‘Beyond the Wall’: Tales of persecution at the Berlin Wall

Visitors eyeball Stefan Roloff's "Beyond The Wall," at the backside of the East Side Gallery in Berlin, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

BERLIN: An open-air installation is to open along an old section of the Berlin Wall at the weekend, featuring photos of soldiers patrolling the former deadly border, and stories of those persecuted behind it. “Beyond the Wall” – 229 meters long and facing the West – is designed to keep alive the memory of the dividing wall put up by Communist East German authorities nearly 56 years ago on Aug. 13, 1961.

It fell in November 1989 from mass popular pressure and the decline of Soviet power.

The new exhibition features stills from videos that German-American artist Stefan Roloff shot of the Berlin Wall from the west in 1984 – including East German soldiers peering through binoculars, climbing ladders up to watchtowers and walking along the wall.

“There are very few authentic places where you can still see what’s left of the wall,” Klaus Lederer, a Berlin senator responsible for culture told a news conference.

The exhibition also features stories and silhouettes of people whose lives were affected by the wall – including a man who authorities accused of having a fetish, a woman arrested for receiving a postcard from a friend in West Berlin, and another woman who whose apartment was bugged by the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police.

Mario Roellig is one of the victims whose story is told. The Stasi interrogated and imprisoned him after he tried to flee to the West to be with his boyfriend. He remembers a Stasi officer telling him they would find him anywhere.

Years later, when Roellig was working in a shop in reunified Berlin, he realized a customer inquiring about cigars was his Stasi interrogator. Roellig asked for an apology. The man screamed that his sentence was rightful.

“It’s important to talk about it so I can get rid of the fear of this place, that time,” he told Reuters at the wall, “and above all the perpetrators who are still around.”

Roellig, who now lives in western Berlin, said memories of the past bubble up when he crosses a border, and he feels unable to ever spend a night at his parents’ home in eastern Berlin. “To this day I can’t stay there overnight as I seem to still be anxious that the wall will be put back up and I’ll be on the wrong side again,” he said.

Roloff, the artist, meanwhile believes his exhibition is particularly relevant at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

“For me it’s not necessarily a historic project even though it shows things from a time that has passed,” he said. “It’s a continuing phenomenon. There have been walls as long as people have existed and unfortunately they’ll continue to exist.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2017, on page 16.




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