The Freedom Express ended its historic journey in Germany over the weekend, concluding an intensive study trip for a group of 20 young Europeans. The participants travelled through six countries in Eastern and Central Europe to discover traces of the different revolutions that swept across the region in 1989. In Germany, the participants set out to explore their final stop, Berlin, the city that was once divided into East and West. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany and Berlin were reunited in dramatic fashion, a historic occasion that is ingrained in the memories of many Europeans today. The face of Berlin has greatly changed since reunification. The city is a architectural frenzy that has reinvented itself countless times in the past 25 years. The cultural vibrancy of the 1920s has returned with a vengeance, transforming Berlin from a political curiosity to a vital presence among European capitals today.
Reflections with Monika Grütters
After arriving in the city, the group quickly headed to the Contemporary History Midsummers Night, an annual commemoration at the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship. There the participants listened to a panel debate which featured Gerd Koenen, German journalist and independent historian, together with Karel Schwarzenberg, former Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs. While there, the group also had the opportunity to sit down with Monika Grütters, State Minister for Culture and Media. Minister Grütters was interested to see what the participants had learnt so far and what expectations they have for their visit in Berlin. The minister also listened to the group as they discussed European identity and their reflections on the European Union today.
East Side Gallery & Europeana 1989 Collection Day
On their second day in Berlin, the participants had a guided tour of the East Side Gallery, the longest open air gallery in the world with 1,316 meters of the former Berlin Wall painted by artists from around the world. In addition, for over 20 years, the East Side Gallery has been the only authentic monument of the reunification.
The participants met with the director of the gallery, Kani Alavi, an German-Iranian artist who came to Berlin 1980. Alavi lived on the West side of the city near the border at checkpoint Charlie, everyday he saw people attempt to cross the border and used the emotions on their faces as inspiration for ‘It happened in November’, a section of the Berlin Wall that he painted in 1990 and which is now on display at the East Side gallery.
Shortly after visiting the East Side Gallery a number of the participants went to the Deutsche Kinemathek, where Europeana 1989 was hosting a public collection day. The group had the unique opportunity to meet members of the general public who wanted to share their stories from 1989. The participants also had the chance to get involved in the process of digitisation. A lot of unique historical material was contributed: from self-made demonstration banners to the original founding charter of the Social Democrats in East Germany. The collection day was also visited by the first freely elected foreign minister of the GDR, Markus Meckel together with Philipp Lengsfeld, a member of parliament.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
The trip may be over, but you can still follow the outcomes and reflections of the journey from each of the participants via their collaborative blog. Also, the entire journey was filmed by a documentary crew who followed the participants on their quest to discover the traces of 1989. The Freedom Express documentary is due to be premiered in Warsaw in February 2015.
In the meantime, ARTE TV will be screening a short programme on 27 September. This short documentary follows the journey and profiles two of the participants who share their experiences during the trip. As a representative of Europeana, I was also a participant of the study trip and one of those selected for the ARTE TV documentary; so I invite you to tune in on 27 September to hear me share some of my thoughts during the trip.
Keep your eyes peeled!