On letting balloons free – part 2

This is the part where I explain, in my own way, what I was doing (and why) last night.


For 3 days, a “wall of glowing balloons on sticks” was put up accross the city. They blocked roads, filled pavements and generally got in the way. People would probably normally have complained about the chaos, except this was different. Instead of getting annoyed about them, people stood next to them, took pictures of them, took pictures of themselves standing next to them, walked along beside them, looked them up on the net, or saw them on the news. It was more of a festival than a nuisance.

Crowds of people gathered on the night of the 9th to watch them being let loose. The wall disintergrated and floated off into the sky, carrying their message(s) with them.

There were certainly loads of tourists among the crowds, but these onlookers were mostly residents, people who live in Berlin, or ex-residents, who’d lived here 25 years ago and for whom the evening was more memory than reality.

It was a re-enactment of the past.


Berlin used to be a city.
After the second world war the British, the French, the Americans and the Russians divided Germany, and Berlin, up into approximate quarters, or sectors, and each was in charge of their piece of country and city. Russia was communist, and wanted to enforce it’s communism, regardless of popular opinion.
Lots of the people who happened to live in the DDR, the part run by the Russians, didn’t appreciate what was going on, and left.
It didn’t take long for the DDR, the Russians, or the Soviet Union, to realise that they were losing inhabitants at a worrying rate and decided to do something about it.
They built first a barrier and then a wall accross Germany and around West Berlin.
The barrier went up so unexpectedly, some people got caught out. Unaware of what was going on, they went shopping, or to work, and never came home. Families were split up, streets were divided down the middle, houses situated on the border were considered no man’s land and the residents evicted and/or rehoused. In some cases, people escaped through the windows – until they were boarded up that is.

Over time, the borders were strengthened to the point where the guards were allowed to shoot anyone within a ‘safety’ distance and automatic shooting systems where set up to get the rest.

West Berlin was an island in the middle of East Germany. It wasn’t a deserted island though, despite efforts to cut it off – there were even times when planes dive bombed the City with food parcels. It wasn’t a forgotten island either. If you could get into West Berlin you were ‘safe’ and could get a new passport and travel to west Germany and wherever else you wanted to go. If you were caught, things didn’t look good for you.

Several years went by and far too many people died.

Then, in 1989, the people protested, and the wall was taken down. Or at least the gates were opened. (Some other stuff happened too, but that’s complicated)

Free to travel, free to do what they wanted, free to meet up with long lost relatives, free to say what they wanted without going to jail. Free for the first time in approximately 30 years.

That was 25 years ago.


Last night was a trip through memory city. 8000 lit up helium balloons were set up along the path of the original wall. 8000 people were each given a red jacket and the privilege of letting one of the balloons up into the air. I was one of those 8000 people.

The wall of balloons ‘fell’ the way a line of dominoes falls; one by one, each balloon free-er waited for their neighbour to release their balloon before releasing their own.

I have never seen the city so full!  😉

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