It’s the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and I’d like to write about what being here for that has meant for me. I’ve been a little blocked, though, because I was trying to get it all into one post. It’s just all too much. I decided to start over, take the pressure off and just plan to have it be a theme I write a series of posts about. I will tag them with the word “Vergangensheitbewältigung”.
Vergangensheitbewältigung. What an interesting idea is wrapped up in that word. It’s the struggle to come to terms with the past. The Germans have taken it on as a national project, and have made tremendous progress in healing from their past and resolving their collective trauma. One of the greatest surprises for me in Germany has been how open and comfortable people are in talking about horrors. There is a matter-of-fact acceptance of events that I would expect to only be mentioned in hushed tones. I’ve come to have some understanding of what the scars of healed trauma look like.
These few months in Berlin have given me renewed faith that healing from trauma is possible, and especially, and more specifically, that collective healing from inherited trauma is possible. Honestly, truth commissions had always seemed to me like pointless political theater. Reparations seemed like nothing more than balancing some ethereal ledger of justice. Now, though, I have gained the understanding that a sincere effort toward Vergangensheitbewältigung can have real and profound impact on day to day life. The ongoing project of continued remembrance can enrich the operating understanding of human nature, serving both to honor those who went before, and to inform current choices.
Last weekend, Berlin celebrated the fall of the wall with an installation of light balloons marking the place where the wall once stood. On Saturday evening, I walked along the piece of the wall that was closest to my neighborhood, mostly because I wanted to get a better sense of the geography of it. I was surprised by how moved I was. The moment I turned the corner and saw the line dividing one side of the street from the other, the sadness and longing became palpable, as if the apartment blocks on one side were magnetically drawn to those on the other side, but blocked from coming together. Elderly couples shuffled along the route, side by side, quietly, the purposefulness clear on their faces. They were walking the length of it, south to north. A man walked by carrying a homemade cake in a clear plastic cake carrier, one half of the cake white and fruity, the other chocolate and layered. A symbolic cake in the exact right container, how German.