Richard Armitage’s recent #nowalls tweet made me very happy as I have very strong anti-wall sentiments myself! It also made me think of my own wall experiences. (Posting a screencap here, in case the tweet gets deleted sometime in the future).
I lived in Germany for the first half of my teens when the wall was still very much there and very much a part of German life. When I was 14 or 15 we went on a class trip to Eschwege (in the north-east of the province of Hessen) and close to Eschwege was a portion of the border between the two Germanies. We visited the border there which was also a wall. It was my first confrontation with such a physical border, it was made of concrete slabs and it impressed me, not in a good way. It felt weird that behind that wall was a very different way of life and that people were forcefully separated from each other.
My next experience with the actual physical wall was when I was 19 and I went to Berlin. It was the summer of 1989, the summer before the wall fell. On that trip we visited East Berlin for a few hours on a special visa, we had our own guide and were not permitted to talk to anyone in the East. It was very surreal. No one that August would have believed that only a few months later the wall would actually fall! It was a huge event!
I also visited Berlin for a weekend just a week or two after the wall fell. What I most recall is walking through a huge department store in West Berlin. The store was jam-packed, if you wanted to walk you had to literally squeeze past people, and despite it being packed it was dead quiet in the store. These were all people from the East, coming to take a look in the West, gawking at everything that was available (but not yet affordable) in West German stores. I think it was one of the most eery experiences in my life. And it was the most miraculous feeling that this wall had finally finally come down, reuniting families and friends and allowing people to meet each other in freedom!
4 years ago I visited Berlin again, this time with my husband and kids. The wall is history now and is gone but you can visit parts that have been kept as memorial.
It’s a chilling reminder… the wall has caused so much sorrow and at the spot where these pictures were taken you can read all about it and see videos. It really helped explain the wall to the kids. It also makes you wish that never again will people think to build walls like that again…
But alas, these walls do exist and have been built in recent times too! The most prevalent one for me is on the Israeli-Palestinian border and that wall just breaks my heart. I hate it! Nowadays when you travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (on the West Bank) you have to go through checkpoints and you have to pass a wall that is very reminiscent of the Berlin Wall! I have this childhood memory, from way before the wall existed, of going to church on Sunday in Jerusalem. Afterwards we’d drive to Bethlehem and in Manger Square (where the Church of the Nativity is situated) we’d go for a falafel lunch before heading home again. I used to love that little family tradition but nowadays it is far less easy to do that, with the whole wall errected separating the two cities.
Luckily in the West Bank you can talk to anyone you like (unlike when I visited East Berlin in 1989) but the wall gives a real sense of being in a huge prison. I can travel freely enough between Israel and the West Bank with my Dutch passport but many Palestinians can’t. Heck, my cats have travelled more than many Palestinians! I can tell you here and now, walls such as these are not a solution, they never will be… They divide and alienate and breed distrust and inequality and they imprison. They do not ensure freedom, they restrict freedom…So yes, with all my heart I can agree with the #nowalls sentiment and hope that in the future walls will be torn down rather than be built.