30 years on – Artists and activists remember fall of Berlin Wall ++REPLAY++

(6 Nov 2019) LEAD IN:
It’s almost thirty years since the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1981. People across Germany are preparing to remember that turbulent time.
One panoramic artwork is transporting people back to Berlin in the 1980s, when the wall divided the city.  

An exhibition in Berlin takes viewers back in time, to three decades ago.  
On a cold and grey day, sometime in the 1980s, people are shown going about their lives in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
But ever present, like always, is the huge wall that once cut through the city.
The panorama exhibition showcases the Berlin wall on a 900 square meter large polyester fabric.
It shows people bringing their children to school. Punks, standing around and smoking. And behind the wall, traces of another life with the flag of the German Democratic Republic, also called East Germany, hanging from a window.
The panorama is the creation of Yadegar Asisi, an artist that specialises in large scale panoramas.
Asisi came to East Germany as a young child after his family fled the Iranian authorities.
In 1978, when he had finished his university degree, the East German government informed him that his time as an asylum seeker was up, and he was asked to leave the country.
In the end, he moved just a few hundred meters, across the wall to the west side of Berlin.
He says that life, on both sides of the wall, just went on.
“Life was normal. And I often think about this normality,” he says.
“I wonder ‘am I a bad person because I didn’t notice the wall.’ We went to restaurants next to the wall, we had fun next to the wall. I had a friend that lived on one of the streets next to the wall and I can still see how I would stir my coffee and look out the window at the wall and then I turned around and we just spoke about normal things. You didn’t see the wall anymore.”
The first structure that would later be called the Berlin Wall was built on August 13, 1961.
The East German authorities called it the anti-fascist barrier, but it was clear that it was meant to stop people fleeing East Germany.
The first more temporary structures, such as fences and a smaller wall, was eventually replaced by a large permanent wall structure.
On the eastern side of it, there was a large zone where people were not allowed, complete with mines and snipers in guard towers. It was called the death strip.
Asisi says he used real stories from his time living around the wall to make the panorama.
“The stories are real. They are things that happened. I was there for all the stories myself. And that’s why I think I’m a good person to speak about these things.”
In October 1989, protests around the country, as well as mass migration to countries such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, led to a precarious situation.
At a press conference on November 9, an official for the East German government, somewhat mistakenly declared that the borders of East Germany would be opened.
The news spread fast and tens of thousands of people gathered at the border crossings, demanding to be let through.
In the end, the guards opened the gates, and the Berlin Wall was soon after torn down.
By then, Asisi was living in the west of Berlin, he immediately went to Brandenburg Gate in the centre of Berlin to walk over to the East.
“To be able to walk through Brandenburg Gate on this day (when the wall fell), the police was there but they let us through. That was a real emotional flash for me,” he says.

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Author: Rich