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The Border Wall That Was: Berlin Wall Festival Honors the 30th Anniversary of the Fall

By Jennifer Ceaser

Oct 2, 2019

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Artist Patrick Shearn’s billowing banner above the Brandenburg Gate is made of 30,000 ribbons, each carrying a message submitted by people all over the world.

Photo (c) Poetics: Art installation by Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics, curated by Kulturprojekte Berlin

Artist Patrick Shearn’s billowing banner above the Brandenburg Gate is made of 30,000 ribbons, each carrying a message submitted by people all over the world.

A week of concerts, art installations, dance parties, plus a cool new virtual-reality app mark the historic event that paved the way for German unification.

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On November 9, 1989, the images were broadcast around the world: Massive crowds had gathered at the Berlin Wall to welcome East Berliners spilling over the 15-foot-high, 28-mile-long concrete barrier that had divided the city since its erection on August 13, 1961.

Following a wave of democratic reform across Eastern Europe, East Germany’s hardline communist government lost power and finally agreed to open the country’s borders with the west. The fall of the Berlin Wall signified the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Berlin is marking the 30th anniversary of this historic occasion with a weeklong festival taking place across the capital. From November 4 to 10, 2019, more than 100 events—concerts, theater, open-air exhibitions, readings, film screenings, and dance parties—will be held at seven locations around Berlin that have special historical significance.

Festival events will take place at points along where the Berlin Wall stood.

Many of the festival’s highlights will take place at the Brandenburg Gate, which had been a symbol of the city’s division, both geographically and politically. Visitors once climbed an observation platform here to see the monument, which stood behind the Iron Curtain, on the other side of the death strip that divided East and West Berlin. It was here in 1987 that Ronald Reagan called for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”


For the festival, artist Patrick Shearn will create an enormous banner suspended above the landmark; it will contain 30,000 messages written on ribbons—memories and wishes of hope submitted by people around the world. On the anniversary evening of November 9, a stage in front of the gate will feature a performance by the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra and include speakers who took part in the Peaceful Revolution and witnessed the fall of the wall. The evening culminates with DJ WestBam’s kickoff of Berliner Clubcommission’s European Club Night, with dance parties taking place in 27 clubs around the city. 

At the Gethsemane Church, where thousands of East Berliners taking part in a peaceful protest and candlelight vigil in October 1989 were brutally confronted by East German police, punk poet and singer Patti Smith will present a concert titled Mauern werden einstürzen (“Walls Will Collapse”) on November 5. If you can’t score a free ticket to the event (details will be released closer to the date), Smith will also be performing an original work, Erinnerung (“Memory”), the night before at the Pierre Boulez Saal concert hall.

Every night during the festival, six key sites will be illuminated with video projections of archival footage, telling the story of what took place leading up to Germany’s reunification. The largest will be at Alexanderplatz, a huge public square where a half-million East Germans gathered on November 4, 1989, calling for democratic reform. Others include the building facade of the former Stasi headquarters in Lichtenberg, where the first free elections were held following the fall of the wall, and on the former parliamentary building, the Palast der Republik Schlossplatz, now the site of the Humboldt Forum. 


Additional events, which are yet to be announced, will take place along the avenue Kurfürstendamm and at East Side Gallery, a 4,300-foot-long remnant of the Berlin Wall covered in murals, including the iconic “kiss” between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker.

With the MauAR augmented-reality app, you can discover what the Berlin Wall looked like where you are standing.

MauAR, a free 3D augmented reality app, will also launch during the festival. Open your smartphone or tablet near a place where the Berlin Wall once stood and you can view a virtual model of the wall—complete with concrete barriers, barbed wire, and guard towers—during three key years in its history: 1961, 1971, and 1981. Animation, photographs, sounds, and music heighten the experience, and two fictitious characters from East and West Berlin relate their stories of living on opposite sides of the partition. Download the app at www.mauar.berlin.

A complete list of scheduled festival events will be released later this month on the website 30th Anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution–Fall of the Berlin Wall

>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Berlin

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