This text was instigated at Paragon Studios in Belfast for the exhibition PALISADE.
(Part of the #Peacewalls50 Series of events)
It will develop over the course the exhibition.
/ Short Strand Temporary Barriers /
Although processes of segregation had locally understood territorial spatial demarcation, it was not until the 1920s in Belfast that overground physical barriers were utilised for the first time. By July 1920, renewed sectarian strife began in Belfast after the Belfast Protestant Association marched to expel Catholic workers from factories. By the end of July about 5,000 had lost their jobs and violence spread to East and North Belfast, resulting in 489 lives lost over the following two year period. A key location for violence was in the Short Strand and Ballymacarret areas of East Belfast. In notes that have a certain quality of premonition, Fr. Patrick Gannon, a Jesuit visiting St. Matthews in the Short Strand wrote: “I may say that if there was any serious desire on the part of authorities to protect the Catholic Quarters, a judicious erection of these barricades would make the task very simple. The few in existence were only put up after 18 months of massacre and incendiarism and are not nearly numerous enough.”
/ Berlin Wall Memorial /
In late July, 2019, I visit the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, which commemorates the events that transpired along this 1.4km strip of land. Here the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, and more than 2000 people were forced to leave their homes on Bernauer Strasse due to the proximity of the housing to the Wall line. Subsequently, many lives were lost by people desperately trying to get from East to West Berlin. Multiple tunnels were dig under the so called ‘death-strip’ with limited success, and a ‘Church of Reconciliation’ was dynamited here by the GDR in 1985. Visitors from all over the world climbed on top of viewing platforms to get a view across to get a glimpse of daily life in East Berlin. It was also here, on Odenburger Strasse, that the first opening was made in the Wall on the night on November 10, 1989 following the Peaceful Revolution. The official demolition of the Wall also began here on June 13, 1990. Although now a hugely successful open air museum and interpretative centre, there has not always been agreement in terms of how to deal with this site. Amidst the rush to completely demolish the Wall in 1990, local pastor Manfred Fischer demanded early on that sections of the Wall should be retained so that a memorial could be erected in this place to commemorate the division of Berlin. He repeatedly said “In order to grasp something, there must be something to grasp”. He led a group that began working toward the goal of building a chapel at the site of the razed Chapel of Reconciliation and also to establish a documentation centre for Berlin Wall history in the area. This citizen’s initiative eventually won the support of the Berlin Senate and the German Federal Government, and in 1998 a monument designed by Kollhoff and Kollhoff was erected on the corner of Bernauer Strasse and Ackerstrasse. In 2004 the Berlin Senate summoned a workgroup of memorials consultants, historians and administrators under the title ‘Gesamtkonzept Berliner Mauer’. Their task was to define how the Berlin Wall sites more could be used to make the history of these places more visible. Their plan called for establishing grounds along 45,000 square metres of land. The mostly privately owned 1.4 kilometre long border strip was to be bought back from the more than 100 different owners. More than 27 million Euros were allotted to the project to expand the memorial ensemble formed by the Documentation Centre, Chapel of Reconciliation and Wall Monument. The Berlin Wall Memorial and the Marienfeld Refugee Centre Museum (also a project of civic engagement) were merged to create the Berlin Wall Foundation, which began implementing the project in January 2009. The expansion of the Memorial site was implemented in stages, with sections opening on important anniversaries - ‘the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall’, ‘the 50th anniversary of the Wall’s construction’, ‘the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall’. The entire project was opened on schedule and within budget on November 9, 2014 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As the memorial expanded visitors numbers rose from tens of thousands to well over a million visitors per annum from all over the world. This clearly countered the view expressed so often in the planning phase that Bernauer Strasse was too out of the way to be a central memorial site. In fact, the site has becoming one of the most popular museum institutions in Germany. As I stand in this space, it seems so obvious to try to replicate this model in Belfast, albeit with variations to take on the local context in that city.
See ‘Commemoration needs a Place’ by Axel Klausmeier in ’The Berlin Wall, Axel Klausmeier (Ed) P. 7-10