Wandering up to the first banner of the exhibit I realized it was entirely in German, so I quickly tried to translate the bits I could for my mom and aunt. Hearing me stumble through a shoddy English translation, the director of the exhibit walked up and gave us a short write-up in English, welcoming us quietly, humbly, without even an introduction. He began to explain the purpose of the exhibit, and the idea behind it, in English, trying to express to us in our language what he quite obviously was so passionate about. I answered him in German, hoping he would feel comfortable enough to switch back. He did, and what followed was incredibly moving. He talked for about five minutes, expressing in German a lot of things I can't do justice in translation, trying to say much that is probably, for him, largely unsayable. I only understood about 75% of the words he used, but it hardly mattered, because his emotion conveyed more than his words, and even my mother and aunt left feeling as though they had understood.
He said over and over that it was not what was in the pictures, so much as the existence of the pictures themselves within one year. I took from it this, that people all over Germany were living and working and waking and sleeping in 1989, just like they were in 1988 and just like they were in 1990, but that this year, this one place in time, connected them all, and that so much was happening. He talked about being in the Monday Demonstrations, the fear of people in the streets, knowing that even a peaceful protest could warrant violence from the police, and explained that the picture taken of the demonstrations was taken from an overhead view--the same perspective the government's snipers would have had on the square. There were times though, moving through the exhibit that you laughed out loud--a whole series of photos taken at dancing halls in Munich, or photos of children jumping wildly into a pool in Potsdam, or photos of older couples at horse races. The point is that they aren't our usual pictures of the wall falling, not the newsreel photos that those of my parent's generation would have memorized. They are photos of real people, taken by real people, about family and friends and food and normality. And yet they tell the story of a generation that has a history on both sides of the wall, and thus say something very profound, by showing a series of very simple moments.
I have no pictures from the exhibit, but if you do know some German and would be interested in the website for the exhibit, you can check it out here. The artist we spoke to (I later learned his name from the gallery catalogue he generously gave to us) is Frank Heinrich-Mueller, and you can learn more about him (in English!) here.
However, I did happen to visit the East Side Gallery with my family on their last day in Berlin. The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining section of the Wall, and now one of the most famous open air exhibits in the world. Artists from all over came together in 1990 to paint images of freedom on the East Side of the wall, leaving behind a memorial that is at times lively, moving, haunting, hilarious, and provocative. Walking along it I heard at least five different languages, which, I think, is very fitting. Here are some of the pictures from our walk:
looking through a gate to the West side
French, for my sister
perhaps my favorite
I am consistently humbled by the people I meet, by their generosity and their honesty and their willingness to share their experiences. I guess "falling walls" resonates in a number of ways, here and at home, and it's the only phrase I can think to describe my experiences here, in this community, thus far.