The Berlin Wall was dismantled 24 years ago but the memory of the divided city lives on. Hinterm Horizont, the musical, portrays the story of Udo Lindenberg, the German rock star, who staged a concert in East Berlin, in 1983, at the Palast de Republik and fell in love with ‘Die Maedchen von Ostberlin’ – the girl from East Berlin. The musical is a love story (of course) but still sends a strong message about the reunification of Germany, which stirred the audience to get to its feet in support of greater cooperation between the east and the west.
We remember sitting in our living room on the farm at Crystal Creek in October 1989, watching on TV as the Wall was dismantled, piece by piece and the people tumbled over shouting with glee, waving the German flag and hugging each other. It was almost unreal. It was certainly a moment of hope for the future. Footage of this time during the performance kept the Musical grounded in reality.
It is hard to believe how much the division of the city and this period of history still rankles in the German psyche. As tourists, you can do a Berlin Wall bike tour and visit a 1970’s atomic war bunker. We began by visiting the Stasi museum near Alexanderplatz. The huge complex was built in 1960-61 by Erich Mielke, head of the Ministry for State Security, otherwise known as the Stasi, and still remains a forbidding looking building. The interior has a retro feel, brown stained wood panelling and 1970’s furniture. We began by investigating the spying equipment and were immediately reminded of that 60’s TV show ‘Get Smart’. Spy cameras in ties, shopping bags and watering cans, recording devices in huge transistor radios cum tape decks and the ubiquitous bone coloured trench coat were all on display. The methods used to train informers and even the famous ‘Get Smart’ telephone box was in evidence, along with ancient methods to steam open envelopes and literally iron them closed!
It all seemed incredibly puerile, comic and archaic, except that anyone who has seen the Academy Award winning movie ‘The Lives of Others’ or read Anna Funder’s Stasiland, would know that the reality was crippling and dreadfully dangerous. It seemed almost everyone informed on everyone else and the psychological harassment of citizens resulted in many suicides. People scaling the Wall or jumping into the river Spree to escape were shot.
The Wall symbolised the removal of freedoms for the East Germans and the division of the city. Its remains still wind through the city, with the famous Brandenburg Tor, symbol of Berlin’s past freedoms and the Parliament building or Reichstag/Bundestag set firmly in the Eastern zone behind the Wall. The East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain is the only part of the Wall, which still stands and it is a 1.3 kilometre stretch of art inspired memorial. Along the Spree river behind the Bundestag building are several crosses, a memorial to those who drowned trying to cross the river.
Like many artists, Udo Lindenberg refused to be intimidated by the Stasi and not only wrote send-up songs, such as ‘Sonderzug nach Pankow’ – Special Train to Pankow, partly set to the music of Chattanooga Choo Choo and satirising Erich Honnecke, the DDR president but also painted satirical cartoons. He was pressured not to perform the song in 1983 and his return tour in 1987 was refused because of the rebellious effect he had on young people. They even tried to find a lookalike to replace him! The Stasi Museum had an exhibition of Lindenberg’s provocative cartoons, which inspired us to buy tickets to the musical in Pottsdamer Platz. We were not disappointed and left with a greater appreciation of the long lasting effect this period has had on Berlin.
The final word was etched on one of the Eadt Side Gallery’s art works in both German and English – ‘Many small people who in many small places do many small things that will change the face of the world’.