One Wall Can Fall, But In Society Obstacles Are Always Rising by Laura Onate-Madrazo
On November 9, 2009 a group of students and faculty from the media department at Webster Leiden embarked on a journey around Berlin exploring and documenting the city and its ceremonies for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. By chance, our hostel happened to be located just a few steps away from a portion of the wall that still stands in Berlin today. So we were lucky enough to begin our day walking next to part of the original wall and the beautiful and powerful murals that have been painted on it. From there we continued our travels through the city following the commemorative path of bricks that now lays along the roads and sidewalks, where the wall used to stand.
We eventually arrived in the main city center, at the vast trail of painted, life-sized ‘dominoes’ that were temporarily erected to lead up to the Brandenburg Gate, and which would later be set to fall in motion, as the culmination of the day’s celebrations. The streets of Berlin were filled with people, filled with the spirit of celebration in spite of the piercing cold and the hefty rain. The streets themselves gave off an air of strength, pride, and triumph so powerful that it seemed as if the city itself, its walls, its bricks were also joining the celebration. Standing in Berlin that day you knew you were witnessing and experiencing an astonishing triumph of freedom for society and for humanity. It was extraordinarily beautiful to be a part of this, but throughout the city, throughout the day, small reminders were continuously appearing making it difficult to forget the reality of our world, the many freedoms that still do not exist, and the many ways in which society and humanity are not yet triumphant.
Along our walk earlier in the day, a fluffy pink bunny sticker posted on a wall with the words “Stop Homo/Trans Phobia” made it impossible to ignore the many triumphs the gay community still has yet to celebrate in their fight to hold the respect of society regarding what they feel are their rights.
The word “Allah” sprayed in graffiti art on the remains of the standing wall, and the Palestinian waiter who served us our lunch-time schnitzel, made it impossible not to be reminded of another wall. The wall which is standing today on the other side of the world depriving the Palestinian people the ability to move freely into the territory they believe to be their own.
The date “9.11.1989″ written on flyers that were pasted onto so many of the city’s lamp posts, and hand-painted on so many of the domino blocks, was a constant reminder of another 9.11. Although in this context, 9.11 refers to November 9th, in the US, 9.11 refers to September 11th. This made it difficult not to reflect on the events of 9.11.2001 and the freedoms that have been lost for so many different people in so many different places around the world because of the events of that day.
Something else that was impossible to ignore was an irony potentially missed by many. At that moment, Berlin was filled with crowds of people, there to celebrate the fall of the wall and their freedom to move freely around their city. A freedom they were deprived of for almost thirty years while the wall was standing. However, in preparation for the celebrations, the city had erected metal barriers along the kilometre-long row of standing dominoes, waiting to be released to fall. These barriers that were understandably placed there to control the flow of the crowds and to protect the domino blocks from being tipped over. This resulted in a restriction in being able to cross from one side of the dominoes to the other. One would have to walk a large length of the dominoes in order to reach a crossing point to access the other side. The necessity of measures to restrict the movement of people who were there precisely to celebrate their freedom of movement was quite ironic. However what this says about our society and about people’s inability to be peaceful, conscientious and considerate in society, even when in a festive celebration of a triumph of society, is quite telling.
The celebrations in Berlin that day had another symbolic reminder of the restrictions placed on people by society, and of the undeniable reality that freedom is nothing more than an illusion. Although less visible than the metal barriers, this symbol loudly reminded every person present in Berlin that day and every person watching the celebrations from their home that night of everything that is un-triumphant and hopeless about our society. The events that took place were fundamentally a celebration of society’s triumph over communism. The peak of the celebrations was when the domino blocks fell over one by one landing on the wet ground on top of each other. Every single one of the blocks that fell over that night had an advertisement pasted across the bottom of its side from a sponsoring company. The humor in the situation was best expressed by Julian Scaff when he jokingly announced “This revolution is brought to you by Siemens”. The events taking place that day may not have been a revolution but they were a celebration of a revolutionary triumph in society, and they were in fact all brought to us by Siemens, Easy Jet, Monster, and a variety of other sponsors. Despite the laughter this brought out, the reality of the situation is anything but funny. We believe that we live in a free society where our rights are respected and our freedom is protected. We do in fact enjoy more freedoms than other models of society. However, by being in a capitalist society, so many of our freedoms are being quietly restricted on a daily basis. The truth of the matter is that none of the celebrations in Berlin that day could have taken place if there hadn’t been companies willing to sponsor them. No celebration, no event, no entertainment, no art, nothing can be created or experienced by the people in our society without funding and an entity to fund it. We are inevitably dependent on the funds, and controlled by the funders. This makes it impossible not to question how it is that we can think we are free, and how much freedom there truly is to celebrate in our society. But hopefully the awareness of a constant process towards freedom that was heightened in Berlin that day can lead us another step closer to freedoms worth celebrating even further.
Laura Onate-Madrazo is a student in the B.A. program in Media Communications at Webster University Leiden. She comes from Mexico.
[ Berlin Wall 2009 ]