Wall of Light

Since 11 September 2001, as a German, I have always felt irritated by the date ‘9/11’. Growing up in Germany, 9/11 signifies something different from the attacks on the New York skyline. Of course, and this is a no brainer, ‘9/11’ for us Europeans means 9 November, not 11 September. So, for me, ‘9/11’ denotes something completely different. Especially since 9 November has been such a fateful date in German history, connected to at least five important events: the execution of Robert Blum in 1848 (a leftist-liberal democratic leader whose death foreshadowed the failure of the German March Revolution); the end of the Prussian Monarchy in 1918 (and the all-too-bizarre, nearly simultaneous, declaration of both the Weimar Republic and the Free Socialist Republic in Berlin); the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich which saw the early emergence (and temporary downfall) of the early Nazi Party; the 1938 Reichskristallnacht (which saw the burning of Jewish property and synagogues); and the 1989 opening of the Berlin Wall.

Needless to say, I was only (and thankfully – in most of these cases) alive to experience one of these historic events. But maybe ‘experience’ is the wrong term here. I was thirteen in 1989, and growing up in Bad Krozingen in southwestern Germany, my family – unlike many others – had no relatives or friends in the GDR. There was no personal connection through which as a child I could have understood what was meant by ‘two Germanies’, ‘the Cold War’, the ‘Red Army’, let alone the images of cheerful citizens of the GDR crossing the border across the bridge at Bornholmer Strasse in Berlin on that fateful 9th November 1989. What I remember vividly though was that I was watching the news live on TV with my parents and sister and I recall seeing my parents cry. I remember that I did not understand why they were crying – and how strange it felt seeing them cry out of happiness. But I clearly sensed that something important was happening at the time.

25 years later, the Wall has disappeared for good. In fact, so keen on tearing down the Wall in its entirety (which – as I learned yesterday – was once over 155 kilometres long), any visitor to today’s Berlin will be hard pressed to still encounter the Wall anywhere. In fact, there are only two places left where the Wall still stands. But everywhere else, it is hard to spot, let alone imagine, where the Wall used to be. Some people say this is a good thing, but as times goes by, there are others who believe that it is a shame that this previous division has disappeared out of sight (and out of mind) altogether. I always belonged to that second group, though that’s perhaps an easy position to hold for someone who never had to live with or in proximity to the Wall.

Currently I am spending half a year at the Humboldt University in Berlin and I am renting a small apartment in the former Eastern part of the city, some three streets away from that famous bridge border crossing at Bornholmer Strasse. It was here where on 9 November 1989 the first border crossing opened and some 20,000 people poured into West Berlin within the first hour alone (including, amongst those first ones, a certain Angela Merkel). It was the beginning of the end of the GDR, it lead to German reunification, the end of Communism and the Cold War. It marked a local event which had global implications. And it is one that came about by non-violent means (something unique in German history). That is the reason, by the way, why 9 November 1989 was considered as the official public holiday; but because of the legacy of the Nazi Putsch and the Reichskristallnacht it was considered as inappropriate and therefore 3 October (marking the big peaceful ‘Monday Demonstration’ in Leipzig in 1989) became the official holiday of German unification.

25 years after the Wall came down, the city has become divided again – temporarily, from 7-9 November 2014: From Bornholmer Strasse to Mauerpark and the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, past the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie to the East Side Gallery, a light installation featuring 8,000 luminous white balloons commemorated the division of Berlin.

The re-imagining of the Wall through this Wall of Lights (developed from an idea by Christopher Bauder and Marc Bauder) was accompanied by numerous exhibitions, events, and guided tours. And at 7pm on 9 November, thousands of patrons – schoolchildren, choir singers, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, witnesses – took their places beside their balloons along the 15-km-long stretch of the light installation, and affixed their personal message to the helium-filled balloon. As the climax of the event, they released the balloons into the air along the entire length of the installation – at the Brandenburg Gate, the Mauerpark, the East Side Gallery, and other locations. At the same time, the ‘Staatskapelle Berlin’, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, played the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the ‘Ode an die Freude’ (Ode of Joy) at the Brandenburg Gate.

Alongside hundreds of thousands, I spent significant time walking and cycling along this Wall of Light, at night and during the day. My aims were manyfold: Yes, I wanted to get a sense of where exactly the Wall had been. But I also wanted to see what visual and emotional reactions this would provoke in me – and in the people around me. And I wanted to try and capture this event visually, through film and photography. What struck me was the installation’s visual power to evoke the dimensions and brutality of the Wall. Built on 13 August 1961, the Wall went through the entire city, but not in a straight line. It literally meandered through Berlin with lots of twists and turns, alongside streets, through parks, between houses, over rivers, across railtracks and bridges. The course seemed erratic and chaotic and oftentimes cemented the division of the city, of Germany, of the global political system in ways that made me wonder. Why did the course of the Wall proceed along these exact lines? Why this one street and not the next? Why did it turn left here and not right? Why did it not go around this park instead of cutting across it? I don’t know the answers to this.

Alongside the Wall of Light, little info boxes told stories about eyewitnesses, about escape tunnels, about people being shot while trying to flee. They bring to life what normally cannot be seen and what has been grown or built over. But then there are other parts where you can clearly see that the Wall impacted on where entire rows of houses were built in the past, and where others had been torn down to make way for the Wall – here the invisible (and temporarily illuminated border) explains some of the city’s past and current geography.

But while visually evoking the brutality of the Wall, the 8,000 lights with their helium-filled balloons are stunningly beautiful. I marvelled in the aesthetics of them floating in one endless line of balloons, especially at night. They illuminate dark parks, go under and across bridges, up and down, left and right, and they generate a strange warm feeling inside me during these cold November nights. Oftentimes, they seem to criss-cross each other – and they make me walk or cycle along parts of the city I had never seen before. What must it have felt like living in one of these apartments looking from say (former Eastern suburb) Prenzlauerberg cross the Wall into (former Western suburb) Wedding with the Wall just two meters away from your balcony? And what must it have felt like living inside West Berlin – caged inside the Wall and playing football on one of those pitches right next to the Wall? And what must it have felt like to – as out of nothing – see this division disappear overnight?

I overhear a lot of conversations, older couples talking about their experiences; I hear a tour guide explaining to an English group of tourists what it was like back then. But most of all, I hear nothing. There is a wonderful quietness to this experience with people just walking at night and trying to take in the experience whilst having the occasional desire to try and articulate what they feel. It’s a nice thing to observe – and I guess it speaks to the power of this artistic project that it inspires in ways I find hard to describe.

For me, I have to also think beyond the immediate aesthetics and history of the Wall. How Berlin was one of many (but perhaps the most important) physical manifestations of the old Cold War world. It was here that the Soviet blockade of the city for several months in 1948/1949 lead to the American airlift; where the Cold War nearly turned hot when American and Soviet tanks faced each other at Checkpoint Charlie; where the Wall was built by a regime afraid of its own people leaving. Maybe it is because I was brought up with the knowledge that walls are brutal and therefore need to be brought down that I feel so irritated by seeing other countries building walls themselves – after 1989. And yes, I am thinking of the Israeli government, but I am also thinking of Cyprus, North Korea and the European Union. Along the Berlin Wall, those who helped citizens of the GDR escape are today celebrated as heroes whilst at the same time we look at those involved in helping refugees enter the EU as criminals. Can we compare these or are these entirely different issues?

But what ultimately hit me was the sense of wonder and amazement: that the fact that I can walk here and allow myself to be puzzles about all of this, to be inspired by these thousands of illuminated balloons, was brought about peacefully. It’s such a remarkable thing to accomplish and it drives home the power of non-violence – something that so often seems counter-intuitive to us humans. But it can work, and this illuminated Wall is proof of it. It shows, as Gene Sharp (one of the key contemporary thinkers on non-violence) has said: ‘The dictators are never as strong as they tell you they are. They have their weaknesses. And the people are never as weak as they think they are… they have great power because all governments are based on the cooperation and subordination of the citizens they rule.’ Governments are in power because people consent to their power. In the course of 1989, the citizens of the GDR withdrew their consent peacefully and the result was the collapse of the regime and of the bipolar division of the world. The real 11/9 stands for this message – and it’s a nice and important message for us humans at a time when the world seems to have taken an ever more violent turn.

Video edited by Sebastian Kaempf
Footage taken from https://fallofthewall25.com/

About Sebastian Kaempf

I am a Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland in Brisbane Australia and one of the co-convenors of TheVisionMachine. My research interests are in the mediatization of conflict in a transforming global media landscape and ethics and laws of wars in contemporary asymmetric conflicts. For more details on this and list of publications, please visit www.polsis.uq.edu.au/kaempf.

