Posted by: helenrobertsbradford | November 6, 2009

Beyond the Wall

Timothy Garton Ash wrote yesterday, in an article on 1989 in The New York Review of Books:

“The year 1989 was one of the best in European history.  Indeed, I am hard pushed to think of a better one. It was also a year in which the world looked to Europe – specifically to Central Europe, and, at the pivotal moment, to Berlin.”

Berlin Wall 1983This photograph of children playing near the Berlin Wall was taken in October 1983 during United Nations Peace Week.  It was found amongst the papers of Sarah Meyer, who travelled to West Berlin from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp.  She describes events in Berlin in her ‘Greenham Rainbow Bus Newsletter’.  On 15 October, she spoke at a demonstration organised by a group called Frauen fuer den Frieden (Women for Peace).  This involved forming a human chain along the Berlin Wall and releasing balloons into East Berlin.

Stretching back to 1961 and the construction of the Wall, I have recently discovered a new archive documenting the American-European Peace March from San Francisco to Moscow.  This archive was created and kept by the European Organiser, April Carter.  Some of the files were found amongst the Direct Action Committee boxes and the remainder were boxed separately and labelled as the Committee for Non Violent Action archive.  The CNVA was an American direct action group whose members initiated the march.  The main CNVA archive is held at the Swarthmore Library Peace Collection.

The marchers entered East Germany in early August 1961 with the agreement of the authorities and were determined to reach Berlin.  However the construction of the Wall made this politically impossible and they were deported back to Helmstedt in West Germany.  A Central Office of Information film, In the shadow of the Wall (1962), available via The National Archives website, gives a contemporary view of its impact on East-West relations.

Timothy Garton Ash highlights one of the least understood aspects of 1989:

“By contrast, we have learned little new about the causes and social dynamics of the mass, popular actions that actually gave 1989 a claim to be a revolution, or chain of revolutions.”

It is this link with the tradition of non violent direct action stretching back to Gandhi that interests me.  Of course with the 20th anniversary of these events now upon us, wonderful new resources are appearing online.  I specially liked Wir waren so frei (We were so free), a photographic archive hosted by the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen (German Museum for Film and Television).

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