The lightness of the “death strip”

By Manuela Castiglione on September 23, 2011 in Place Not Place

“Any German. East or West, who sets foot on the strip is shot on sight”.

I live 100 meters far away from the Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, the street that after the wall was erected, with the help of western media spreading the voice, seemed to be a good place to escape and leave finally the wall behind.

Every day when I bring my daughter to school, we walk just across the area between the two walls where people escaping got shot by the snipers, the so-called “Death Strip”. To me everyday it is a big emotion. Yes, because I clearly feel that I am walking on an extremely particular land, where the dramatic past is just round the corner and where the present with its new face is already established by now.

As this land is so overloaded by sorrow, it could have been designated exclusively to the proper remembrance. In fact the Memorial Park on the Bernauer Strasse plays this role. Bare, empty, voluntarily without any trees, the park evokes the absence of the past.

But on the other side you can clearly feel the disruption to the past.

In fact a compound of architectonically groundbreaking townhouses stands out distinctly on the left side of the “Versöhnungskirche”. These houses have been built by a group of international architects in the full respect of the environment: using ecological materials, reutilising rainwater and heating through geothermal systems. Among them you can find even a “Passive House”, a super insulated building that needs no heating – even in the extremely cold Berlin weather – and is able to generate enough energy for its own needs.

This approach to the respect of nature, which is so tangible here, makes me think to the 17,000 hectares of “Green Land” that had been protected in 28 years (1961-1989) by the wall in all the DDR area, by the barbed wire and by the firing order. For nature this inhuman regime revealed itself as a bless! Hundreds of biotopes could be maintained and reproduced.

I´ve been waiting at the traffic light. A loud group of Italians asks me to take a picture of them laughing in front of the wall. The funny Berlin Ampelmännchen turns green. I cross the Bernauerstrasse and go east with a feeling of lightness.


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