9 thoughts on “Wall of Light

  1. POLS3512 Critical Blog Appraisal
    Jamie Coleborn (42877499)

    I am not German, nor do I have German heritage, however, there is something magical about the country and her people than has drawn me in.

    I have been lucky enough to visit Berlin twice in my life so far, first was as a 16 year old high school history student and the second was more recent, as a 20 year old International Relations student. Both of these trips had different, yet resounding effects on me and this city will always hold a special place in my heart.

    During both visits to Berlin, there was discussion and debate regarding the wall. One of my teachers at the time, walked us along the wall and described what it was like for her family who are from Dresden, which was in Eastern Germany. We visited the East Side Gallery, the Brandenburg Gate and Check Point Charlie, among other important landmarks when I went on a similar walking tour on my second visit in 2014. This however seemed to feel more ‘real’ in a sense. In the four years between my visits to this amazing city I had started studying International Relations and discovered more about what the wall meant and also some of the underlying motives that were forgone in my Modern History education. Similar to what is described in the post

    What I gathered from this post as the main message was talking about the significant role the world. It talks about how imposing the wall was, and just how momentous it was as a symbol of the cold war and the clash of ideologies. The democratic, West Berlin was enclosed by the wall, insulated from the communist, soviet aligned Eastern Germany.

    From the post and subsequent research, it is easy to see that the main motive behind the light installation was to commemorate the fall of the wall in a way that has respectful and meaningful. From Seb’s reflection, it is clear that it was quite striking and encouraged the people of Berlin to remember the past alongside celebrating the future.

    In the post Seb addresses the two types of reactions to the wall dissapearing entirely, there are those who believe its a ‘good thing’ and the other group who believe that it is a ‘shame’ that the wall is out of sight and out of mind. I too, belong to the latter group. The wall symbolises two things, not just the seperation but also the re-unification. At the ceremony marking the 25th anniversary, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (who as Seb says, was an East German who crossed to the west in 1989) said that the fall of the wall shows that ‘dreams could come true’ (McGuinness, 2014). the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit echoed this sentiment in saying that “Nothing and no-one can stand in the way of freedom” (McGuinness, 2014). The remaining sections of the wall, especially the ‘east side gallery’ is a beacon of hope for other nations who are experiencing civil war or other hardships. The wall itself and the murals painted upon it both exemplify the fact that out of hardships can grow a prosperous and vibrant future.

    The way the video shows pictures of a divided Berlin and how it is currently exemplifies just how far Berlin has come since reunification. It also exemplifies how imposing the wall was and its impacts on the city while it stood. By seeing in the video how windy the wall was, bisecting roads and dividing bridges, it ads extra meaning to the notions explored in the text.

    The celebration, which spanned over a couple of days involved are large number of events which culminated in the release of the 8000 balloons that lined what was known as the ‘death strip’. During the celebrations, flowers and memorials were placed on a remaining part of the ‘death strip’ to commemorate the approximately 200 lives lost in attempts to escape East Berlin

    This post focusses in the positives, the celebration of the reunion and the amazing spectacle that the 25th Anniversary ‘Wall of Light’ was. However, as much as we like to celebrate the positives and the beauty that came with the wall collapsing, there are negative consequences that came with the fall. The events of the 9th November 1989 acted as a catalyst to the overall fall of the Soviet Union culminating in 1991. This lead to severe unrest of former Soviet States and the disintegration of Yugoslavia led to bloody conflicts it its former provinces Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. This was spanned the first half of the 1990’s and lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and even more displaced persons. The wall itself also lead to approximately 200 people losing their lives and even more losing their livelihoods, which is something that also needs to be reconised when celebrating these events.

    The post also brings up the idea of violence, more precisely the lack thereof in this instance. The balloons represented peace, the white light is a common motif representing peace, so on this circumstance they were a fitting symbol. However, even though the physical structure fell without too much violence, there are a number of acts of violence that are in relation to the wall. Gunter Litfin was the first person to loose their life as a direct result of the wall. As he was attempting to escape into the West, he was shot in the head by a guard. His death was hushed by officials who attempted to say that he was a gay man fleeing due to his ‘criminal acts’ (Dearden, 2014)

    Both physical and ideological walls have divided families and communities for hundreds of years and still happens today. Walls and fences are being construced around several European nations’ borders to keep people out. Refugees are being held within walls by the Australian government. The Ancient Greeks built walls around their cities, just as Hadrian’s Wall was built to separate the English from the Scots. Walls have always been around to separate the ‘us’ from the ‘them’. The Berlin wall was more than a separation of East and West, it separated Democracy from Communism.
    However, the wall wasn’t always this symbol of hope and peace, while it stood it was a constant reminder of the ‘us and them’ mentality. That is something that needs to be recognised. When the first barricade enclosing West Berlin was erected, it happened overnight. First just made out of barbed wire before eventually being the 3.6 meter high sctructure we are all familiar with. The wall seperated families and friends. It divided streets and bridges. Whatever side you happened to be on when the wall was built, that is where you stayed. Citizens of Berlin were abstracted from their homes and workplaces, many people losing their jobs, possessions and shelter as a result.

    In summary, this post addresses a very important event in Modern History. A turning point in the cold war and an example of how a nation can rebuild after a difficult time. Germany after reunification has become a powerhouse in 21st century international relations. Angela Merkel, as someone who found solace in Western Germany after living under Soviet rule in the east has risen up to become a leader of this new and improved Germany. This should act as an example for nations. Almost every culture in the world has experienced similar walls. Not just physical ones like Berlin had, but also ideological ones too. Knocking down walls and opening channels are communication are the key to resolving conflicts around the world. People feeling oppressed and imprisioned by ideology can look to this video, of the white balloons flying over the night sky as an image of hope and inspiration. Walls collapse, things change, and oppression ends.

    Dearden, L (2014) “Berlin Wall: What you need to know about the barrier that divided East and West” The Independent UK http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/berlin-wall-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-barrier-that-divided-east-and-west-9847347.html Accessed 22nd October 2015

    McGuinnes, D 2014 “Berlin Wall: Thousands of balloons released to mark fall” BBC News http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29974950 Accessed 21st October 2015

  2. Rebuilding the Berlin Wall – Critical Appraisal

    German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of the importance of a conception of ‘authenticity’ with regards to the creation of art (Benjamin and Jennings 2010, 13-14). He argued that with the modern reproduction of art, authenticity has been irreplaceably lost (2010: 13-14). This sense of experiencing art in the ‘here and now’, as its sole iteration is ever more elusive in today’s mass-produced world – but there are still works which seek to express it (2010:13-14). Seb Kaempf’s ‘Wall of Light’ article and accompanying short film provide a compelling perspective into the authenticity of one such experience. This appraisal will seek to critically analyse points of contention in the article and film, as well as remark on the deeper implications of Kaempf’s experience and borders.

    In the article, Kaempf discusses his exploration of the Lichtgrenze (‘Border of Light”) installation which took place in Berlin during 2014. The artwork consisted of 8000 illuminated helium balloons on stands, which were placed along the path of where the Berlin Wall had once stood 25 years before. The event took place in conjunction with a series of tours, events and musical performances, culminating in the illuminated balloons being released on the anniversary of the Wall’s opening on the 9th of November.

    To provide context for his reaction, Kaempf mentions that as a child growing up in Bad Kronzingen, he lived hundreds of kilometres away from the wall. As he lacked the split family or even a visage of the wall, he admits struggling to really feel a connection to the experience of the Wall – although he remembers his parents’ excitement at its demise. Wandering through Berlin at night, surveying the Lichtgrenze, he seems to feel a semblance of that connection to the power of the wall. Although he qualifies it with the obvious caveat that his experience couldn’t compare to that of those living in the wall’s shadow, he is clearly affected by seeing the brutal, colossal nature of the revived border. This is an illustration of the emotive power exuded by the Lichtgrenze’s ‘authentic’ presence (Samutina and Zaporozhets 2015, 54).

    The video accompanying the article provides a beautiful perspective of the artwork’s scale and the response of citizens. It begins with shots comparing walled Berlin to the Lichtgrenze installation and then shifts to portraying the assembly and eventual conclusion of the exhibition. The starkest scenes are provided by aerial shots of the art installation, which do much to illustrate the sheer scale of the Lichtgrenze and the wall it echoed. There are, however, some issues with the narrative conveyed by both the text and footage.

