In the time of Trump, tales of people divided by the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 due to mass popular pressure and the decline of Soviet Union power.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2017 19:32 IST
Reuters, Berlin
Germany,East West Germany,Berlin Wall
A woman takes pictures of the installation "Beyond The Wall" by German artist Stefan Roloff that is mounted on remnants of the former Berlin Wall.(AFP Photo)

An open-air installation is to open along an old section of the Berlin Wall at the weekend, featuring photos of soldiers patrolling the former deadly border, and stories of those persecuted behind it.

“Beyond the Wall” -- 229-metres (250 yards) long and facing the West -- is designed to keep alive the memory of the dividing wall put up by Communist East German authorities nearly 56 years ago on August 13, 1961.

It fell in November 1989 due to mass popular pressure and the decline of Soviet Union power.

The new exhibition features stills from videos that German-American artist Stefan Roloff shot of the Berlin Wall from the west in 1984 -- including East German soldiers peering through binoculars, climbing ladders up to watchtowers and walking along the Wall.

“There are very few authentic places where you can still see what’s left of the Wall,” Klaus Lederer, a Berlin senator responsible for culture told a news conference.

The open air installation along the East Side Gallery section of the Wall combines video stills of the former border area between East and West Berlin. (AFP Photo)

The exhibition also features stories and silhouettes of people whose lives were affected by the Wall -- including a man who authorities accused of having a fetish, a woman arrested for receiving a postcard from a friend in West Berlin, and another woman who whose apartment was bugged by the East German Stasi secret police.

Mario Roellig is one of the victims whose story is told. The Stasi interrogated and imprisoned him after he tried to flee to the West to be with his boyfriend. He remembers a Stasi officer telling him they would find him anywhere.

Years later, when Roellig was working in a shop in reunified Berlin, he realised a customer inquiring about cigars was his Stasi interrogator. Roellig asked for an apology but the man screamed that his sentence was rightful.

“It’s important to talk about it so I can get rid of the fear of this place, that time and above all the perpetrators who are still around,” he told Reuters at the Wall.

Visitors look at the art installation Beyond The Wall. (Reuters Photo)

Roellig -- who now lives in western Berlin -- said memories of the past bubble up when he crosses a border and he feels unable to ever spend a night at his parents’ home in eastern Berlin.

“To this day I can’t stay there overnight as I seem to still be anxious that the Wall will be put back up and I’ll be on the wrong side again,” he said.

Roloff, the artist, meanwhile believes his exhibition is particularly relevant at a time when US President Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

“For me it’s not necessarily a historic project even though it shows things from a time that has passed. It’s a continuing phenomenon. There have been walls as long as people have existed and unfortunately they’ll continue to exist,” he said.

First Published: Aug 10, 2017 19:32 IST