At 7pm on 9 November, 8,000 balloons stretching across Berlin were released into the night sky, commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the balloons rose, messages from Berliners were read aloud, an orchestra played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and across the city people celebrated the historic moment when East Berlin was once again united with the West. This was a very poignant moment for Germany, especially considering its capital’s evolution over the past 25 years.
Today, Berlin is globally considered as a cultural hub. Edgy, alternative and effortlessly cool, Berlin is the place to be, attracting everybody who is anybody in the creative world, from artists to app designers. Only this week, it was announced that Berlin was the most ‘fun’ city in the world, but how has this status been achieved? What has this city, – born from the ashes of a violent past – done to deserve the recognition is has today? In order to pay tribute to Germany’s historical landmark, we look back on the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how the cultural aftermath has shaped the last 25 years of the city’s history.
As soon as the concrete crumbled, endless possibilities opened up to Eastern Germany, as well as the West. The normality of the former was now to be transformed and aligned with the democratic ways of Britain, France and America, and just as these three nations put their paintbrushes to the newly blank Eastern canvas, so did Berlin’s young and rebellious. A new identity was forming within the city, one which embraced its unstable past and thrust it to the forefront of Berlin’s rhetoric. They were the children of the post-terrorist era and they weren’t going to let anybody forget it.
Of course, the street art covering almost every surface of Berlin, particularly on the Wall, stands as a visual reminder of this. It has become embraced by inhabitants as their political freedom of speech – one unanimous voice that speaks the truths that were suppressed for so long.
Alongside these public demonstrations of defiance, within the derelict Eastern Germany, a darker, shadier side of Berlin was also forming. Echoing the atmosphere of the Weimar Republic’s seedy cabarets, the Soviet wasteland became the playground for a diverse cultural community. With newfound freedom, experimentation among the young and reckless became fashionable, and their artistic expression still reverberates today through Berlin’s evolving identity.
Although not always as controversial and provocative as before, today, Berlin still allows its culture to be shared by all. Prior to the commemoration on 9 November, Berlin held a two day festival, demonstrating its diverse and wide-ranging cultural activity. Classical music was performed by various orchestras, exhibitions were held, and there was a colourful street festival for all to enjoy: a true representation of Berlin, I feel, and all that its people have to offer.
Of course, the end of Berlin’s divide was psychological as well as physical: as the wall came down, so did fixed mindsets from both sides. This abolition of ideologies and prejudices instantly created the potential for the transformation of the city. In my opinion, culture within Berlin did not simply change; it was reborn, and over the last 25 years, it has been nurtured by those who belong to Berlin, allowing it to blossom into the wondrous and diverse place that we find so enticing today.