20 Years On, Fall of Berlin Wall Goes on Show

Moscow house of photographyDmitry VrubelТs mosaic of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing was painted in 1990 after the wallТs fall.
Anyone of a certain age remembers where they were when they heard that the Berlin Wall had fallen.

This year sees the 20th anniversary of the fall and a photo exhibit “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” at the Manezh Exhibition Hall is now on in its honor.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev unsurprisingly remembers exactly where he was when the wall fell, especially as it is a question he is often asked.

“I was in Moscow, asleep,” he said at the opening of the exhibit last month, adding that it was only in the morning when he found out that the wall was gone.

The German Embassy in Moscow in collaboration with the Moscow House of Photography have made it possible for visitors to see the history of the wall from both sides.

“We did not want to create a certain impression. People should be able to make up their own minds as to what life was like at that time. We tried to give them both perspectives, East and West,” said Neithart Hoefer-Wissing, spokesman of the German Embassy in Moscow.

More than 100 photographs vividly and impressively tell the story of the Berlin Wall from its building, the desperate attempts to get over and under it and finally to its fall on Nov. 9, 1989.

“We did not only want to provide information on the fall of the wall, we also wanted to emphasize people’s emotions and how suddenly everyone realized that they were all the same, when the wall collapsed,” said Olga Sviblova, director of the Moscow House of Photography.

“It is very interesting to discover all the individual stories around the wall, all these people who fought to get around it. I guess usually people focus on the political significance of the wall and forget the individual tragedies,” said exhibition visitor Marion Rosenberg.

Alongside the photographs, the history of divided Berlin is visualized with films on show. Architect Yury Avvakumov recreated one of the 302 border posts that East Germany set up along the wall to stop their citizens from crossing the border.

As soon as you climb up the steps of the post, a dog starts barking — a reminder of the way the animal was used by East German security.

One part of the exhibition is devoted to the original ways people used to cross to West Germany: a mother has her baby in a shopping cart, people hide under the hood of a Volkswagen car, handmade airplanes to fly over the wall.

There are also images by the Pulitzer Prize winning American photographer Anthony Suau, who was in Berlin when the wall fell and who captures the joy and emotion of that November night 20 years ago.

“Everyone was crying and screaming. It was really hard for me to concentrate on taking my pictures. I just had to cry with them,” said Suau in a video interview at the exhibition.

Meanwhile, Peter Frischmuth’s photo series “Berlin Kreuzberg S0 36” provides an intriguing way of looking at today’s Berlin and the Cold War version.

His photos show a 2009 Berlin and its 1982 variant side by side, in black and white in East Berlin and color in the modern, united Germany.

The exhibition helps people think about “this horrible time of division,” said Sviblova. “With the financial crisis, we don’t know in which direction people are headed, so it is important to think about those past events.”

German embassies all over the world have organized events commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall this year, said Hoefer-Wissing.

“Although today 90 percent of the Russian people think the collapse of the wall is positive, we didn’t want to play it up too much in Russia, since the collapse of the wall does, after all, represent the collapse of the Soviet hegemony,” he said.

When asked if the German Embassy had anything planned for the night of the anniversary, Nov. 9, Hoefer-Wissing said he already had an idea, “but I’m not telling you what it is.”

“The Fall of the Berlin Wall” runs to Aug. 30. Manezh Exhibition Hall, 1 Manezh Square. Metro Okhotny Ryad, Alexandrovsky Sad.