    As it is more an account of his experiences, Kaempf’s piece isn’t particularly argumentative. However, there are some debatable assertions – such as his suggestion that the wall’s collapse illustrates ‘the power of non-violence’ (Kaempf 2014). This point is certainly valid to an extent – with popular protests in East Germany doing much to excite the fervour that would allow the wall’s demise (Deutsche Welle 2009). However, Kaempf’s suggestion that the Eastern German regime fell because ‘the citizens of the GDR withdrew their consent peacefully’ (Kaempf 2014) is a little simplistic. The confused border guards, their decision not to use force and their eventual opening of crossings were not the mere result of protest (Sarotte 2014). Greater geopolitical factors such as Gorbachev’s loosening of Soviet power, the increasing incompetence of the East German government and the continued agitation of the West all played important roles (Sarotte 1993, 280-281). These factors created an environment which allowed the non-violent movement to take on the regime without encountering a Tiananmen Square-style response – which had been initially planned (Lees 2014, 4). Thus, Kaempf’s conception of the wall’s demise as one largely driven by non-violent protest is contestable.

    A further potential issue with the article is that whilst it addresses the physical ‘cage’ (Kaempf 2014). of the wall and the boundaries it demarcated, it doesn’t look so much at the psychological power of its presence. Walls are not just the materialisation of borders – they are uniquely performative in their ability to project ‘political intentionality’ (Szary 2012, 214). The sheer psychological power of the wall’s imagery is illustrated by the emergence of ‘Mauerkrankheit’ (‘Wall Sickness’) amongst some who lived near it. East German psychiatrist, Dr Dietfried Mueller-Hegemann diagnosed at least 100 cases of the illness until he himself fled to the West in 1971 (Evans 2011). He began noticing a pattern of ‘depression, delusions and repeated suicide attempts’ after the Wall’s construction in 1961 (2011). “It was an illness with a deep impact on the psyche, it was this real feeling of narrowness” suggested Gitta Heinrich, who still avoids confined spaces and leaves all of the doors open in her house as a result (2011). Of course, Kaempf’s emotive experience of the Lichtgrenze was his own and understandably, the psychological aspect of the wall wasn’t as well expressed by the ephemeral nature of the exhibition.

    It is also worth pointing out the manner by which the art’s authenticity is changed by its reproduction in the video. Although beautifully produced, the exhibition’s sense of authenticity is lost, merely by the fact that it is being reproduced in a sensually limited format (Benjamin and Jennings 2010:13-14). The pleasant, calm music it is set to naturally biases the viewer toward viewing the exhibition as a celebratory experience. So too do the selected camera shots showing cheerful passers-by and kissing couples. This narrative is contradicted by the statements of those who organised the event. Organiser Frank Ebert stated it had been an effort to get Germans to understand, “how horrible it really was in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)” (Eddy 2014). The installation’s website suggests, “the installation’s emotional and visual power evokes the dimension and brutality of the Wall” (Berlin.de 2014). Their intention was to ensure that people did not forget the violence of the wall, in a world where only two segments of it remain (Kaempf 2014). This is not to say that Kaempf’s interpretation of the artwork is incorrect – art is intended to be experienced differently by different people. The issue is that as Benjamin suggested, its original meaning can be disturbed by its reproduction (Benjamin and Jennings 2010:13-14).

    The discursive power of the wall however, is illustrated in the thoughts it inspires in Kaempf. He makes a particularly interesting point when remarking upon the haphazard nature of the Wall’s placement. It is not straight, but turns at random – through the middle of parks, streets and houses. The randomness of its path provides a compelling allegory for borders in general, including those which segment nations – arbitrary divisions decided by past men in power. He further address this interesting similarity this when he remarks that the refugee people smugglers of today are looked at as criminals, whilst those who assisted East Germans escape are now considered heroes (Kaempf 2014). This is a particularly incisive observation, in need of a nuanced response. At its heart, the crisis is essentially the same: people born into miserable conditions are seeking a better future and traversing dangerous boundaries in order to get there. The major difference arguably lies in the ‘otherness’ of refugees in the contemporary world (Szary 2012, 214). Whilst those fleeing to West Germany were local Germans whose prospective sanctuary was usually simply in another suburb of the same city, today’s refugees travel over thousands of kilometres. They come from cultures and regions unfamiliar and often stigmatised in the eyes of those who would receive them (Huggler 2015). This means that those in safe nations struggle to feel empathy for the horrific plight of those fleeing. A further possible challenge to Kaempf’s reasoning is that charging people for a place on an overcrowded, under-supplied rickety boat to uncertainty (UNODC 2015) is a perhaps less noble pursuit than charging people to be ushered through a secret tunnel to safety (Wasik 2014). Thus, the two situations may appear similar at heart, they are separated by nuance.

    Ultimately the article and video convey one man’s experience as he walks along the unfamiliar contours of his nation’s history. Whilst it may make some contestable claims and perhaps neglect some elements of the wall’s power, it is largely a poignant account of what Kaempf felt – and feelings aren’t peer-reviewed. His experience simply illustrates how the Lichtgrenze has provided an ephemeral, but powerful of authenticity in the remembrance of a historical event (Samutina and Zaporozhets 2015, 54).

    References
    Benjamin, Walter, and Michael W. Jennings. 2010. ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Its Technological Reproducibility [First Version]’. Grey Room 39: 11-37. doi:10.1162/grey.2010.1.39.11.
    Berlin.de,. 2014. ‘Mauerfall 2014 “Lichtgrenze” Zum 25.Jubilaum In Berlin’. http://www.berlin.de/mauerfall2014/en/highlights/lichtgrenze/.
    Eddy, Melissa. 2014. ‘Lights And Celebration Where A Wall Divided Berlin’. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/world/europe/where-berlin-wall-once-stood-lights-now-illuminate.html.
    Evans, Stephen. 2011. ‘The Berlin Wall Sickness That Still Lingers Today’. BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14488681.
    Huggler, Justin. 2015. ‘Angela Merkel Attacks East European Leaders For Ignoring Their Past Over Refugees’. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/angela-merkel/11919548/Angela-Merkel-attacks-east-European-leaders-for-ignoring-their-past-over-refugees.html.
    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2014. ‘Wall Of Light’. The Vision Machine. http://thevisionmachine.com/2014/11/wall-of-light/.
    Lees, Charles. 2014. ‘The Fall Of The Berlin Wall – 25 Years On’. Political Insight 5 (2): 4-7. doi:10.1111/2041-9066.12053.
    Samutina, Natalia, and Oksana Zaporozhets. 2015. ‘Berlin, The City Of Saturated Walls’. Laboratorium 7 (2): 36-61.
    Sarotte, M.E. 1993. ‘Elite Intransigence And The End Of The Berlin Wall’. German Politics 2 (2): 270-287. doi:10.1080/09644009308404327.
    Sarotte, M.E. 2014. ‘How The Fall Of The Berlin Wall Really Happened’. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/07/opinion/how-the-berlin-wall-really-fell.html.
    Szary, Anne-Laure Amilhat. 2012. ‘Walls And Border Art: The Politics Of Art Display’. Journal Of Borderlands Studies 27 (2): 213-228. doi:10.1080/08865655.2012.687216.
    UNODC,. 2015. ‘Smuggling Of Migrants: The Harsh Search For A Better Life’. http://www.unodc.org/toc/en/crimes/migrant-smuggling.html.
    Wasik, Emily. 2014. ‘The Cold War ‘Mole’ Who Smuggled 1,000 East Germans To The West’. NPR. http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/11/05/361787858/the-cold-war-mole-who-smuggled-1-000-east-germans-to-the-west.
    Welle, Deutsche. 2009. ‘Germany Recalls Rallies That Helped Bring Down Berlin Wall’. Deutsche Welle. http://www.dw.com/en/germany-recalls-rallies-that-helped-bring-down-berlin-wall/a-4776699.
    Young, Lloyd. 2011. ‘Remembering The Berlin Wall’. Boston.Com. http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/08/remembering_the_divide.html.

  3. This account of the Wall of Light or ‘Lichtgrenze’ that lit up Berlin from 7-9 November 2014 is compelling and captivating. Indeed, it is this quality that drew me to this particular spotlight over any of the others. It presents this 25 year commemoration of the fall of the Berlin wall through storytelling and splendid visual documentation alongside a synergistic soundtrack. The Wall of Light itself as well as this particular portrayal stand as examples of aestheticism in the social and political spheres and it is this collision of society, politics, peace and war with aesthetic understanding and experience that I will focus on and explore. Aestheticism represents a tool for supporting peace and reconciliation; at its core it is method of communicating ideas, emotion and individualistic understanding. I hesitate to delve into the philosophical underpinnings and debates of aesthetics and so instead will centre this exploration on the impact it can have as a tool for peace communication, as a cultural counterweight to the increasing militarisation of civic space (Stahl 2006: 112) and as a conduit of inspiration for human endeavours that transcends violence, conflict or animosity between peoples.

