PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Call me naïve, call me ignorant, call me whatever. I had no historical context to place this whole Communism thing. I came to Berlin – and like most people – thought it was going to be cool, had heard it was the Manhattan of Europe. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see both Western and Eastern Europe in the same city. And it was cool but also eye opening. I explored the city, walking from one end to the other. East and West. The first thing that struck me was the architecture once I reached what used to be East Berlin. Stark, cold, large – all the buildings looked the same. I walked along where the Berlin Wall used to be, all the way to the tourist attraction Checkpoint Charlie. It seemed that Communism was cool again.
People talked about how artists had taken over the old Stazi buildings because of the cheap rent and wasn’t this cool? Well, yes. Running through all these discussions was an implication that the old GDR was cool, perhaps there was something unknown about what was going on behind that iron curtain all those years and people (mainly outsiders who did not live through this era) were latching on to the interesting elements and dismissing the negative experiences.
However, the more I learned about life under the GDR – which stood for German Democratic Republic, go figure – it was anything but cool. Imagine waking up one morning and finding a barbed wire fence dividing the city? Imagine not being able to leave? Imagine a standoff with soldiers on a daily basis? Lack of food? Loved ones lost.
I moved on to Prague and walked the streets where a revolution happened twenty years ago. I was shown archive footage of showdowns between the state and the people. You could still feel the history that was played out here.
It was fascinating to learn about how the Cold War showdown was literally playing itself out on the streets of Berlin. It is a testament to the people, who after a series of strange occurrences and mistakes, brought down the wall and the curtain. There was nothing cool about living behind that curtain but what is cool is becoming aware of how it all came down. People having enough stuff thrown at them that they just can’t take it anymore and collectively do something about it. So, yes, the old East Berlin is pretty cool but because the buildings represent a moment in time when people united and changed the state of things.
And what do you think?