EAST BERLIN, GERMANY — Two decades and counting since the fall of the wall. A whole generation has been born and grown during the time. And the capstone of reunification was put in place this summer when a united Germany hoisted the World Cup for the first time.
Which raises the question: is Berlin still culturally divided or this division just an exhibit under the glass or world history? We came this summer to find out.
The first thing you notice about East Berlin is the colors. That’s something that those living in the former GDR probably would never have imagined. From the flowery tiki bars on the banks of the Spree river to the ubiquitous street art, the urban East Berlin is alive with brightness. We strolled along the famous East Side Gallery with the rest of the tourists, snapping shots of the magnificent, poignant and sometimes just downright clever masterpieces of Berlin’s graffiti artists.
But what surprised me the most wasn’t the art. It was the sure signs of consumerism that have popped up as quickly as weeds along the former Communist sector. Literally across the street from the wall: a music venue sponsored by an international mobile company, clothing boutiques, even a 10-story Mercedes dealership. Just steps from the symbol of the line between communism and capitalism stood so distinctly.
I’m sure in the first years after reunification, the scenes of capitalism were the anomaly, the thing to ponder at. Now it’s the relics of a divided nation that bring gawkers. The wall, the outposts of soviet-era buildings, the war memorials. Like a great outdoor museum, the East Side today is more a place to stroll and wonder rather than remember.
And yet the art is not only the saving grace of those caged in citizens–it’s also the markers of the past. Color, it seems, is not only East Berlin’s way of coming back to life, it’s also its legacy.