I’ve come to realise that I have moved to the capital of Europe that has changed the most in the past twenty years and that I seem to be part of a ground-breaking moment of this chain of events that are shaping the city of Berlin. The East Side Gallery, one of Berlin top destinations and historical sights, has been the target of a construction project that plans on demolishing part of its wall.
After having read the news of more than 300 demonstrators gathering at the historic place and some of them chaining themselves against the wall in protest against the construction of modern and luxury buildings. I could not help but to ponder how we, human beings, are able to cope with history, with memories and with cultural symbolism.
I find myself midst a contradictory dilemma that creates an even wider gap between what I once thought was cultural heritage and my personal approach to German culture and its national and historic image. On the one hand, Berliners protest against the destruction of a wall, which is linked to history and expresses a struggle for freedom and liberty. Yet on the other hand, another generation of Berliners gave their lives away and fought to tear down the same wall back in the 80s. This wall, that personifies the horrors of humanity, violence, war and more than thirty years of an oppressive regime that divided not only the city, but also the souls and minds of hundreds of thousands of people. What a paradox. What once use to be loathed now turned to be the symbol for artistic autonomy and controversy against capitalism.
My mind keeps wondering about our notion of memory and how we tend to give material things such an elevated status of memorial, that we are no longer able to let go of them, for whatever reasons. Instead of questioning the reasons of tearing down the wall, I wonder and ask myself how much cultural value and historic significance are we giving to it. Without letting go of the ‘artistic’ value the wall has and its historical relevance, I rather keep on asking where to draw the limits of nostalgia, materialism and memory in our society.
And the dilemma goes even further, asking if Europeans should let go of their past or not. It is a constant struggle between nostalgia and suffering, between the past and the future, between what was once there and it is no longer here. As a non-European, I must confess that I always ponder about Germans dealing with a sense of guilt and using things such as the Berlin Wall to cross the line between pride and shame…
Is perhaps this ambivalence between remorse and overrated memorialization that keeps people, albeit Germans, Chinese or Colombians, to take refuge in material symbols? Why is it so hard to draw a line between what has to be forgotten and what has to be remembered and why do we draw it materially?
I have a strong belief that it might be time to start letting go, surely but slowly. Sure, the wall embodies memories and feelings and it reflects on a period of time that ought not to be repeated. Yet, I believe that the East Side Gallery debate is opening a discourse of modernity for the city that people should perhaps listen to.