Which is why I was surprised to read the recent announcement from Berlin that it will install 8,000 illuminated balloons along the former path of the Berlin Wall from November 8th – 9th to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its fall. Known as “Lichtgrenze,” it will cost about $2.7 million and is being funded by lottery money. In a way, this decision goes against everything Germany has stood for in its tourism efforts. Humility, it seems, is going out the window in this case.
Two years ago, I would have been stomping my feet at this decision. As it was and perhaps still is for many kids growing up in North America, Deutschland was always presented to me as the evil empire. I learned a lot about the Holocaust and the rise of Hitler, and about how many of the neighboring countries suffered at the hands of this "monstrous" nation. Enter us – the United States – who saved the day. Class dismissed.
Obviously, that’s all true. But one thing my education lacked in my history classes was in the distinction between the Nazi Party and the everyday German. The nation was lumped into one category for the most part: The enemy. I slowly shook this unfair outlook as I grew up and learned more about the world, but ultimately I always had something in the back of my brain about Germany, something that was unsettling and, frankly, disappointing.
That all changed when I visited the country for the first time. And it wasn’t just about the beer and brats. The veil of the “evil empire” was lifted, and I saw what a beautiful country Germany is, how nice and approachable the locals are, and, most significantly, how genuine the efforts of penance have been over the last few decades. When I went to Berlin and learned firsthand the reality of life for everyday, innocent citizens when the Wall separated the city, I gained more perspective and respect in a few days than I had in years of schooling.
This is not a knock on the American educational system. Rather, it’s a tribute to the post-war efforts of Germany to let the rest of the world learn from its mistakes without rubbing anyone’s nose in it. It's also a tribute to the everyday people of Germany, who went through a hell of a lot. Nine miles of lights retracing the route of the Berlin Wall might seem like a glorification to some, but to me, it sounds like a well-deserved celebration, a celebration of how far the country has come in such a relatively short amount of time. Eighty years ago, Hitler was in power. Thirty years ago, Berlin was divided in two and occupied by foreign forces. Today, Germany is one of the most efficient, respected nations in the world, and Berlin has once again become an international city – this time by choice.
In that sense, the Lichtgrenze celebration is not a celebration at all. The lights are a memorial to days that are, thanks to the country’s drive to better itself, long past. And I don’t think the locals should be shy about showing pride in this accomplishment. It might not call for a full-on fiesta, but it certainly warrants a beer or two.
[Photos: Visit Berlin]