Commemorating Not Only The Past But Also The Present?

On the 9th of November Germany will, for the 25th time, commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall (Mauerfall) and in particular the 1200 ‘victims of the wall’. The group of artists/activists at the Zentrum für politische Schönheit, ZPS (engl: Center for Political Beauty) took this occasion to raise awareness on walls currently erected elsewhere in Europe.

14 white crosses commemorate the victims of the wall, the people who died trying to escape eastern Germany. One of the crosses bears the name of Philipp Held a wall victim, whose dead body was washed ashore the river Spree. The group took those crosses to the external borders of the EU, stating that ‘in an act of spontaneous solidarity the crosses fled/were moved to those people who, on the way to Europe dehydrate, capsize and drown’. That is why, on pictures the very cross dedicated to Philipp Held is being carried in gesture of solidarity by the people stranded in Melilla. Held is Whilst there is understanding in most of the political parties for the idea, in particular members of the German Christian democrats denounced the action as ‘new hight of political lack of taste’.

Whilst we are not calling the EU’s external borders walls but rather fences of containment or shields, the parallels between The Wall that was torn down, which we commemorate on the 9th and the ones we are erecting at the same time are undeniable. Of course, one could argue that there are differences between an external and an internal border. Wasn’t the separation of Germany an arbitrary division of a country as a whole? Whether a wall is created to keep people inside a country or to deter them from entering from the outside should be of little importance if people are dying trying to overcome them.

When we talk about the ‘victims of a wall’, we do so sounding as if the wall itself was not a creation of people. If people die trying to cross any wall, is it really the wall killing people? Or should it not rather be argued that there is indeed a responsibility of the people who created the wall in the first place. What does it say about Europe, surrounding itself with fences, walls and barricades, if again bodies of people who tried to overcome walls are washed ashore: Is that the border of a confident and helpful continent? When people die trying to overcome these constructions does that not question the very values for which Europe stands?

Philip Ruch from the ZPS calls for commemorating (at the 9th of November) not the past but the present. Consequently, group called into life the initiative for the first European Mauerfall, collecting money by crowd funding to travel to the EU’s external borders to make the wall there fall.

I grew up in a time when the wall had already been torn down by the people and still, what I remember most was the certainty the generations before me had: It was basic understanding that the wall would always be there. Build to last. Looking back on the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin wall in that light gives hope and shows the effect actions of the people – of us – can have.

– Hannah