In these last weeks, the East Side Gallery debate has bombarded my mind with contradictory thoughts, blurring even more my approach to German National image. Berliners are protesting in the street against capitalism, fighting to keep intact what remains of almost thirty years of a history of separation, violence, and oppression. Isn’t it paradoxical? Those people, who had been fighting in 1989 to tear down the infamous Berlin wall, are now fighting to keep it up. What once was a victory, has now turned into an international tragedy.
The reason for all this anger lays in the choice to ‘free up’ space for a majestic luxury condominium designed by some rich men in shirt and tie. Instead of questioning the validity of the reason, and demonstrate in favor of the preservation of German culture, I am struggling with all this sudden preoccupation with cultural value and memorialization. Without neglecting the historical relevance of the East Side Gallery and its significance in artistic terms, I am asking myself: How important is ‘memory’ in our society?
The question opens up the complex dynamic between past and present, between recall and forgetting, between trauma and nostalgia. Can we really deal with our history? I’ve always had the idea that our German image has often blurred the ambivalences between pride and guilt, overrating memorialization, and using it more as a strategy to condone the horrors of our history. If on one hand, the wall shows the victorious passage from pressure to freedom, on the other hand, it also reminds us of the brutalities of the 20th century, and how Germany has participated in making them possible. Can we peacefully live with this sense of shame?
Overthrowing this emotional conflict and deleting the traces would sound ideal, but why can’t we do it? Why do we still want to see the East Side Gallery running all the way down to Kreuzberg? How can we decide what our culture needs to remember and what has to be forgotten? I do believe in the strong symbolic value of the wall, it surely embodies feelings and memories, but it’s probably also time to march on. The luxury block of flats clearly shows how our city’s identity is slowly shifting into a ‘modernity’ discourse, based on commercialization and economic growth, far away from our past. Our image of Berlin, as the capital of low rents, open spaces, and countercultures, is fading away. Do we wanna prevent the advances of modernity? Or do we want to expand ourselves and compete with other international cities?
This involves sacrifice, a risk that we seem not to be ready to take. Maybe we should just remark the fact that the East Side Gallery is a part of our history, that it belongs to us, and that culture does not have a price. But, again, is this really what we are looking for?
What do you think? Should the East Side Gallery remain intact or is it okay if parts are being taken down in favor of new developements? Share your thoughts with us.