BERLIN WALL EMOTION
This is (also) why I travel
“A piece of this dreadful edifice should be left standing as a historical monstrosity”.
German Chancellor Willy Brandt said this the day after the Wall fell. November 1989, I was a 15-year-old with high ideals of peace. And I’m still that passionate. The picture is vivid, I remember sitting on the floor, glued in front of the T.V., seeing Germans drink champagne and hug each other. Joy and relief were so powerful. Being aware as I was, that I was meant to travel, I knew a visit to Berlin had already been scheduled. I had to wait. One day I was going to be there.
On a freezing morning, over 25 years later, me and my family got on a train in Wannsee Station directed to Berlin Ostkreuz. A long trip that gave the me time to tell the kids what we were going to see. The idea of a city divided by a Wall is fascinating at first. Yet, once the details are out, many questions come up. They couldn’t see their family!? Why weren’t they able to cross it? Why? Hard to explain to a couple of tiny globe-trotter children born in the new century. Hard, but necessary.
Once there, we walked towards Mühlenstraße to see the Gallery. We crossed a wide avenue and we knew we were there. A piece of wall with a big 1989 unveiled the mystery. Hinterland Mauer, it closed the border to West Berlin.
I have often been asked why I travel. How do I possibly find traveling with kids easy (it’s not easy, it’s necessary!). As a traveler with kids, this question comes up easily and expected. Many times I have thought of writing about Why I travel, and even also about Why I make my kids travel. The reasons why I travel are so many and sometimes so obvious… And often, as in Berlin, they are hard to express in writing.
Real travel triggers travel in time
How do you give words to a bunch of tears on the edge of your eyes? How do you put words to an overwhelming beating inside your chest. As I walked closer to the Wall, just one thought kept me going “You don’t read these feelings on a History book, and that’s why you travel”. I felt a punch in my stomach looking up to see the height of the Wall, the double wall, the broken portions of concrete. I was immediately sent back in time. Different images clogged my mind. Black and white pictures of people attempting escape. Me glued to the television. There, that’s why I travel. That is the answer.
Travel helps kids learn History
And children? Children see us, they grasp our sense of belonging to this World. And that means its present, but also the history of it. They hear my memories, because I am a huge chatter-box. Because I believe in sharing emotions more than in telling facts and facts alone. I always let things go out. Facts come with feelings.
Their eyes grow big when I say “I saw it fall on T.V.” and that triggers questions. And that’s how they (also) learn. Over a long walk, hand in hand, talking about what the Wall implied: cold war, division, shootings, democracy, opinions, freedom, human rights. It all looked so far and still so close to the present. Nobody cared for the cold weather anymore.
The rain didn’t bother us. Now, you who ask me why we travel, please do tell me: What school is ever going to teach this? I am constantly passing on feelings, more than facts. Sometimes I hate that side of me. Yet, I can’t avoid it. I am guilty of travel passion excess and my kids know it well. So well they are able to filter my feelings and build their own. Anyway, passion is a good teacher.
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km long section of the old Berlin Wall. International Memorial for Freedom. It includes over a hundred paintings from 1990 on the East Side of the Wall. Paintings sometimes too vague, other times too eloquent. And this is what I found extremely useful; art gives children the freedom to find their voice.
They discover their own feelings. I was not going to tell them “this means this“. I just talked about the facts I knew. It was their time to tell me what paintings meant for them. Is a car a symbol for liberty and a thumb for oppression? Why? It was their time to hear their own voice, and learn from it. And learning in freedom is true learning.
Nothing gets boring
Learning from freedom ignites the need for more. Nothing gets boring. And every experience always ends the same: they insist for more. “Get me a book about it”, “I want to see the old videos”, “Let’s see another place like this”. And yes, books came, but the process that took them there had a huge value. Wasn’t this learning? Berlin was one of the best teachers in our On the road school. The Wall was an excellent chapter. This is also why we travel.