    As a visual artistic representation of a pivotal historical event the Wall of Light goes beyond a standard commemoration. The central aim of the spotlight accordingly is to anecdotally document and convey the impact that this had on the residents and visitors to Berlin as well as to reflect on the societal and political progression of Berlin and Germany over the preceding 25 years. It also allows a broader audience to have access to an experience that would otherwise have been temporally isolated. It stands in juxtaposition to historical accounts which seek to document past events with veracity as the main priority. While the 8,000 illuminated balloons did indeed accurately delineate the location of the Berlin Wall, the effect on and responses of witnesses and viewers takes precedence.

    In his study of the relationship between aesthetics and politics, Roland Bleiker notes that art is not necessarily a force that can “stop wars or prevent terrorism and genocide”, however maintained its importance as a medium through which humanity can gain “insights into these experiences and the feelings we have about them” (2009: 12). Further, as an impetus for the reconceptualization of memory, Bleiker suggests that “art can shape the way we understand and remember past events and, in consequence, how we set ourselves the challenges we face in the future” (2009: 12). In this way, the Wall of Light is not only a conduit for remembering past events, but also for re-remembering and reconceptualising them in a way that is supportive of a progressive future. While the gravitas and seriousness of past atrocities and hardship should not be belittled, looking back from a present moment of safety with a slight rose-tint may act as a catalyst for further reconciliation and healing for those who were affected, and perhaps can more emphatically bring past events into the collective consciousness of the younger generations in Germany and around the globe.

    I think it’s also important to note that the first image that came to mind when I watched the video clip was the similarity between this depiction of the Wall of Light and winter illuminations in Japan. The popularity of these tunnels of light and vibrant displays is derived almost entirely from their astonishingly beautiful aesthetic value. Distinct from the responsibilities and demanding conditions of the daytime, they create a space that is otherworldly and dreamlike and thus allows for more ponderous and reflective thoughts and experience. Framing the Berlin Wall through a similar aesthetic approach creates the opportunity for an experience and recollection that is not only meaningful and memorable, but also pleasurable and thus one that will be sought after.

    Beyond acting as a tool for fostering peace, aesthetic projects can also intrinsically act as a cultural counterbalance to the appropriation of the attention and will of citizens for military purposes, through the forces of both the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower 1961) and more recently the so-called military-industrial-media-entertainment-network (MIME-Net) (Der Derian 2001: xxvii). Regardless of whether it is pitted directly against conflict, politics or militarism, I suggest that an increase in cultural activity within a society will likely correlate with a decrease in military prejudice and influence within that society. I derive this notion from the concept that human attention is a finite resource and therefore must be allocated, though this is not necessarily according to the will of the subjects concerned (Crawford: 2015).

    Aesthetic presentation coupled with the emergence of social media has created an unprecedented opportunity for ordinary citizens to access extraordinary phenomenon, experiences and understanding. From 19 December 2012 to 13 May 2013, as part of expedition 35 to the International Space Station (ISS), Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spent five months in space and went around the world some 2593 times (Hadfield 2014). Like those astronauts before him, Hadfield took photos of the Earth from their lofty vantage point 400 kilometres above the planet. Unlike the others, however, he started to share those photos in real time with a global audience through twitter and rapidly accrued more than a million followers. At the same time he made short YouTube clips of daily life on the ISS, which culminated in the release of the first music video from space – Hadfield’s take on David Bowie’s Space Oddity – which currently has almost 27 million views on YouTube. Speaking on the ABC program Q&A, he noted that “when you first just start exploring, that’s a temporary thing, but this is now almost cultural – this is a shift in our understanding of ourselves” (2015). After Hadfield returned to Earth, other astronauts have continued engaging the public through social media.

    While space travel seems a far cry from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the story and imagery above, the popularisation and reconceptualization of international space programs as cultural as well as scientific and militaristic has significant implications that can be connected back to Berlin.
    I believe the greatest of these is that both involve the breaking down of barriers – one deliberately and the other intrinsically. Speaking with Phillip Adams on the ABC Radio National program Late Night Live (LNL), Hadfield described a growing feeling of solidarity and global collectiveness. During his time on board the ISS he says “probably the biggest personal change was a loss of the sense of the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’” (2014). He continued, “I noticed maybe a third of the way into my half year stint up there that I just started referring to everybody as us, unconsciously. There was some sort of transition in my mind that, ‘hey, we’re all in this together’” (2014). This inclusive perspective, he suggests, “is healthy, but not normal” (2015) which signposts it as something to strive for through whatever means are available – and the available means to astronauts at least are photography, video and social media.

    He describes witnessing the same patterns of human civilization recurring across the entire planet, before concluding that “we solve the same problems, the same way all over the world. It’s just us” (2014). Like I just have, anyone could write these words, however they carry much more weight and meaning when coupled with an aesthetic understanding of the singular nature of our planet. Previously inaccessible to the general public, this kind of truly global perspective and insight was suddenly and freely available to anyone with a twitter account. Moreover, it was presented through photography of the Earth that is stunningly beautiful and therefore will more effectively attract the attention of distractible public.

    This spotlight is an exemplary example of the compelling and attractive nature of aesthetic presentation and understanding, as is the Wall of Light itself. As I have discussed, aestheticism can act as a tool for communication of peace and reconciliation and also as a balancing force that stands in opposition to the increasing influence of the military on the public. More broadly, it can act as a conduit and catalyst for the appreciation and pursuit of extraordinary human endeavours, which often by their very nature lead to a more unified understanding of humanity.

    “Berlin at night. Amazingly, I think the light bulbs still show the East/West division from orbit” Chris Hadfield: 17 April 2013 https://twitter.com/cmdr_hadfield/status/324638635766980608

    Chris Hadfield
    Twitter – https://twitter.com/Cmdr_Hadfield?ref_src=twsrc^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author
    Space Oddity – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo
    Selected Photos – http://www.theguardian.com/science/gallery/2013/may/13/chris-hadfield-space-in-pictures
    ‘An astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ & ‘You Are Here’ – http://chrishadfield.ca/books/

    Scott Kelly (expeditions 43-6) – In orbit: March 27 2015 to March 2016
    Twitter – https://twitter.com/StationCDRKelly?ref_src=twsrc^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author

    References

    Bleiker, Roland. 2009. ‘Aesthetics and World Politics’. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

    Crawford, Matthew. 2015. ‘Age of Distraction’. Radio Interview: 2 July 2015. ABC Radio National: Big Ideas. Host: Paul Barclay. Accessed 1 November 2015. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/matt-crawford-distraction/6535838.

    Der Derian, James. 2001. ‘Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network’. New York: Routledge.

    Eisenhower, Dwight. 1961. ‘Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation’. Accessed 2 October 2015. Available at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm.

    Hadfield, Chris. 2014. ‘Commander Chris Hadfield’s Guide to life on Earth’. Radio Interview: Wednesday 6 August 2014. ABC Radio National: Late Night Live. Host: Phillip Adams. Accessed 31 October 2015. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/an-astronaut%E2%80%99s-guide-to-life-on-earth./5665944.

    Hadfield, Chris. 2015. ‘Perks, Penalty Rates & Life in Space’. Television Broadcast: Monday 10 August 2015. ABC: Q&A. Host: Tony Jones. Accessed 31 October 2015. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4273040.htm.

    Stahl, Roger. 2006. ‘Have You Played the War on Terror’. Critical Studies in Media Communication 23(2): 112-130.

  4. POLS3512: Critical Blog Appraisal (Farah Nabilah Mohd Azman – 44025801)
    Blog Appraisal: Wall Of Light

    Being born during the post-Cold War era has made me curious and intrigued to know what had happened in the past that shaped the world today. The blog that I found captivating is the Wall of Light or also known as Lichtgrenze by Sebastian Kaempf. This blog mainly discusses about the Wall of Light which was the commemoration of 25 years of the fall of the Berlin wall. The Lichtgrenze commemoration happened in Berlin in 2014 (Eddy 2014). 8000 illuminated helium balloons were placed along the path of where the Berlin Wall had once stood 25 years ago. Those balloons were then being released into the sky as a symbol of the Wall’s fall on the 9th of November 1989 (Eddy 2014). Kaempf’s ‘Wall of Light’ blog and the short video that accompanies it offer a fascinating view of authenticity of one’s personal experience. This blog appraisal aims to critically analyse and engage with the topic of the blog – the fall of the Berlin Wall – and the short video as well as to critically discuss its narrative content by using the context of global media academic literatures. Firstly, this essay will address the main point of the ‘Wall of Light’ blog which is to deliver the impact of the wall. Secondly, it will then explore the blog’s central message as it is convincing to the readers because of its optimistic words and images that portrays the positive impact of the wall. Thirdly, this essay will analyse on how the content can be revised in order to make it better and more undoubted. Last but not least, it will also look at the illustration of non-power violence as it would probably lead us to think the conveyed message is incorrect.

