Berlin decided to celebrate the 25 years of the Fall of the Berlin Wall by bringing it back up for a few days. This time, the Berlin Wall would be made of white balloons filled with a light called Lichtgrenze. Nothing compared to the concrete and fear that used to exist before.
And the first time we read about it, we knew we would be there to take pictures of it. But we knew it wouldn’t be that easy.
Friday, November 7th – Lichtgrenze starts
Since I work really close to Checkpoint Charlie, I saw the balloon wall being built during the week. Friday was a day for final touches and tests, and it was cool to walk around during lunchtime and see how everything was working out. I just needed to finish my work day and follow this new Berlin Wall.
My plan was simple. I only wanted to go to Bornholmer Strasse, where the first East German gates were open, and follow the balloon wall until somewhere in Kreuzberg. This means that, on the first day, I would have seen half of the new Berlin Wall and could use the rest of the weekend to take care of the rest. Sounds nice, right? It wasn’t.
I took my bike to Bornholmer Strasse, and around 20:00, I was there with many more people than expected. A lot more. My mistake was that I miscalculated how many people would be interested in seeing the Lichtgrenze. Stupid rookie mistake, I know.
I am on my bike with a camera I barely used before, trying to snap night shots of moving light-filled balloons surrounded by many people. All I can say is that for every picture you see on this post, at least 100 images look blurry, dark, or both.
Despite that problem, seeing the Berlin Wall back up in such a beautiful way was beautiful. Walking along was a special moment for me and for many of the people I saw around me.
When I reached the Mauer Memorial next to Nordbahnhof S-Bahn, I could see that the actual Berlin Wall looked close to the balloon wall. Following it through the Park am Nordbahnhof and the area around Südpanke taught me where the wall used to go, and when I got close to the Reichstag, I realized how big this celebration was.
At the Reichstag, I realized that most of the pictures I took would be the same as everybody else. So, why should I waste my time biking in the cold night along lots and lots of people just to take pictures that looked exactly like everyone else’s? I needed a plan.
A few days before the Lichtgrenze went up, I thought I should take pictures of these balloons before dawn. Before the crowd of people and tourists come to ruin my photos. Before the daylight comes, the balloons start looking like regular balloons. I called my friend Ronaldo, and we scheduled to meet at 04:30 next to the Oberbaumbrücke.
Saturday, November 8th – Lichtgrenze before dawn
It wasn’t hard to wake up at four in the morning since I was excited to take pictures. We met at the Oberbaumbrücke and walked around an empty East Side Gallery. The bridge didn’t look that good, so we focused on the former Death Strip and the Berlin Wall next to the Spree.
From there, we biked along the Lichtgrenze like crazy Japanese tourists and took pictures of everything. As the sun rose, we reached an empty Checkpoint Charlie, and from there, we went to Potsdamer Platz.
When we got to the Reichstag, the sunrise made everything look so much better than expected that we took more pictures than necessary.
It was an incredible experience to be among the buildings close to the Reichstag, watching the sunrise and taking pictures of the Berlin Wall made of balloons. Some people were doing their morning runs, and we enjoyed this beautiful moment.
It was already seven in the morning when we returned our bikes to Friedrichshain through Kreuzberg. On the way back, we had to cycle through an empty field on Alte Jakobstraße, and there, I managed to take my favorite Lichtgrenze pictures. The sun was rising, and I could see it coming through the white balloons, and it just looked magical, in a way. From there, we went to have a well-deserved breakfast.
Sunday, November 9th – 25 Years of the Fall of the Berlin Wall
It wasn’t easy to decide where to watch the balloons being released. I imagine that everything would be crowded at the Brandenburg Tor. Mauerpark would be crowded as well. Maybe I should go to Viktoriapark and watch the light balloons from the top. This idea stuck in my head until I realized that once you release the balloons, there is no light anymore. Keep this in mind.
Finally, I joined some friends at the Schillingbrücke, from where we could see the East Side Gallery and the Spree. When we got there, it was cold and crowded. The white balloons almost looked the same color as the grey night sky. And we knew it wouldn’t be as great as we thought.
From what I saw on TV, the celebration at the Brandenburg Tor was grand. It looked beautiful at Checkpoint Charlie and the Mauerpark. It’s too bad we were not at any of those places because it was boring for us. But I really didn’t know what I was expecting. We knew it was a balloon release moment, but everybody expected more. You could feel it in the cold air.
It took a long time for the balloons to be released, and there was no sign or anything else that could tell us when the balloons would start flying. There we were in the cold, looking at the Spree and the East Side Gallery with no idea what would happen. If anything would happen.
After the most extended half an hour of my life, we heard some noise from Engeldamm and knew it was time. We couldn’t see anything from where we were, but the balloons were being released into the night sky.
One by one, they went into the night. I couldn’t see well enough to tell you how it was. But I can say that it was disappointing to see such an excellent idea turning out like that. I believe I wasn’t the only one feeling disappointed there. Most of the people around me looked like they expected more. All I could think was how cool this would look on TV and how most people would never have this disappointing experience I had with some strangers on a Sunday night. I needed to go home, and this is what I did.
This was the Lichtgrenze for me. I can tell my friends and family that I was here in Berlin when the world celebrated 25 Years of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
It wasn’t always great, but it will be a weekend I will never forget. I am pretty sure about it.