Recently the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated. The wall, which spanned 96 miles across Germany, divided East and West Germany or more commonly the Soviet Union from the west. It became the embodiment of the Iron Curtain, the term Winston Churchill, nearly two decades before its construction, used to refer to the areas in which the Soviet Union occupied following World War II.
It’s safe to say that most people know what it was. It represented a very literal “line in the sand” between the Soviet Union and the western nations during the Cold War. Built in 1961, it stood tall for almost three decades until the Cold War started to thaw. Many of you may remember Ronald Reagan’s famous words in 1987, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And soon enough, the wall came down in November 1989, though it wasn’t physically gone until 1991.
While the Berlin Wall was a symbol of so much sadness, during its time the Germans who came in contact with it found a way to at least give it some kind of humanity. That humanity came in the form of art work that adorned the length of the wall. The artwork may not have been of the happy variety but it did show that a wall and over 30 years of isolation will not break the human spirit.
It is because of this artwork that upon the demolition of The Berlin Wall that the wall still stands in various incarnations around the world. Of course, it is also because the Berlin Wall is one of the major points of 20th century history, but the art work that graces it’s facade is what allowed the rest of the world to turn this gigantic form of human oppression into art for the world to enjoy.
Forty pieces of the Berlin Wall are scattered across Europe, including the longest remaining section of the wall known as the East Side Gallery in Berlin. The gallery is the largest open air gallery in the world. It contains roughly a mile of the Berlin Wall covered in various works of art with various messages for onlookers.
There are another 70 pieces scattered across the world among Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas, including 54 in the United States. One of the installations of the Berlin Wall in the United States is actually in the bathroom of a Las Vegas casino. Think up what you may what statement that is making.
Overall, the Berlin Wall is very much alive and well, but perhaps more importantly in it’s survival its image has greatly changed. It has gone from a symbol of division to a symbol of unity by being spread across the world as art.