    The central message of the blog is to address and deliver the impact of the wall and the boundaries it set as well as to explore the societal and political occurrence that happen because of the wall’s opening. This blog is undeniably a beautiful write-up which explores a Germany’s personal experience as it gives the audience an emotional context of the fall of Berlin Wall that happened at the beginning of the end of cold war. The video made by Kaempf delivered a beautiful panorama and the antiphon of Berlin citizens. The main point behind the Lichtgrenze, which is the core subject of this blog, is to commemorate the fall of the wall in which it is meaningful to all Germany. Kaempf believes that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the ‘beginning of the end of the German Democratic Republic, which then led to German reunification and also symbolized the end of Communism and the Cold War (Kaempf 2014). This blog also tries to convey and strengthen the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall that it had to the residents and visitors of Berlin (Eddy 2014). It talks about the imposing wall and how the fall of the Wall became the symbol of the beginning of the Cold War’s end. It also explores how Berlin is completely different in terms of its ambiance compared to 25 years ago. This can be seen when Kaempf says that the Lichtgrenze was quite striking which encouraged the people of Berlin to remember and appreciate the past alongside celebrating the future. Kaempf explained the whole event by focusing in the positive and beautiful festivity of the reunion and the remarkable sight of the 25th Anniversary Wall of Light.

    The central message of this blog, which is regarding the Wall of Light, is successfully conveyed to the reader. The portrayal of the fall of Berlin Wall as the rise of prosperous Germany reunification by using positive words and images in the video has convinced me as the reader. As someone who has no connection to German at all, I get emotional while reading this blog and watching the video. The aim of the installation, which is meant to remind the inhumane division in the past, has completely caught my attention. This spotlight completely applies the theory of art and images. According to
    Roland Bleiker, art, particularly images, ‘evoke, appeal to and generate emotions’ (Bleiker 2015). Images play a huge role in shaping ‘what can and cannot be seen and also what can and cannot be thought, said and done in politics’ (Hansen 2015). They can be instruments in fundamentally different ways, depending on how it is broadly outlined. Images also aid in building and reinforcing moral position (Hansen 2015). Images induce a particular emotional response as discussed by constructivist who believes and highlights the significance of emotions for international politics (Hansen 2011). Kaempf addresses the Berlin Wall through this visual approach has formed the chance to get an experience and recollection of meaningful as well as pleasurable memory. Apart from it being an emotion generator, this aesthetic approach can nurture peace and ‘act as a cultural counterbalance to the attention of citizens for military purposes (Eisenhower 1961). The usage of visual and positive portrayal in this spotlight has convinced the reader about the incident of the fall of Berlin Wall.

    Though this spotlight is successfully composed, the fact that it is being reproduced in a sensually inadequate presentation, its sense of authenticity is vanished (Benjamin and Jennings 2010). The slow, serene music that Kaempf used naturally influences the spectators toward seeing the commemoration as a festive experience. This can also be seen by the particular camera shots displaying happy people and loving couples that are kissing. This spotlight in a way contradicts the aims of the event. Lichtgrenze’s organiser Frank Ebert explained that it is a struggle to get people of German to comprehend the terrifying German Democratic Republic (Eddy 2014). Emotional and visual power should be “evoked by the dimension and brutality of the Wall” (Berlin.de 2014). The organizers’ aim was to ensure that people will always remember the violence happened at the wall. This is not to say that Kaempf’s interpretation of the artwork is incorrect as art is intended to be experienced differently by different people. However, Kaempf can make the spotlight better by providing a more realistic content, not only the peaceful aspect of the event but also the tragedies that lie behind it. Berlin has many immigrants and residents born after the unification, thus it is crucial to deliver a vivid reminder of what it meant to live in a city and country where families were kept apart under the threat of death.

    Not only that this blog is not being able to convey the tragic message underlies the fall of Berlin Wall, there is a damaging counter-evidence that would lead the readers to doubt the conveyed message. Kaempf’s illustration on the ‘power of non-violence’ as the main reason behind the fall of the wall is highly debatable (Kaempf 2014). It is true that the peaceful protest in Leipzig had helped the reunited Germany in achieving its democracy, freedom and unity (Isenson 2009). However, the fall of the wall happened because ‘the citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) withdrew their consent peacefully’ as suggested in the blog is highly arguable (Kaempf 2014). Main factors that play a huge role in collapsing the Berlin Wall are Gorbachev’s reformation across ‘Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe’, ineffectiveness of the East German government and the continuous distress by the West (Sarotte 1993, 280-281). These geopolitical incidents together with peaceful demonstration by the Germany to take the wall down had become the most important factors that lead to this world history. Therefore, Kaempf’s illustration of the fall of the wall was mainly caused by the non-violent protest is doubtful.

    To summarize, this blog is a good example of the aesthetic project. As I have discussed, aestheticism can play a huge role in delivering peace and can act as a balancing force that contradict to the increasing influence of the military on the public. This blog can be improved by providing a more realistic context – the violence and tragedy during the presence of the wall. All in all, this blog has presented a very good overview on the occurrence of the Wall of Light.

    Bibliography

    Benjamin, Walter, and Michael W. Jennings. 2010. ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Its Technological Reproducibility.’ Grey Room 39: 11-37.
    Bleiker, Roland. 2015. ‘Pluralist Methods for Visual Global Politics.’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies 43(3): 872-890.
    Eddy, Melissa. 2014. The New York Times. Accessed 16 October 2016. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/world/europe/where-berlin-wall-once-stood-lights-now-illuminate.html.
    Eisenhower, Dwight. 1961. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation. Accessed 16 October 2016. Available at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.html.
    Hansen, Lene. 2015. ‘How images make world politic: International icons and the case of Abu Ghraib.’ Review of International Studies 41(2): 263-288.
    Hansen, Lene. 2011. ‘Theorizing the Image for Security Studies: Visual securitization and the Muhammad Cartoon Crisis.’ European Journal of International Relations 17(1): 51-74.
    Isenson, Nancy. 2009. Deutsche Welle. Accessed 16 October 2016. Available at http://www.dw.com/en/germany-recalls-rallies-that-helped-bring-down-berlin-wall/a-4776699.
    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2014. The Vision Machine. Accessed 16 October 2016. Available at http://www.berlin.de/mauerfall2014/en/highlights/lichtgrenze/.
    Sarotte, M.E. 1993. ‘Elite Intransigence And The End Of The Berlin Wall’. German Politics 2(2): 270-287.

  5. Critical Blog Review – Wall of Light

    For some reason, the story of the Lichtgrenze has stuck with me over the years. I can still distinctly remember seeing the story play one night on the six o’ clock news. Perhaps it was simply that I had been to Berlin about a year beforehand, but I was intrigued how a city and wider country could so peacefully join together again to become one after decades (and arguably centuries) of separation. Given this, it is easy to see how Sebastian Kaempf’s article drew me in as a reader.

    Kaempf’s artice in The Vision Machine looks at just what visual and emotional reactions a balloon exhibition would incite from Germans and foreigners alike. He argues that visual media can be used to inspire thought and effectively critique political issues in a peaceful way. I will argue that perhaps in amongst all the aesthetics, the real message of the installation was lost – and in some ways, this reflects in Kaempf’s article and film. Firstly, I will look at the overall purpose of the article, followed by some issues surrounding the topic. Then, I will make a comparison to another form of visual media and the importance of aesthetics in this field of study.

    The purpose of Kaempf’s article was to illustrate the ability of visual media as a form of non-violent protest to allow us to consider and critique political issues today (Kaempf, 2014). Although the Berlin wall fell almost 30 years ago, organisers described the installation as a “symbol of hope for a world without borders” (Berlin.de, 2014). This is a clear political statement which Kaempf capitalises on in his comments regarding other walls around the world that divide populations, “I feel so irritated by seeing other countries building walls themselves – after 1989. And yes, I am thinking of the Israeli government, but I am also thinking of Cyprus, North Korea and the European Union” (Kaempf, 2014).

