This weekend, Berlin commemorates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with an 80,000 balloon light illumination to recreate where the wall once stood.
The wall split the city into the West Sector, occupied by American, British and French allies, and the East sector, occupied by the Soviet Republic.
On the evening of Sunday, Nov. 9, 8,000 citizens will line up with a key in hand, each responsible for unlocking a balloon. One by one, the balloons will float into the sky, carrying personal messages with them.
The wall is an integral part of Rebel and my upbringing: Aged 9 and 17 when our parents fled the dictator run country, we are both deeply affected by German/German history. When we lived in East Berlin, we had access to West German radio and TV: Longing for the exotic travel, shiny cars and abundance of goods the channels showed. In my case, this was a holiday to Brazil, a Barbie dreamhouse and “my Little Pony”. In the East, Rebel learned Russian at school and went through a tough-as-nails education at the East-German State-Ballet run by strict Russian Ex-Bolshoy teachers.
As a kid I remember being forced to sing communist anthems in a very strict and authorative primary school. For holidays, we would travel 3 days in the car to countries like Bulgaria & Romania. Only eastern-bloc countries were within our reach.
Yes, goods were scarce and exotic fruit like Mango, passion fruit and honey melon were completely unknown to me.
Our family was torn apart by the wall and politics even divided our family: During the Soviet occupation of East Germany in the 1950s, our Mum’s mum spent time in an East German jail for spying for the west. This was a thorn in the eye of our dad’s parents who were loyal communists and advised my dad against marrying mummy R&R (which in turn only made him even more determined to marry her!)
In February 1989, 10 month before the fall of the wall, our parents fled East Berlin with nothing, leaving behind all material possessions and funds. having to start from scratch at the age of 40; an incredibly bold move, all to regain freedom and to give their children a better future.
Starting fresh in West Berlin wasn’t a bed of roses. My mum’s East German degree was not recognised and she had to study again at the age of 40. Rebel had to abondon her Ballet Career and I was traumatised by the fact that we had to leave behind my beloved cat Sina who died shortly after our move, of a broken heart. At West Berlin school, I was teased for my un-trendy Eastern Bloc-chic clothes and my East-German slang. I spoke German, but a Colloqial German that was different to that of my classmates.
Today, Berlin is an über-cool tourist destination, currently number 3 of Europe’s most popular destinations. Berlin’s visitor numbers are predicted to eclipse Paris, currently holding number 2, in 2015.
It’s a fascincating mix of a City that is nothing like the rest of Germany: easy-going, anarchic, ever-changing, open and cosmopolitan. A city whose locals are known for having a “loud mouth with a golden heart”. A city which has influenced Europe politics like no other with a female chancellor (called Mutti=Mami) who’s calling the shots in the EU. Who would have thought all of this possible 25 years ago?
Stay tuned for more insights into life behind the iron curtain with interviews of contemporary witnesses….