In a few days we fly to China, where we will visit The Great Wall, a now-crumbling, once-mighty barrier meant to keep China safe and free from marauders from the West. I am particularly looking forward to traversing sections of the wall that are not maintained for tourists. Lots of the wall is tumbling down, one brick at a time.
When Jane and I began our world travels way back in 1997, one of the first places we visited was Belfast. The Troubles seemed to finally be ending, and Northern Ireland was just coming out of a long, dark period. It actually appeared to be on the road to recovery. However, when we walked around Falls Road and Shankill, the “Peace Walls” and armoured vehicles didn’t do much to convince us that peace would be lasting.
While living in LA, we ventured down to Tijuana a few times. When you walk across the border from San Ysidro, you get a clear view of the US-built wall that’s supposed to keep Latin America separated from the north. The US border fence now covers some 3,000 km, yet does very little to stem the flow of people – people desperate for a better life – into America. Nor does it keep US weapons from heading south to arm drug lords in Mexico and beyond.
Can putting a wall up really bring peace and stability?
Open The Borders
Today being Tag der Deutschen Einheit, the anniversary of the official re-unification of Germany in 1990, and a public holiday ever since, Jane and I rode our bikes to the East Side Gallery, the last remaining section of the Berlin Wall.
For the last six months, we have seen constant reminders of the Iron Curtain and its role in separating people in the East from those in the West. Coming to see this piece of the Berlin Wall clarifies the past in a way a park, monument, or placard cannot.
Its solid physical presence makes it easier to imagine what it might have been like to walk along it when it surrounded West Berlin, not really knowing what or who was on the other side.
The wall is now an art gallery that runs along the shore of the Spree, with murals on every surface. Many of the murals relate to freedom, to human rights, and to the breaking down of barriers.
It is a stark reminder that Europe as we know it now is a very new concept.
Currently, there is a photo exhibit on the west side of the wall Called Wall On Wall. It is a series of photographs by Kai Wiedenhöfer. He travelled the world shooting the walls humans build to keep people on one side from gaining access to the rights, freedoms, and prosperity enjoyed by those on the other side.
The photos are displayed commentary-free, but they speak volumes. Being here, in Berlin, and now able to walk on either side of the wall, to be free to move and live as we please, is a luxury that Berliners still do not take for granted.
Hopefully this exhibit will make foreign visitors to the city pause, reflect, and appreciate the freedoms they have, and those their own government restricts.
The rest of our day we spent ticking off things on our To Do list. Repairing holes in our panniers with the magic that is Sugru. Washing our tent. Cleaning soot off of our camp stove.
Sorting through every bag and deciding what goes with us, what goes in the garbage, and what goes. Adjusting a few nuts and bolts on my bike.
And, whenever there is a spare moment, trying to figure out just how we’ll tackle cycling in the enormity that is China. ♥