This Sunday, November 9th, was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I was almost 2 years old when it happened, so I wasn’t aware of anything going on in the world, much less able to comprehend it, but the celebration 25 years after the fact is still exciting.
In order to commemorate the fall, eight thousand lighted balloons were set up running along the path where the wall used to stand.
At a set time on Sunday, volunteers were to release the balloons as a symbol of the wall falling and people suddenly being free to travel. An estimated two million extra people came to Berlin to mark the occasion.
I live near Potsdamer Platz and the wall used to run right near where my apartment now stands. The balloons were set up a few days before the event so it was possible to go see them before the crowds got too big.
While walking down the path of the wall near my house, we saw a small sign saying that there was an old east German guard tower just 150 meters away. I had no idea it was even there! We decided to go check it out and found that it was open with a guide to tell us about the history of the tower and to even let us climb up inside!
It was crazy to climb up in the tower and imagine what it was like to be a guard stationed there during the wall. Insa wondered if anyone was ever killed by a guard in this tower, given that it was so close to the killing zone between the walls, but we had no way of knowing.
The next night, the night of the anniversary, was a chilly and foggy. We knew the crowds would be huge, but Insa and I wanted to at least see it with our own eyes, to say that we were there and took part in the celebrations.
The Brandenburg Tor is a 10 minute walk from my apartment, but it was so packed with people that they closed it mid-afternoon. We thought about going to the top of the hill in Kreuzberg, but then we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to see anything in the fog. Instead we got on the U1 and went down to near Warschauer Str. to watch the balloons be released from across the river.
The crowds were definitely huge. It was difficult to hold onto Insa and follow her at times. If you were in a car you were screwed. Pedestrians had overrun the city.
We got as close as we could to the river and I found a small step to climb up on. Insa’s naturally tall so it was easier for her to see the balloons floating on the far side of the river. Once we had out spot marked out, she went and got us both cups of gluhwein, a mulled wine served hot, like cider, to keep us warm. Another friend of ours joined us right before there were so many people that the cell phone towers failed and we eagerly awaited the balloons in the mist.
The whole night I was wondering how they were going to release the balloons. I saw how they were installed and it didn’t look like there was any automated mechanism to release them all at once. It was only later that I learned that the volunteers would be releasing them by hand. I then wondered if they were all going to be released at once like a giant curtain coming up, or if they were going to do it one by one like dominoes.
It turned out that they were doing it like dominoes from one part of the wall to the other. We were near the end of the wall and by the time it got to use, it was almost 45 minutes after they started releasing the balloons at the other end.
One by one we could see the balloons rise up, though it was difficult to keep track of them because they did not stay illuminated as they rose.
The effect was also a lot less dramatic than everyone was expecting. Since the balloons were being released one by one by volunteers, they did not all go off in a timely fashion. Often it would take a few moments before the next balloon was successfully released, so the effect was stunted.
There happened to be a roof top party near us where some people had powerful laser pointers that they used to illuminate some of the balloons as the rose. A few other people set off fireworks and the crowd cheered. Here is some better footage of the event:
It took me about an hour to get home. The same distance takes me about 20 minutes on a normal day. The trains were absolutely packed to where you couldn’t breath, so Insa and I decided to walk for several stations to get away from the main points of activity. I then had to catch a bus and Insa had to meet up with a friend that just arrived in Berlin. Even the bus system was overloaded. When Insa dropped me off at the bus stop, it said 5 minutes until the next bus. That bus never came. Then the sign changed to 13 minutes and stayed there for 5 minutes more before starting to count down. When I got home I promptly curled up in bed and went to sleep.
The balloons probably sounded like a cool idea on paper, but in execution they were a bit of a let down. Nevertheless, I was really excited to be here in Berlin for the anniversary of such a big and important day. It was great to be a part of the celebrations.