    The accompanying video helps to illustrate this thoughtful feeling, with pre-1989 images compared to those of the wall of light with happy passers-by admiring the lights and ending with a swarm of people celebrating as the balloons float off into the sky (Kaempf, 2014). Although Kaempf’s piece was not overtly argumentative, it certainly reflected the ambitions of the organisers, namely to at least get people to think about life in East Germany and to celebrate change.

    However, if the goal of the exhibition was to get people to understand how life was on the eastern side, I fear the message may have been slightly missed, both in the installation and in Kaempf’s piece. Indeed, while the releasing of the balloons holds great symbolic significance, in a city where parts of Berlin wall are sold off to tourists as a souvenir, it would surely be difficult to bring home the message of such a horrible period in German history (Wilson, 2014). Mr Ebert, who ran an archive devoted to East German memorabilia said, “it was a real fight to get people to understand how important it is, to remember how horrible it really was in the German Democratic Republic” (Eddy, 2014). Arguably, if more sections of the wall stood today, it would be easier to ‘remember the wrongs of the past’. The city has moved on and grown, “the vast empty lots [have] continued to characterise the city up until recently, but now they are finally disappearing” (Wilson, 2014).

    Although the city, “…should not wear its history on its sleeve…” it should also not glaze over its past either (Wilson, 2014: 16). There are plenty of people traumatised by the events of the Soviet occupation and even a term, Mauerkrankenheit (wall sickness), has been coined to describe the effect life behind a wall has had on the psyche of East Germans (Evans, 2011). But as Kaempf describes, he saw people, “…walking at night and trying to take in the experience whilst having the occasional desire to try and articulate what they feel” (Kaempf, 2014). Although the installation certainly guided the public in the right direction, perhaps it lacked something in interpretation.

    In his book, “Aesthetics and World Politics”, Bleiker looks at the effect art can have on understanding political issues. He describes art as an amplifier of a political message; the aesthetics are neither good or bad, nor progressive or regressive (Bleiker, 2009: 11). Interpretation is also key to this, as different parts of the world could interpret this event in different ways. Bleiker furthers explains this with an example of a photograph. “Photographs seem to give us a glimpse of the real. They provide us with the seductive belief that what we see in a photograph is an authentic representation of the world…” (Bleiker, 2009: 6). The same can be said for other artistic ventures, such as Kaempf’s film. At the same time, Jazeel and Mookherjee say, “Aesthetics…is never merely expressive, nor is it redemptive or therapeutic though we would stress it can indeed be all of these. It is also emancipatory; it signifies and precipitates change and/or conflict.” (Jazeel & Mookherjee, 2015: 356)

    The film reflects the aesthetics Kaempf witnessed as he ventured along the path of the Berlin wall. The tone of the video is undeniably hopeful, similar to that of the “hope for a world without borders” mentioned by the operators of the event. The lighthearted yet still thoughtful music and images of happy crowds and illuminated white balloons floating off into the atmosphere imply a peaceful, united Germany of today (Seamus, 2014). Taking a page from Bleiker’s book, this is the message which Kaempf and the organisers of the event wanted to send – if anything, Kaempf’s film acts as an amplifier of the political issue at hand. It shows how liberating it can be to free cities, states or countries of their borders. Bleiker explains the ‘denoted message’, which is the direct representation of the message in the visual image, as well as the ‘connoted message’, which is about how the media is interpreted (Bleiker, 2009: 7). Therefore, perhaps Kaempf’s interpretation (and the installation itself for that matter) was a “glimpse of the real”.

    Interestingly, at school I completed a Modern History assignment similar to this topic. For an entire term I studied Cold War art and what these artists reflected in their work; be it cultural prosperity, terror or peace. For this particular assignment, I discovered that art was used to express an emotion or mood coming from that particular country; be it through the art style, media used, context, colours or materials. One of the most striking pieces I studied was “Aufbau der Stalinallee” (or Construction of Stalinallee), completed by East German artist Heinz Löffler in 1953. Despite the evolution of abstract art in the west, Löffler’s painting is undeniably traditional, taking a Socialist Realism bent. The content of the image is critical to this belief as well. It shows East Berlin under construction – the sky filled with cranes and workers scaling buildings (Drohojowska-Philp, 2009). The piece indeed works as a piece of state propaganda, only showing the west what it wants to see. As Bleiker said, this art acts as an amplifier of the political message. The same can be said for Nazi Party sponsored films before and during the Second World War. These films were instrumental in getting support for the Nazi state (Bleiker, 2009: 10). However in today’s world, these artists are blessed with another platform to spread their message and incite thought.

    Social Media now has the ability to spread an artist’s message and expand interpretations. As many of the producers of this event have exclaimed, they are now able to “reach people across the world through social media” (Eddy, 2014). They wanted to make sure people were able to actively participate, so the underlying message of the movement was with the people, as it was back in 1989.
    Kaempf explored what emotional and visual reactions people would have to such a piece of art. Adding to this, Kaempf embraced social media to share his emotions and the emotions of those around him, with the world by uploading a video of the Lichtgrenze to Youtube. It is debateable however, whether the true horror of life behind the wall was displayed, or perhaps it was overshadowed by that of peace and hope for the future. Regardless, as Kaempf alluded to, this event had the ability to speak volumes about the walls being built in our world today through its global spread in social media. To think that I saw this story on the six o’clock news the night after it happened in Berlin shows the power of media in the world today.

    References

    Berlin.de,. 2014. ‘25 Years Fall of the Berlin Wall’. Accessed 20 September 2016. Available at: https://www.berlin.de/en/events/3236446-2842498-25-years-fall-of-the-berlin-wall.en.html

    Bleiker, Roland. 2009.‘Aesthetics and World Politics’. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

    Drohojowska-Philp, H. 2009. ‘Cold War Cultures’. Artnet. Viewed on 18 September 2016. Available at: http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/drohojowska-philp2-25-09.asp

    Eddy, M. 2014. ‘Where a Barrier Once Stood in Berlin, Lights Now Illuminate.’ The New York Times. Viewed: 1 October 2016. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/world/europe/where-berlin-wall-once-stood-lights-now-illuminate.html

    Evans, S. 2011. ‘The Berlin Wall sickness that still lingers today’. BBC News. Viewed: 30 September 2016. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14488681

    Jazeel, T. Mookherjee, N. 2015. ‘Aesthetics, politics, conflict.’, Journal of Material Culture 20(4): p 353-359.

    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2014. ‘Wall Of Light’. The Vision Machine. Viewed 14 September 2016. Available at: http://thevisionmachine.com/2014/11/wall-of-light/.

    Seamus, R. 2014. ‘Contemplating ‘Lichtgrenze’ Fall of Berlin Wall brought ‘peaceful revolution’. The Observer, Carlsbad.

    Wilson, R. 2014. ‘Another brick in the wall’. The Architectural Review 236(1414): P 16-17.

  6. POLS3512 Critical Blog Appraisal
    Christopher Burrill – 43534502

    In Sebastian Kaempf’s “Wall of Light” article and short film, we are brought along with the author on a breathtaking adventure of self-reflection and discovery that aims to reexamine one of Europe’s most pivotal moments over the last century. Lichtgrenze or ‘Light Border’ was a project put forth by a non-profit cultural group, Kultur Projekte Berlin to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (Berlin.de, 2014). The project was based around the installation of 8,000 illuminated helium balloons that stretched along a 15-kilometer portion of where the wall once stood, zigzagging its way through the center of Berlin. The balloons stood glowing for 3 days in early November of 2014 before being released into the sky during a large street festival of lights, music and fireworks. Although Kaempf’s article outlines the project briefly, his aim is to explore the symbolism of the wall, its demise and what this historical event meant for the concept of revolution through nonviolent means.

    The first half of Kaempf’s article outlines the context of the project and the history behind the wall itself. Kaempf references his limited connection to its history in saying that one of his only memories of the wall was it being torn down when he was only 13 years old. He recalls his confusion in seeing his parents cry when hearing the news and how perhaps this poignant memory sparked his interest in the matter. It is here where a barrier is broken between the author and the reader. The article no longer serves to educate the reader in a particular part of history but instead invites them on a sensory adventure of the beauty of the project and the ways in which it impacted the people there to experience it. Kaempf speaks of the hundreds of people he encountered on his travels along the wall of light. He notes the sound of silence as these people would gaze up at glowing balloons, seemingly unable to express the emotions that the structure was drawing out. The accompanying short film puts these detailed descriptions into motion. The film starts out with the juxtaposition of footage of the wall before it’s destruction alongside footage of the luminous balloons in place throughout Berlin. This serves as context for the project it documents in a similar way to Kaempf’s article where he starts off with an initial recap of the history behind the wall. It then goes on to show, much like the article, the experiences of the people present to witness the attraction. Seniors look up in awe, lovers kiss beneath the balloons’ glow and a mass of what looks like several thousand people cheer as the balloons are released into the night sky. Although the film has no commentary, it does a good job portraying the message and emotion set forth in the article.

