Three days after the breathtaking show at Brandenburg Gate to commemorate the fall of the Wall, Berlin — bombed to nearly rubble 65 years ago — has turned itself into a theme park to celebrate the event that led 20 years ago to Germany’s reunification.

Mauerfall (fall of the Wall) is the motif woven into Berlin’s public spaces, and this considered presentation of history is alluring tourists from all over the world. It’s a lesson India could learn.

The Eastside Gallery — being pitched by the authorities here as the world’s largest open-air gallery — is in reality a 1.3-km stretch of the original Wall that divided the former east and west of the city, and country. Here, 20 years ago, 117 artists from 21 countries had gathered to paint their interpretations of the collapse of the Wall.

The stretch, which had been in disrepair under the onslaught of the weather and traffic fumes, has been restored. It is a site that attracts photo-hungry pilgrims in thrall to history and its ramifications.

“When I last came to Berlin, it was impossible to see how remarkable these murals are,” said Katherine Schmidt, 37, a homemaker visiting from Munich. “It is such a revelation.”

Anticipating the huge influx of tourists, Berlin has readied 100,000 hotel beds, far more than any other city in Germany.

It will take a while for the official figures to emerge, but the indications are that this year the city will see more tourists than ever before, many more than the 6.6 million (66 lakh) it attracted in 2007.

At Bonholmerstrasse, across the Bosebrucke Bridge where the Wall was first breached on the night of November 9, 1989, a 70-metre stretch has been rebuilt — complete with sand strip, fence and watchtower, but without the chilling guard dogs and armed policemen of those days.

“It’s fortunate that the Wall is no more, but we need to remember what it was all about,” said Helmut Franz, 65, a retiree from Cologne. “The young must learn what it represented.”

At Alexanderplatz, a huge square at one end of Unter den Linden — one of Berlin’s most famous boulevards — an open-air exhibition tracing the history of the Wall is on show. Visitors streamed in: some came just for this exhibition; some wandered in from the mall and restaurants in the square.

Daniel Moran, 28, an Australian who now lives in Dublin and works as an executive in a firm that does scaffolding, was thrilled. “This is my annual holiday, and I wanted to come here to see the celebrations,” he said, poised in front of a grim photo of what the Wall used to be like. “There is so much history on show in this exhibition. And unless I’d read up and come to Berlin for the celebrations this week, I wouldn’t have known just how momentous this is for Germany.”

Yes, he agreed, there is an element of the theme park about the city now. But then, Disneyfication is a word one uses at one’s own peril in connection with how Berlin has put itself out to remember a moment that gave birth to a new world order.