From abroad: The Soviet ghost of Berlin

By Sarah Henderson ‘16

Contributing Writer

I take the U1 trainevery day to class, but this time I decided to actually ride the line through to its end, to WarschauerStraße. Soviet occupation of East Berlin ended over 25 years ago, but the aftershock can still be seen.So when I off the train onto the platform, I stepped back in time. Urban blight and graffiti dominate the landscape, and more importantly, a full kilometer of the Berlin Wall still stands, preserved.

As I walk down from the platform into the East Side Gallery, I take a step back and realize what I’m looking at: pieces of a wall that divided families, friends—an entire city. I walk along this concrete beast, now covered in murals and politically fueled statements, trying to imagine what it must have been like in the past. With wide bases to prevent cars from crashing into them and rounded tops to inhibit anyone who may have managed to scale their height, these pieces of wall meant serious business—and so did the people who designed them. For me, the Berlin Wall was always this fictional idea from history books and documentaries. I never really contemplated the meaning it held for the people who were subject to its power.

I could never imagine one day waking up to military officials constructing a wall through my yard, or having my windows brick and mortared so that I could not see half of my city. I tried to picture how these people lived on a daily basis with continual threat of war between East and West and no sight of an end to the division. I am amazed at the courage and strength that people of both sides of Berlin must have shown. Many people sacrificed their lives trying to reach loved ones in the West, while few successfully managed to escape Communist rule via tunnel, car or hot air balloon (to name a few).

This country, and particularly this city, have been through so much history, not to mention just in the last century. From being flattened during the two world wars and divided by Communist and Capitalist ideals, Berlin has managed to recreate itself and become one of the most unique cities in the world.

As I walk to Wittenbergplatz every morning to take the U1 to Kottbusser Tor, I think about the history I encounter in each and every step. I live in the former West near Kurfürstendamm, where East Berliners fled when the wall opened up. Commercial neon lit shops line the streets, along with the biggest mall in Europe, KaDeWe. I now recognizehow strongly this contrasts with the East end of the U1. Stark differences, however, give Berlin a flare of its own that quite frankly cannot be duplicated. I have fallen in love with this city and all of its beautiful quirks and colorful history. Thank you, Berlin, for widening my perspective and giving me the time of my life.