German reunification twenty years later

I remember following the news for almost four weeks with great intensity as East Germans were successfully escaping to the west and when the Brandenburg Tor opened on September 11, 1989, it signaled the end of a divided Germany. I wanted to fly to Berlin, taking my son with me and for us to be part of the history in the making. However Armont was only one year, a month, and three days old at the time when the fall of the Berlin Wall was marked officially down on November 9, 1989. To personally mark the event, I started a 36 x 36 inch painting, which for me represents my own beginning as an artist, even though it would take another ten years before I would pick up my brushes again, and seriously returned to the profession of painting.

The Berlin Wall – Section 276, January 17, 1990
Multi-Medium on canvas, 36 x 36 inches (91.44 x 91.44 cm)

The abstract painting noting the fall of the Berlin Wall is one of the few canvases that were created spontaneously, reaching for whatever paints and art materials I had on hand. Using acrylic house paint, model craft spray paint, children’s crayons and of course oil paint, I went at the canvas as if lead by a mysterious hand guiding me through the various stages and the multiple layers until it was completed. In the end The Berlin Wall – Section 276 also represents what I encountered in 1974, when standing before the wall for the first time.

I grew up in the shadows of the Berlin Wall as construction started August 13, 1961 while living in Southern Germany, attending a private boarding school until my return to Californian the following year. I found myself in Berlin nine years later attending the HFBK as a guest and once more in 1974, when I decided to take a train through East Germany rather than flying to Berlin.

 My East German passport stamps

The train ride took several hours, stopping at most towns along the way. During our trip into the DDR, our train was boarded by East German soldiers with submachine weaponry and remained posted at each end of the compartment until we reached the West Berlin border. We were also treated to East German propaganda, handed out by the DDR Cultural Ministry personnel upon our first stop after entering East Germany. The experience is one I am grateful for, despite the lapses in memory which is also weak on a number of other points, especially the details of what the landscaped looked like, other than empty.

I still have a number of those booklets and smaller pamphlets that were handed out that day. They are in some box that have not been opened since they were packed when I moved out of my San Francisco apartment to get married some twenty-two years ago. I did find my out-of-date passport, turning to the page the East German border control stamped my arrival, departure into their land. With the subsequent arrival and departure stamps on the same page a few days later, as I returned to the West the same way I had left, with a long train ride though East Germany.

The Berlin Wall remained closed until September 11, 1989, six months later on March 10, 1990 Germany reunification took place.

At Four Seasons in a Life you can see photographs of the remaining Berlin Wall and it's refurbishing by the original 86 international artists in time for the celebration to mark twenty years since its downfall.


Tom-R said...

interesting history and stories...

Anonymous said...

I am fascinated to read of any American's experience within Europe. Your posting is so poignant, yet to my shame, I really took little notice of what was happening in Europe in 1961, being then a young mother with a six month old son. Then I feel more English than European, but never insular. Love your painting and the emotions that inspired you to create it.

Ian Foster said...

It has been extremely interesting to read of your first hand experiences of life in Germany at this momentous time. Your description of the train journey through East germany gives a real flavour of the situation during this period. Thank you.

La Dolce Vita said...

one of my friends here in Colorado, Leslie Jimmerson is just releasing a book she wrote. she photographed all of the Berlin wall art. it is quite a beautiful book. this was a very interesting post and I really liked your spontaneous art piece as a commemoration.

John M. Mora said...

A most interesting account and an uplifting lively painting...

DDR - in my youth I collected stamps and DDR stamps were very common since they were countless commemoratives sold in mint condition to stamp dealers to fill the books of mail order approvals - shipments you got to inspect and where you paid for the ones you wanted. DDR made money selling stamps, and I think Israel and Monaco did also.

Walls in Monaco keep the poor out of villas.

Interesting question - what is preserved - what glimpses of history. And who commemorates and for how long.

Most governments cannot accept graffiti...

Chrissy Gibson said...

I was living over on the east side of what was then West Germany when the wall opened. A little town called Wolfenbuttel...gosh, you're dredging my memories now Egmont :-) xxxChrissy Gibson

Monika Wolf said...

Very interesting what you have written and collected about this historic event and German history... part of my own past though I have to admit I have never seen the wall in person nor have I visited the former DDR before the reunification. I wanted to be part of the history in the making like you but since I was pregnant (the expected date of delivery of my son was 1st of Nov) I wasn't able to go there. He was born on 23rd, 14 days after this historic event. Have followed the celebrations on TV last night and was again very moved. What still impresses me is the way ppl in the DDR fought their rights. A peaceful pressure! No weaponries at all! Wir sind das Volk! They did great!

Bobbie Altman

Oh, Egmont. Thank you for this post. It brings up so many different memories - 1966 - my first trip to Europe as a 20 year old college student where not only was my picture taken in front of the Berlin wall on the west side with guards pointing their guns down at us, but then our trip on a bus through East Germany from there. When we crossed the border, we were made to get out of the bus, step on a matt which we were told was soaked with disinfectant. Then guards got on the bus and took out every piece of newspaper, including what was being used as wrapping and burned it. I have other memories of this trip, so vivid, I'd love to share with you another time.
I wonder if I still have that passport as you have yours?
And then I was blessed to be in Germany in 1990 with my German husband and in laws after the fall of the wall. I have pieces of the wall in my studio. Isn't it truly amazing to be present when and where history is being made?

Margaret Ryall said...

I spent a week in Germany this summer but never made it to Berlin. We have another trip planned in 2011 to see the larger cities. This is my first post to your blog, but we've "met' before on other sites. I enjoyed the work shown in Children's Hands at Play and look forward to following your artistic process in the future.

Calli said...

Love the story and the history that helped you create that wonderful piece.

A very nice visit was had, Egmont, thank you!


Eva said...

Thank you Egmont for sharing this fascinating story and your meaningful painting.I was a living here in the USA at the time, but I remember how triumph we felt as we watched the drama on TV.

rivergardenstudio said...

Thank you for sharing such deep memories and beautiful artwork of such an important time in our world... roxanne

Trudi Sissons said...

A treat to visit your blog today as you unveiled another fragment of your rich life. Your stories are always thoughtful in the retelling and your painting does have that special quality of having created itself.

ArtPropelled said...

Interesting post and I do love the commemorative art piece you created.

Kathy said...

Thank you, Egmont, for this thoughtful and meaningful reflection of your life experiences. I'm fascinated! Also, thank you for your substantive comments on my blog today. I hope we can discuss Arnheim's book together and some of the other complex ideas. It's enjoyable to "meet" someone else who appreciates mathematics. Best regards,

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