Twenty-five years ago, the heavily fortified Berlin Wall that divided east and west Berlin and the capitalist world from the communist one, was breached and the two Germanys were reunited. Now a quarter of a century later, an art project named “Lichtgrenze” – the border of light – will mark this historical milestone with eight thousand glowing balloons across an eight mile (fifteen kilometre) stretch of the once heavily guarded and fortified border that separated Berlin for thirty years. The white glowing orbs will remain in place until this Sunday, when they will be set free from their tethers and allowed to rise into the sky. The balloons’ release will mark the pivotal moment on the 9th of November, 1989, when a garbled speech at a news conference by a senior east Berlin communist official – the Politburo spokesman Günter Schabowski -, began the chain of events that pulled down one of the most potent and controversial symbols of the Cold War. The opening wide of the East German border heralded the removal of one-party governments across eastern Europe. Poland soon elected its first non-communist prime minister and Hungary’s new government tore down its own border fences. Once the announcement was given, hundreds of east Berliners surged across the newly liberated border. Guards, who once had instructions to shoot on sight any escapees, were said to have been powerless to stop the crowds and let them through without any obstacle. One of the émigrés was current German chancellor Angela Merkel, who at that time was employed as a physicist.
“Even today when I walk through the Brandenburg Gate, there’s a residual feeling that this wasn’t possible for many years of my life, and that I had to wait 35 years to have this feeling of freedom,” Merkel said last week, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That changed my life.“
West and East Germany were formally reunified for the first time since the end of the Second World War on the 3rd October 1990, just under a year after the breaching of the Wall.
The route of the glowing balloons of the Lichtgrenze will snake past well known landmarks across the old divide, including Checkpoint Charlie (the border crossing between the wartime Soviet and British-American zones), the Brandenburg Gate (one of Berlin’s most recognised landmarks) and the German parliamentary building, the Reichstag. Many of the lit balloons, which resemble old-fashioned street lighting, will be affixed to the top of the wall’s remnants as well as local bridges adjoining the old border. The 25th anniversary will see celebrations across Germany as it marks not only the collapse of communism but also the beginning of its rise to becoming a European powerhouse and a prominent leader within the EU.
The balloons will be released to the soothing sounds of the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Ode to Joy – a symbol of peace after the reunion of Europe 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The light installation was organised and designed by brothers Marc and Christopher Bauder. In an interview with the British Daily Mail newspaper, Marc said: “We wanted to counter this ominous, heavy structure with something light.
‘Remembrance belongs to the people.“
Much of the Berlin Wall still stands, albeit in broken portions, as a reminder of how far the city has come since its divided days. The wall was originally built as a defensive measure but was also intended to prevent east Berliners from fleeing to the West. Turrets with armed guards and attack dogs watched over the ‘no man’s land’ that split the city, gunning down anyone that dared to escape. A total of 138 people were killed along the Berlin wall from 1961 until 1989 as they tried to flee, some just months before peaceful protests opened the border. German reunification in 1989 saw jubilant crowds tear down parts of the war and stream through openings and border crossings. Much of the remaining structure is now adorned with graffiti celebrating both the city’s vibrant arts scene and hopes for peace.
The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, inaugurated the Lichtgrenze light installation and its 8,000 ‘Luftballons’ on the evening of 7th November 2014 (yesterday) in a solemn address to the public near the German parliament, the Reichstag. Hundreds of the city’s residents clustered together in the sharp German cold to watch a film on the history of the Wall. For many, it was an emotional, yet stoic, time of remembrance of a city once-divided by wartime machinations and political alliances.