Ruins of the Berlin Wall: what they whisper 25 years later

Ruins of the Berlin Wall: what they whisper 25 years later

A West German man uses a hammer and chisel to chip off a piece of the Berlin Wall as a souvenir in November 1989 (Credi: U.S. Department of Defense).
A West German man uses a hammer and chisel to chip off a piece of the Berlin Wall as a souvenir in November 1989 (Credi: U.S. Department of Defense).

.- What remains of the Berlin Wall discloses a subtle yet stark reminder for civilization to not “look to walls as solutions,” says German priest Father Bernd Hagenkord, S.J.

It's been twenty-five years to the day since the wall fell – an event which marked the beginning of the end of the decades-long Cold War, and served as a catalyst for Germany's reunification. The anniversary comes months after the canonization of John Paul II, one of the core figures involved in the collapse of communism.

Beginning shortly after the end of World War II, the Cold War was marked by political and military tensions between the Western and Eastern Blocs, a separation symbolically referred to as the “iron curtain.” Erected in 1961 in Berlin, the Wall meant a separation between Germany's East and West which lasted until Nov. 9, 1989 when, after months of protests, the era was brought to an end.

Fr. Hagekord, director of Vatican Radio's German language program, was a first semester history student in the town of  Giessen in the West. He told CNA he had no ties with the East, having grown up in Western Germany.

“For my generation growing up in the 70s, 80s it was clear there was two Germanies,” he said. Talks of reunification were “part of the folklore” and not taken seriously. It was then a “complete surprise” when the wall collapsed, as well as the “velocity” with which it happened.
 
The twenty-fifth anniversary also marks three distinct generations, Fr. Hagenkord said: “the people grew up before it was built, my generation and others who were born and grew up in its existence, and the generation afterward growing up without the wall.”

He stressed how important it is for Germany to remember this event. “You can't separate the wall from the Second World War and the atrocities committed during the time of the Nazi government in Germany.”

“We had Germany under occupation, for good reasons and we were being liberated. But that part of Germany wasn't. It was still under occupation, a different system.”

He continued: “We Germans have a long history and we have to make very sure that we learned from that history. We had to bear the consequences, yes, the people in the East more than the people in the West, but still we are one Germany now, and going together still is a challenge.”

One of the central players in the lead-up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall was Polish pontiff John Paul II. Although not involved in the protests which brought about the fall itself, Fr. Hagenkord explained, he was nonetheless an important Catholic figure “for the overall setting” of the time.

He was a Pope who “won against all those 'isms',” Fr. Hagenkord said. John Paul II is most remembered for speaking out throughout the 1980s against communism, but he also spoke out against “consumerism, the culture of death, as he called it.”

“We have to fight these 'isms', these ideological worldviews that keep us locked in behind the wall, so to speak,” he said.

As the world remembers the collapse of one wall a quarter century later, however, Fr. Hagenkord said it is important not to forget the walls which nations continue to put up to this day.

“Walls, and the building of walls, (are) very much in fashion,” he said, adding that he had accompanied Pope Francis to two separate countries in the past year where such Walls are being erected.

He cited the walls of Israel, Palestine, and South Korea – each visited by the Pope – as well as the barrier put in place to prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean into Italy. “I think we should think about (the new walls)... more than just remembering the old wall.”

“The old Wall is still there as a kind of memory,” he said, adding that we ought not “look to Walls as solutions to issues.”

Tags: Communism, Saint John Paul II, Berlin Wall