    The purpose and message of this article and accompanying film is less about detailing the history behind the wall and its demolition and more about the importance of self-reflection in our ever-changing world and how it can bring us together. It urges the reader to consider this as the foundation of studying history. In the case of Lichtgrenze, the illuminated balloons were used to abstract the memory of the Berlin Wall so that it was no longer “about the wall, …[but instead] more about the separation” (Bauder, 2014). The balloons, held up by very thin stems, allowed onlookers to walk freely between and on either side of the arbitrary division. This symbolism of a visibly long, stretching border now absent was important in demonstrating the end of a painful separation and how far the people of Germany had come since then. In an interview with the New York Times, co-creator of the project Christopher Bauder, articulated the way these luminous orbs floated atop their stems was a design intended to give “a quite alien effect to the city, … [like] something that [didn’t] belong there” much like the original wall itself (Bauder, 2014).

    The larger picture here is the context of walls in our society and what they stand for. The Berlin Wall’s purpose was to erect a border that carved it’s way through Berlin between democratic East Germany and the communist West. Not only did this wall separate political ideas, it separated communities, split buildings in half and displaced families. Although walls throughout history, some of which not physical but theoretical or ideological have stood for many reasons, one quality that has remained constant is their purpose to disconnect and to perpetuate the idea of ‘us versus them’. It is interesting to contrast the Berlin Wall with other cases in history where the power of the people managed to overcome the ‘us versus them’ paradigm through nonviolence. Gandhi’s Salt March of 1930 is a good example of creating change through nonviolence. The British colonial powers in India constructed a theoretical wall around the collection and trade of salt by holding a monopoly over the good. In 1930, Gandhi with 78 of his followers began a march from his ashram to collect salt from the Arabian Sea, over which he was joined by tens of thousands of fellow countrymen. This act of defiance continued until Gandhi was given bargaining rights over the salt laws (Weber, 2002). A small victory it was, but a victory nonetheless. Similarly, nonviolent protests took place in Washington in 1963 known as the ‘March on Washington’ where many African-American community leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. demanded racial equality from their government leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the following years (McAdam, 2000).

    People the world over continue to ponder these historic acts of nonviolence, as do Berliners as they observed the glowing balloons that made their way through Germany’s reunited city. There remain very few places in Berlin where remnants of the original wall still stand. Kaempf is of the opinion that these parts of the wall should be preserved to act as a reminder of the power of the people. Others argue that the wall should be erased from view. From the reception Lichtgrenze saw, it seems clear that these parts of the wall should remain where they are so that people, if they wish, can travel to them and reflect, much in the way that the masses were able to throughout the project in 2014.

    A common argument against the use of the Berlin Wall as an effective example of political change through means of nonviolence is that its nonviolent nature was circumstantial. A large number of East Germans had begun escaping the regime through neighbouring Hungary and Czechoslovakia resulting in the regime understanding the impending futility of the boder (Meyer, 2009). One might argue this is a pessimistic view. The efforts put forth by the German people to bring reunification were great indeed. The famous Alexanderplatz demonstration attracted an estimated half-million Germans who peacefully protested for the end of the barrier. It must be acknowledged that even with such a large number of unsettled people in a concentrated area around the wall, violence never did break out.

    Kaempf’s article and accompanying film is effective in sending its message of the importance in reflecting on events of positive change both in society and in ones self. The short film captures perfectly the emotion of the article and although one might argue that the choice of music adds a degree of bias, the article is based on the author’s personal experience in which case this criticism holds no merit. Although Kaempf is German himself, his experience with the Berlin wall is limited so he speaks in a tone of enlightenment that is inviting. In his introduction he speaks of what psychologists would call a ‘flashbulb memory’. This means that the recollection he has of his parents crying at the news of the wall being ripped down was charged with high levels of emotion making it a strong memory despite his young age. This explains why the author was so interested to document his experiences during Lichtgrenze and why perhaps this event was more impactful for him than it would be for journalists with no connection. “Wall of Light” beautifully captures Kaempf’s experience as well as many of the people around him during the Lichtgrenze project and although these sentiments may change over time, it is a great window into the emotions experienced during the celebration.

    Reference List:
    Bauder, C. (2014). Berlin’s Wall of Light.

    Berlin.de. (2014). 25 Years Fall of the Wall. [online] Available at: http://www.berlin.de/mauerfall2014/en/25-years-fall-of-the-wall/index.html [Accessed 14 Oct. 2016].

    McAdam, D. (2000). Culture and Social Movements. Culture and Politics, pp.253-268.

    Meyer, M. (2009). The picnic that brought down the Berlin Wall. Los Angeles Times. [online] Available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/sep/13/opinion/oe-meyer13 [Accessed 14 Oct. 2016].

    Weber, T. (2002). Gandhian nonviolence and the Salt March. Social Alternatives, 22(2), pp.46-51.

  7. POLS3512 – Critical Blog Appraisal

    Despite visiting family who live in the surrounding countries numerous times, I have yet to have had the chance to visit Germany. This remains to be one of my deepest regrets due to Berlin being the symbolic feature of the Cold War until the downfall of communism in 1989. Being a scholar of international relations, I appreciate how its population experienced some disturbing and dramatic encounters during this period, which I believe to also have represented the greater global struggle.

    Throughout history, the world has faced numerous conflicts. With two world wars and the many that transpired during the Cold War have stricken the globe, it has indeed been a violent world.
    With the devastating outcomes of World Wars One and Two, and the terrorist attacks that we have witnessed worldwide, even up to this day, it seems like there is no way to end conflict than by just mere violence. However, the power of non-violence has been a beacon of hope especially now that the arms people have are nuclear in nature and can cause harm to population.
    What is this power of non-violence? What are the differences between 9/11 and 11/9 and what do they have in common? What is the sense of building up a wall if not to keep people from coming in or going out? This critical analysis will attempt to provide answers to such questions.

    In the Wall of Light spotlight, we see the Wall built specifically to divide a nation was transformed into a wall of light where people can think about their past, their present, and their future. It has been a difficult time for Berlin during the divide but we all saw what their non-violent ways have done for them – which is exactly the opposite of what human nature dictates.

    Everyone in the world has all seen what violence has done for the world. How about non-violence? What is the power of non-violence and why does it go against human nature?
    Martin Luther King posited that the end of violence is only bitterness and nothing more. He stated in one of his famous speeches he shared in June 4, 1957 that:
    “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.”
    Here, we see that while human nature dictates violence, the outcome is more bitterness and hence, we become more violent. The opposite, non-violence, gives us a purview of what a harmonious life could be; the aftermath of which being reconciliation.

    In this blog post, we see the writer Sebastian Kaempf speak about the aftermath of the wall – the wall being the Berlin wall and how its collapse made a difference when it comes to the aftermath of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall, in a way, is the greatest symbol of the Cold War in Germany. It depicted a physical division between the West portion of Germany and the East. It was erected overnight in 1961 and was a symbol of the Cold War until it fell. Throughout the blog post, we see Sebastian Kaempf talk about how the area where the wall was once placed now became an area which symbolizes the wall and what it stood for. It became a symbol of how non-violence can lead to a better community relationship between and among populations. The Wall of Lights which was developed by Christopher Bauder and Marc Bauder, I believed became a light literally and figuratively for the author of the blog post. Literally, as the area is being lighted and shows where the previous wall has been. More importantly, figuratively, as Sebastian Kaempf had seen not only the wall but also what it symbolizes for the people who have experienced the great divide. We hear histories, experiences, and perhaps we get a glimpse of what the future is as tourists respect the place as much as the locals. For me, such representation of the wall depicts a view that we must always be ready to embrace our past so we can have a fruitful future.

    If there is one thing that is certain, it is the reality that there are people who have experienced the Berlin Wall go up and live with this separation during the Cold War. Currently, this is known as the East German syndrome. The East German Syndrome is a mental illness which shows listlessness and a lack of purpose. This lack of purpose is somewhat connected to the limit that the wall has placed upon the people who has experienced it. Today, we no longer see much of the East German Syndrome. This is because the population affected by the wall is already depleting. What does this mean for our future generations? This means that while we are faced with situations which allow for the opportunity to be violent, we must choose to always been non-violent. The non-violent path can lead to healing and with healing we can turn a once symbol of the Cold War into a much needed refuge for people who wants to know more about history and wants to learn more about their own community.

