There’s nothing like going up against a wall — the Berlin Wall — to appreciate the freedom of movement we enjoy here in the U.S.A.
Even though I was outside, in the open, looking at remnants of the Wall during my spring visit to Berlin, a feeling of claustrophobia washed over me.
Strolling along the official Berlin Wall Memorial site on Bernauer Strasse, I read and heard chilling tales of German citizens trapped behind the heavily fortified barrier that went up almost overnight on Aug. 13, 1961.
For 28 long years, the Berlin Wall was a nightmare of barbed wire and concrete, vicious dogs, border guards, beds of nails and a notorious narrow “death strip” between its parallel barricades.
The Wall stretched for nearly 90 miles, separating East and West Germany and, most famously, dividing East and West Berlin. It split the city and the entire nation, both physically and psychologically, until Nov. 9, 1989. On that day the Communist government finally succumbed to mounting pressure and the Wall came tumbling down.
Photo gallery: Before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall
But not before more than 5,000 escape attempts – and over 200 deaths. Some would-be defectors died jumping from East Berlin apartments that straddled the border into the West. Many escaped by swimming or tunneling under the Wall. Desperate parents tied children in boxes and tried to float them across the canal. Others strapped themselves beneath their cars, hid in trunks or rammed their vehicles through border checkpoints.
Some drifted above the Wall in homemade hot-air balloons while others made it to freedom in ultra-light planes.
This weekend, Berliners will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with special exhibits, memorial services and concerts, including a performance by Peter Gabriel at the iconic Brandenburg Gate.
The most dramatic anniversary event, Friday through Sunday, will be a grand illumination of 8,000 white, helium-filled balloons that will stretch along a 9.5-mile path where the Wall once stood.
Large video-screen projections will show historic footage near the lighted, biodegradable balloons as they’re released into the sky, en masse, at sunset on Sunday carrying personal messages from Berliners. The Berlin city orchestra will play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at the Brandenburg Gate.
And you can join the celebration by sharing messages with Berliners and others around the world on an interactive website, www.fallofthewall25.com.
I’ll be among those celebrating from afar. After all, what could be more fitting than a balloon release to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, a diabolical “border security system” that robbed so many of their freedom?
To learn more about the Wall’s history and the 25th anniversary celebration, check www.visitberlin.de/en