November 9, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps more amazing than this passage of time is realizing that the so-called “peaceful revolution” among East and West Germans hoping to reunite their divided country has remained successful for more than two decades.
I was struck by the significance of the Fall at a recent event hosted by the Visit Berlin tourism office, where German officials apologized for past “atrocities” committed by the Nazis during World War 2 and the East German government during the Cold War. The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in contrast, is giving them a reason to celebrate Freedom, and everyone was very emotional in discussing it.
Even Kids Today Know about the Berlin Wall
Although our son and most Millennials would certainly not remember the 1989 fall of The Wall as it came to be known, they have seen sections of it at the Newseum in Washington DC, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, and even at The Anatole Hilton in Dallas, where it is part of Trammel Crowe’s art collection. The hideously raw, three-ton sections, each 3.9 feet by 11.8 feet sections, are brightly decorated and hard to forget.
Burkhard Kieker spoke with great excitement about the commemoration plans underway in his hometown for November 2014. He shared the moment in 1989 when he heard a Politburo member announce via radio, possibly mistakenly, that all Germans — even those barricaded by the hated Wall — were now “free to travel.” He recalled the revolutionary pronouncement as being “more like a whisper, than a bomb” and within a day The Wall had been dismantled by citizens of East and West Berlin eager to reunite their country.
November Commemorations of the Fall of the Wall
The primary 25th anniversary celebration for visitors is the Lichtgrenze, an open air living sculpture that will rise November 8 and 9th on The Wall’s former footprint. In contrast to the solid concrete barriers topped by barbed wire and cushioned by the heavily guarded “Death Zone” between the two countries, the illuminated, biodegradable balloons will create a virtual wall that evokes freedom from that dark past.
According to the tourism office, the 8,000 balloons will each be manned by local citizens along 12 kilometers of the approximately 156 kms that once stood. Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev and other cultural and political luminaries of the time are expected to attend. When the balloons are released, note the event’s organizers, they will mark the city’s hope for a world without walls.
We agree that the scheduled events are spine-tingling – guaranteeing one of those rare, unforgettable travel moments where you are absolutely in the right place at the right time.
For a more personal celebration, however, families can get in touch with Elmer Prost, the man charged with storing the dismantled segments of The Wall all these years. Original pieces of the infamous bulwark stand on an overgrown industrial field south of Berlin, where artists can purchase and decorate them for €500 per section. Apply online, and if approved, you’ll have six months to decorate it on-site, then sell it on a profit share-basis or take it home.
Exploring the Legacy of The Wall and Berlin’s Future
Visitors to the city should note that only 1.4 kilometers of the original Berlin Wall stand in place today, at the Memorial known as Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer on Bernauer Strasse in the city center. Try to see it and the other historical points related to The Wall before the event. The privately curated Berlin Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie (pictured above, photo courtesy of VisitBerlin.com) is one of the most intriguing sights, and kids will be fascinated by the display of many vehicles (even a hot air balloon and a mini submarine) invented to circumvent it.
The GDR Museum showcases life in the German Democratic Republic (East German) during this era, taking visitors into a furnished apartment to see artifacts from daily life. The Spy Museum just opened at Leipziger Platz to shed light on some of the espionage practices of the Cold War.
The Visit Berlin office has published a handy walking guide, “Berliner Mauer – The Berlin Wall” with maps, contact information, and more information at the site Mauer.VisitBerlin.de
For more ideas on what to see and do while exploring Berlin with the family, see FTF’s Guide to Berlin’s Top Family Attractions.
Getting to Berlin and Saving in Style
Late fall and winter is also a great time of year to visit Berlin, preceding the Christmas markets and winter festivals. To enable you to participate in this historic event, airberlin, Germany’s second largest airline and a partner in the OneWorld Alliance, has announced reduced fares for travel from October 27 through December 14, 2014. (Parents can take advantage of the Presidents Day and early spring breaks and use this fare between January 12-March 15, 2015 as well.)
Note that special offer tickets are available online; we found a New York JFK to Berlin “City & Shopping” special for US$815.80 and a round-trip bargain New York to Stockholm for just US$482.80, including taxes and surcharges. Of course, there’s lots of fine print and seat reservations and excess baggage fees are additional, but they have deals worth checking out. Visit Air Berlin online, your travel agent, or call their agents at 866/266-5588 for more information.
To find out about the latest hotel deals, checkout the Visit Berlin hotels page. Here’s a wonderful video to share with anyone who might be too young to remember The Wall.
And if you’re there on the 9th, please post some pictures to our Facebook page so we can party along with you.
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