Today I went to the East Side Gallery in Berlin. This is a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by over 100 artists. It was first done in 1990, and has had various restoration work done since then, as lots of graffiti has covered it over time.
I first visited the East Side Gallery when I was 19. Visiting it now, I was struck by how different the experience was for me, then versus now.
I was actually surprised to see what strong feelings I had on being there. I felt a bit overwhelmed by my emotions. And it got me thinking about how f’d the world is in so many places and so many ways. It wasn’t just that I was reflecting on the past as it had been for a divided Germany, but on all the conflicts around the world. And how senseless so much of it seems to be.
When I was at the East Side Gallery at 19, all I said about it in my journal I was keeping was that “it was very moving.” I was only 17 days into my first trip to Europe. I think then it probably felt like I was looking at a history in time that affected a “them”. But now to me, it really feels like an “us” issue, because the whole world should feel like “us” not “them”.
I certainly have a lot more context with which to approach seeing the East Side Gallery now. For one, I’m a good bit older now. I’ve traveled a lot more, and now as a nomadic world traveler I’ve already been opened up to so much new stuff in the past four months. I’ve also recently been in a divided and walled city, while in Nicosia, Cyprus. And I was recently talking with a friend who actually visited friends in East Berlin in 1982. Not to mention many other experiences along the way. Ultimately it ended up feeling like so much more than an outdoor gallery of art on a wall. But really had me reflecting on all the issues in the world, and how crazy so much of it seems. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that when I saw The Wall at 19 years old, it was still pre-9/11, so as an American I’m sure there was still some of that feeling that “violence at home” was more a thing other countries dealt with. Though with all the violence in the US these days in a variety of manners, mass shootings and so forth, it’s hard to still think that way. Also, currently there is a presidential candidate who wants a wall running along the southern border. Is this really a world that needs more walls? Visiting the Berlin Wall, it certainly doesn’t feel that way.
I think I feel a connection to the world at large now that wasn’t the same even a year ago, not to mention when I was 19. And I couldn’t be happier about that. I also think that as I see more places, I continue to meet interesting and great people. But also get a lot of doses of realism mixed in to what I’m seeing and experiencing. Like recently seeing a photography exhibit showing the state of landfills around Beijing from a few years ago. That kind of thing happening on that large a scale really makes you think…
It was a fascinating time walking the East Side Gallery today. Even more so because it was a way to get a glimpse of my own changes from 19 to now, as I’ve traveled and experienced more. And as I feel more connected to the world at large.
I think people should travel a lot. And go to places you might not otherwise think about, or that are more culturally different than what you are used to. It might just open you up to things you hadn’t expected, and you just might find that you like the result.
I certainly like the person that more traveling seems to be shaping me into. And visiting a place I haven’t been in a very long time, and seeing those differences, was an unexpected bit of insight into that very thing. And made the already fascinating East Side Gallery in Berlin, that much more of a powerful experience.
I didn’t take a ton of pictures, I mostly just wanted to take it all in. But I have some to post. One I did not take, but that was fascinating, was that the one painting without graffiti was of the Star of David on a flag. Though honestly, it makes you wonder how often they have to re-paint it to keep it looking that clean…