Just got back from a trip to berlin. We love Berlin and have visited it before, but for some reason on this trip its scars had a particular poignancy. The first few times we were there, we spent a lot of time finding where all the new energy is, where things are happening creatively, but this trip had a lot of history in it–really beholding the past and how it drives the present.
Berlin has some very powerful symbols, and they are hard to ignore. The tearing down of the Berlin wall was probably the most powerful symbol of the 20th century; I never get tired of looking at photos of the euphoria and celebration as east and west Berliners climbed the wall and shouted, hugged, danced way late into the night for a 2-day party that was broadcast around the world. In just one day, there was such an explosion of sheer joy and freedom, that I remember being glued to the television when it was happening, and racing to the library from college classes to watch more. All over campus, the school put up impromptu televisions to broadcast this unbelievable event. Even now, years later, I look at these photos and I get very emotional. There is something in them that is more powerful and more liberating than all the pictures of bombs and wars and grief we see in the papers every day.
People that were there said things like, “there was a certain electricity in the air, like some giant force had just been let loose.” Everyone knew they were a part of something bigger, bigger than politics, bigger than history–
These pictures are from an internet exhibit about the wall. You can also watch a video with some of the original BBC footage.
I think the images and story are still powerful because there is something eternal in them. The fall of the wall was an eternal symbol. It really exists in God forever–the one who tore down the dividing wall–who came to bring unity and freedom…
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Everything he does is about tearing down those hostile walls that keep races, even families, separate. Racism is one of the most horrific assignments against humankind–wanting to separate people out of fear, distrust, pride of self. Obviously there has been no contemporary nation that has grappled so out loud with the issues of racism as Germany. Berlin in particular has embraced its role as a teacher of these things–as a warning sign and also a memorial to horrific results of division between people. Berlin has so many scars of what happens when people are split apart from each other.
One of the most profound memories of these wounds was the detonation of the “Chapel of Reconciliation”. This church was established in the 19th century particularly as a congregation of Christians who wished to provide help to immigrants–people of other cultures and nations, but it became an eye sore for the East German government. Once the wall was built, it literally separated the congregation, who mostly lived to the north of the wall in West Berlin, from the building, which remained south of it in the eastern sector. (The wall wasn’t just a straight up and down line; it criss-crossed through the whole city.) There was a path that ran between the actual border and the wall, which east German soldiers manned, and the church was the only non-military building which stood in this path, making it the only area of Berlin in which the soldiers did not have a ‘clear shot’ at the wall. So, in the interests of ‘national security’ the East German government decided to detonate the church. This happened as recently as 1985, just a few years before the wall was to come down.
This picture of its demolishing was broadcast around the world, causing shock and outrage. In response the congregation performed ‘a dance on the wall’, and in a speech one said, “We can do something. And if we have faith in symbolic actions, then we know that symbols have a silent power which can make the ‘impossible’ possible.”
The chapel’s destruction was so clearly a metaphysical message and symbol, and not just one of a government–but something outside of it all saying, no, I will destroy the thing that stands as a bridge and a safe zone between people: the cross, the power of reconciliation.
But he cannot destroy it. It lives in us… in Jesus we are made peace, and we carry that message as ministers of reconciliation. I feel this position as I travel Europe, which carries in it deep and old wounds of racism. These wounds have not disappeared and feel more potent than ever as Europe tries to unify itself under a political and economic banner. Underneath the banner, however, the tensions run deep. The nations here are so different from each other and many have not healed from ancient hurts. There is only union on paper, but the kind of union where people laugh and hug and dance together wild-eyed late into the night, calling each other brothers, as they did that wonderful day, is missing.
But the fall of the Berlin wall was a clear sounding bell, and anyone with ears to hear knows that it was a prophetic promise to Europe, and also to the human race, tapping into something that’s very deep inside of us–the desire for freedom and acceptance and oneness with each other.