    While the author’s comparison with 9/11 and 11/9 should be respected as it is his own opinions. I believe that it depicts a disturbing comparison as to the effects of 9/11 and the events that occurred in 11/9. It is a comparison that maybe did not necessary have to be mentioned. One thing is certain. That we must learn from the Wall of Lights and look at our own personal lives as the wall has lived. It was built overnight and was removed just as fast when the people decided to no longer give their consent to their conquerors. We must learn how to stand tall, and fall when it becomes necessary, and yet we must also learn how to forgive, how to forget, and how to make something good out of memories that can no longer be replaced like the Wall of Lights which is now giving way to new and better memories.

    REFERENCES:

    Evans, S. 2011. ‘The Berlin Wall sickness that still lingers today’. BBC News. Viewed: 25 May 2017. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14488681

    Jennifer Rosenberg. February 1, 2017. Accessed May 25, 2017 (URL: https://www.thoughtco.com/the-berlin-wall-28-year-history-1779495)

    Martin Luther King Speech. June 4, 1957. Accessed May 25, 2017 (URL: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-power-of-non-violence/)

  8. Critical Blog Appraisal by Muhammad Aidiq Sufi (44025061)
    I will critically review a spotlight entitled Wall of Light written by Sebastian Kaempf. First of all, I will write the main points, central message and argument of the spotlight. Then, I will explain either his message is convincing or not, and the reasons behind it. Lastly, I will write constructive comments and provide damaging counter-evidence that may mislead the readers in understanding the intended content.
    He wrote about his experience on the 1989 Berlin Wall opening and compared it to his visit 25 years later. At that time (1989), he lived in southwestern Germany that was located 816.2km away from Berlin. He had little to no clue of what the celebration was all about as he had no relatives or friends in The German Democratic Republic. However, he sensed that it was something important – seeing how his parents were crying out of happiness when watching the news on TV. He said that the event was the beginning of the German reunification, the end of Communism and the Cold War that had affected the whole world. However, German became divided again for an event called Wall of Light on 7-9 November 2014 to commemorate the Berlin Wall. It was nicely decorated with helium balloons and were lit up for 3 days along the line where the Berlin Wall was once built.
    There are three main points of his writing. Firstly, he told that the visual provided emotional reactions. Kaempf went to the event to observe the reactions that he and the visitors had prior to the event. He was amazed how the event brought in a sense of non-violence that previously was not present. Secondly, he stated that the visual had history behind them. The history was nicely projected into a visual representation. The way the wall was rebuilt was interesting. It was not built in a straight line – it follows the trace of the former wall – and portray which building had been scraped off when the project was executed. The artistic project had generated a warm feeling and special ambience to the visitors. Lastly, he noted that there were political messages in the visual. The concept of a wall brought in many brutal political messages. It separated people. It divided nations. It caused sufferings. The sight of the wall of the light carried a message that the dictators were not strong if the citizens had not provided consent for them to rule. The wall of light was enacted by the people and it is the people that had the power to determine its future.
    The central message of the writing is on global visual politics – focusing on an international icon that is widely known and emotionally responded to. This relates to Hansen’s writing that icon comes in a form of a meaningful constituted discourse that catered for a specific audience (Hansen 2015: 263). One may find a visual speaks a thousand stories while others find it to be no more than a celebration. Visuals work differently from words. Visual invokes contemplation, reflection and interpretation (Shepherd 2013: 225). They are of a non-verbal nature and interpreter needs to understand the context, language and metaphor of it (Bleiker 2015: 873). There is a conflict of interpretation when we look at a visual image but use our own experience and not based on its meant context. Supposedly, we have to understand the image in front of us as it is like how the writer did. He put aside what may work differently for him and decide to observe the emotional reactions of people surround him.
    There were many times I found the writer to be uncertain of his feeling. However, it was the uncertainty that helped to interpret a visual better (Shepherd 2013: 227). This uncertainty would gradually invoke more sense as we learnt the context of it. The writer mentioned that he was reminded of the old days when the real event took place. He believed that other visitors were the same. This links the visual that “some images achieve to their special emotional impact on the observer whose response can range from compassion to rejection” (Hansen 2011: 56). An iconic image portrays more than what happens. It summarises and constitutes a situation better than words. It connects to other events as well. Kaempf wrote that the Berlin Wall was a physical manifestation of the Cold War that led to the Soviet blockade of Berlin in which America and Soviet almost had a war with each other. The wall was built because the regime was afraid of its people leaving the place. This means that visual can act as a discursive agent that provides an evident political and foreign policy message.
    An argument can be made in his writing in regards to visual capabilities. An image can own an independent stand and affect the domestic political realm or even beyond that. Based on Bleiker, an image is not peripheral, but an integral part of an event instead (Kaempf and Roland 2017). The wall of light portrayed an essential knowledge claim on what had been happening back then and how it impacted the world now. This was because an image can unconsciously offer an in-depth relationship that communicated with viewers’ emotions. In relation to conflict and war, the image was important as it reminded him how a construction of wall persuaded people to rebel and make changes to the regime. Besides, an image speaks different meanings based on its context, situation and interpreter. Six ways to interpret the visuals better are through essentialism, reflexivity, veracity, dialogue, manipulation, and theoretical sophistication. Each of the term constructs meaning that visual images need to have pre-determined properties; we have to choose methodological method that suits the image; we need to consider legibility of the source of the image; we need to understand the dialogic nature of it; we have to confirm what manipulation have occurred on it; and we have to apply theoretical visual knowledge on it respectively (Shepherd 2013: 233).
    The message of this spotlight is convincing, but to a certain degree only. The writer described his experience and expressed the visual based on his honest exposure from the event. He subtly provided messages in regard to the politics of visual image. However, it may be limited only to readers that have the knowledge in the field. When I was reading the blog, nothing related to the course content came up to my mind, but just a nice story depicting a significance of the Berlin wall and its effect on the people. I did not realise it was visual. I often regarded visual as an event that was captured on camera or photographed. Here, it was quite the opposite. The visual was installed and brought to live. The writer wrote that the enactment of the visual brought him into a dimension and the brutality of the event. Only after I realised this, then I got to further relate his experience with the course content.
    The writer could have done better if he had stated earlier that it was in regard to global visual politics. It could be put either in the title, e.g. Wall of Light (Global Visual Politics) or on the first or second paragraph. It may sound direct, but it helps readers to understand what it is all about and know what to expect. At first, I thought it was on how 9/11 was a date that told a whole different story, especially for Germans and those who involved – and not just a date to signify a terrorist act. I believe there is no damaging counter-evidence that would mislead readers. We all just need to read in-between the lines, or at least, have visual politics knowledge to evaluate the matter.
    In conclusion, interpretation of a visual is often found to be dialogic, uncertain, and incomplete as there is no definite meaning of it. This provides unlimited access to a further engagement. Interpretation can be made through critical analysis in order to understand the meanings that are constituted in it, especially in regard to the politics of power in institutions. However, interpretation of visual images has often exposed the risk of being affected with sentimentality, as the images themselves have the power to manipulate viewers’ sensation and emotions looking at how the visual of the wall of the light had provided so many mixed responses both from the writer and also the visitors. Overall, the writer had done a good job of writing an article that helped enhancing readers’ understanding on global visual politics.

    (1424 words)

    References:

    Bleiker, Roland. “Pluralist methods for visual global politics.” Millennium-Journal of
    International Studies 43, no. 3 (2015): 872-890.
    Hansen, Lene. “How images make world politics: International icons and the case of Abu
    Ghraib.” Review of International Studies 41, no. 2 (2015): 262-288.
    Hansen, Lene. “Theorizing the image for security studies: Visual securitization and the
    Muhammad cartoon crisis.” European Journal of International Relations (2011): 51-
    75.
    Kaempf, Sebastian, and Roland Bleiker. “Visual Politics and Conflict.” POLS3512 Week 2
    Lecture. Room S304, Social Science Building, University of Queensland., Brisbane. 8
    Mar. 2017. Lecture.
    Kaempf, Sebastian. “Wall of Light.” The Vision Machine. November 13, 2014. Accessed May
    31, 2017. http://thevisionmachine.com/2014/11/wall-of-light/.
    Shepherd, Laura J. Critical approaches to security: An introduction to theories and methods.
    Routledge, 2013.


Leave a Reply