by Nicholas Myerberg · 08/09/11
Twenty-two years after the fall of the Wall, a long-reunified Berlin is still in the midst of trying to adequately commemorate the years spent separated by four feet of concrete.
Frank Hornig, writing for Der Spiegel, notes that Berlin’s most creative entrepreneurs have been the first to profit from Berlin’s not-so-distant past, to the chagrin of many. Business ventures like André Prager’s “Trabi Safaris”—a once-in-a-lifetime experience that essentially comprises getting into a notoriously terrible East German car and touring the route of the Wall while fearing a simulated traffic stop—have seen great success. Panhandlers and students alike have found it profitable to dress up like Stasi officers and East German police officers. Entertainers dress like Allied soldiers and pose with tourists at Checkpoint Charlie.
The portrayals of life in the time of the Wall have become so attractive to tourists that secondary entrepreneurs have started their business ventures nearby—not because they are close to the Wall, but, rather, because they are close to the tourists. They dress up like Disney characters and put on a show for visitors, perhaps not even realizing what the concrete divider between East and West has now become: a meaningless form that renders Germany’s painful post-WWII history easy to swallow.
The state of the Wall has prompted a lot of discussion amongst politicians and conservators, fearful that Berlin might become a theme park for twentieth-century totalitarianism and oppression. In effect, as Hornig suggests, we are witnessing the “Disneyfication” of the Wall and its history. What was not so long ago a very real experience for so many Germans has become a hyperreal fantasy land that supports itself through a kind of song-and-dance interpretation of history.
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the construction of the Wall. Official commemorations have been organized: the president, the chancellor, and other top officials are expected to attend a solemn event at the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauer Straße. Simultaneously, business will be as usual at the Brandenburg Gate for those who have found profit in recent German History.
World leaders from former Czech President Vaclav Havel to former US Secretary of State James Baker to former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas have collectively called for the construction of a new museum at Checkpoint Charlie. However, little progress has been made in official German circles; it seems that few German politicians are interested in the museum.
Little can be done about the performers and entrepreneurs, which is probably for the best. It is, after all, an intractable conflict between respectful commemoration and liberal freedoms—a Hegelian tragedy in the making. Concerned parties, then, must focus—for the time being—on trying to contextualize the Wall in a respectful, historically accurate way. Considering politicians’ disinterest in the matter, it is private citizens who must create respectful spaces of contemplation and learning between the Disney characters, two-stroke East German cars, and Darth Vader.