Breaking Down Walls
“Ich bin ein Berliner.”
(I am a Berliner)
-John F. Kennedy
Berlin, June 26th, 1963.
In fewer than two weeks, the inaugural semester of the Sustainability in Berlin program will end, and the nine of us will part ways, board planes, and return to America. The thought of leaving our Prenzlauer Berg flats and bidding farewell to Berlin, the city that we have made home, is truly bittersweet. And it’s bittersweet, I think, because it has been eye opening in so many ways. So, as we wonder how exactly we will transport all of our souvenirs and purchases home (you only get one free checked bag), we are also in the midst of planning our Thanksgiving in Berlin, as well as reflecting on what our adventures have taught us and how they have changed us.
A few weeks ago, we embarked on an excursion across the Baltic Sea to Copenhagen, Denmark, named the European Green Capital in 2014. While we were there, we did as the locals do, and we rode bicycles everywhere. In Copenhagen, where they are well on their way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2025, more than half the population utilizes bicycles as their mode of transportation, in rain, shine, and even in several inches of snow. With one of the most progressive cycling infrastructure systems in the world, Copenhageners find it to be the most convenient, efficient, and healthy way to get around, and many have attached trollies to their bikes in order to transport groceries, children, and elderly relatives. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life.
In the past five years, Copenhagen has also been plagued by flash floods, which they refer to as “cloud bursts,” a result of climate change. In response, they have began building green areas all over the city that drain to large, underground grids of pipes and storage areas designed to transport the excess water into the harbor. Under normal circumstances, these green areas are utilized as parks and communal spaces. Copenhagen also engages in the extensive use of wind turbines and district heating fueled by excess energy from the waste disposal plant to help reach their carbon neutrality goal. Copenhagen believes very strongly in sharing their ideas and infrastructure with other cities, as they are determined to help break down political, financial, and ideological barriers regarding renewable energy.
Our return journey from Copenhagen took twelve long hours due to the Deutsche Bahn strike, but we arrived home to one of the most inspiring sights I have ever witnessed. Illuminated balloons lined the site where the Berlin Wall once stood.
On November 9th, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berliner Mauer, I stood with one of my feet in West Berlin and one in East Berlin, something Berliners could not do in their own city for nearly thirty years without a “shoot to kill” order being issued by Soviet soldiers.
I was deeply moved in that moment, and I felt solidarity with the Berliners. For decades they sought unity, a single city rather than one divided by a wall, a physical barrier. And when it finally, happened, it happened peacefully.
We hosted our own festivities on the 25th Anniversary, and were joined by Dr. Christoph Stefes and his family, as well as Mr. Klaus Dittmer. They told stories of the GDR and of a divided Berlin, and translated the television broadcasts of the various ceremonies throughout the city. It was truly an honor to share such a special occasion with Germans that have known both a separated and united Berlin.
It was both somber and inspiring to know that on the night of November 9th twenty-five years ago, the first East Berliners crossed the bridge on Bornholmer Straße into West Berlin. On the night of November 9th, just a couple of weeks ago, the nine of us watched the memorial balloons released into the air at that exact same spot.
Imagine what other walls we could break down…
About the Author: Kayla Gabehart is an undergraduate student in her final semester at the University of Colorado Denver. She is double majoring in history and psychology, and minoring in political science. She will begin her MA in history at CU Denver in the spring of 2015. At her core, Kayla is a writer and hopes to somehow incorporate that into her future career.