Andrii Dostliev

Building walls, destroying walls

When I was coming to Lichtenberg, I was hoping to look into personal experiences of locals that would bring into light the variety of experiences of life in Berlin in the early 90s. Usually, when the German divide — and the Berlin wall as its most prominent symbol — is mentioned in artworks (from my ausländisch perspective), the narrative is focused on the trauma of the separation, the violence at the border and the heroism and suffering of those trying to cross it, or the emotional moment of the fall. More recently, the contemporary traces of the physical divide (the greenery of the former border strip, the ruins of the border guard towers, etc.) were also included in the golden standard of the divide storytelling.

However, what I was more interested in was the — probably less spectacular — daily life after the reunification, the plethora of mundane activities, feelings, sentiments that accompanied the — also probably less spectacular — process of learning to live together. Together again for the older generation but also together for the very first time for those born after the war. The challenging experience itself, additionally made more complex for the former East Berliners by the fall of the communist regime, its twisted world view, and value system. Something that still has visible consequences in contemporary life and politics in Germany (see for example the brilliant work of Dariia Kuzmich about the Pegida movement and the whole phenomenon of ostalgia). Something that must have been a long, difficult, and multifaceted process to have its impact still very much present after these 30 years.

The wall came down in a moment, but it takes years to raise the structures that glue society together. Taking walls (die Mauern) down, but also raising the walls (die Wände) up. The stories of life in Germany in the 1990s are not only interesting as hermetic (para-)historical accounts, they might also be the key — or at least a supporting beam — to the education about learning to live together in the present day. Not only in Germany but also in many other places — in my native war-torn Ukraine or in Poland, my present homeland, where every day brings new political confrontations. It had become too easy to divide people and too difficult to bring them back together again. I’m not aiming to find the solution to that but still trying to make a conscious move in that direction.

And so I set off in my search for walls and cracks in them — physical and metaphorical — all over Lichtenberg. In my conversations with people, walls were one of the focal points that kept coming up on a recurrent basis, not only the Berlin wall but all kinds of walls, from pictures on the living rooms’ walls to the ‘walls’ as obstacles in relationships and mutual understanding. Walls that were raised and walls that came down. Walls that needed to be raised and walls that should have come down.

I’m still in the process of analysing the interviews, assembling my notes from them into a coherent form, and translating them into visual shapes. So the images that come with this report are not the final work but rather a selection of highlights from my field study of the walls in Lichtenberg.

October, 2021