American poet Robert Frost once wrote:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast...
(“Mending Wall” excerpt)
Recently I visited Germany for the meeting of the Council of Bishops. The words of that poem were ringing in my head, along with the many cathedral bells we heard clamoring on every corner.
We gathered in the city of Berlin, where we visited many of the historical sites of this diverse city during our break times. Most notable to me was viewing the remains of the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 and torn down in 1989. It separated the east (communist) and west (democratic) people of the same country. The governmental control that was established in the aftermath of World War II gave Russia control of East Berlin and the United States, England and France control of the West.
During the era of the Berlin Wall there was much sadness and separation. Whole families were unable to be together. Many attempted to climb over the wall but were felled by fatal gunfire. Tragically, even children were killed. Hearing stories of daring escapes and the digging of ingenious tunnel systems were part of the tour of the Berlin Wall that we experienced.
As the German tour guide led us past the many memorial sites of the wall on that sunny spring day I was struck by two contrasting sensations. There was the stark horror of this wall’s dark history, but also the pleasant idyllic scene of the grassy lawn where we witnessed children playing and vendors selling souvenirs. The wall made all the difference. When there was a wall life was bitter with alienation and death. When the wall came down life and community sprang forth. But not totally so.