In which I chronicle a convergence
This time of this year is special for the city I happen to be in as it commemorates the 60th anniversary of the raising of the Wall. Construction began on 13 August 1961, and things proceeded relatively quickly from there—by this point, there was a marked delineation and an armed patrol to monitor any and all passages from one side to the other. It also commemorates the reunification of Germany: 3 October 1990 established the holiday of Einheit.
It’s on my mind more than usual because my parents were both born in autumn 1961, far from the city and region being bifurcated, and in the month and change separating their births the divisions between East and West grew that much more entrenched. Given that my coming of age has essentially been a realization that the world is simply a series of chaotic events one after another, I imagine my grandparents must have been freaking out—my grandfathers, anyway; my grandmothers were likely more concerned with their uteruses at that particular moment.
Kennedy had been in office for approximately thirty seconds. My generation has been privy to all the things a president can get done, and not done, in the first half-year of their administration. You know sometimes I forget that Kennedy was actually president? I mean, it’s not as though plenty of stuff didn’t happen during his administration, but my brain occasionally skips from the hullabaloo over his being elected at all (do we really leave a cAtHoLic in charge of the country? I don’t know, how’s the second one doing?!?) directly to the assassination—as though he were cut down before being able to do, or not do, anything. Of course, he was president, and he did do good as well as harm, and a practically overnight statement like the Wall put him under immense pressure. Well, it seemed immense to everyone except the people whose lives, families, and routines were suddenly and dramatically reduced.
Tomorrow I go back to the East Side Gallery, the artistic exhibit of the remains of the Wall, to meet a friend of my sister’s who has been close to my family for almost her whole life. She is visiting on a break from her studies down south. The last significant time I spent at the Gallery was in the company of a person I’d known less than a year who had caused me to question identities I once took for granted. I can think of no better setting for either encounter. Berlin is a collision course for the past and the present, a stage for the act of coming together and apart. Every place is like this to a degree, but it forms the core of Berlin. Here it stares you in the face. Here you will not forget it.
Above all it points toward the future. We still talk about walls; we still raise and raze them for people. We go forward, even as we trail ghosts from our lifetimes and before. We struggle to reclaim things. We come to terms, or we hope to. New generations come up. Time is short. Memory is not.
Image: not the Wall, nor nearby the Wall, nor even really a wall itself—it’s kind of a free-standing mini-wall in the back courtyard of an apartment building in my neighborhood, I just found it a nice example of Berlin’s determination to fill any wall-like space with art