Official records say that 130 lives were lost along the 160-kilometer border once defined by the Berlin Wall, but that number does not include the enduring effect the wall had on those it surrounded. Today, the same border is regularly traversed by tourists, joggers, cyclists, and locals out walking the dog. Memorials dot the path to remind visitors of the sometimes absurd (a farmer driving his tractor through the wall), oft tragic (the murders), and touching (a group of 80-year olds digging a tunnel to the West) events that took place in what is now, in comparison, a mundane space facilitating one small aspect of city life.
But the trail’s presence remains an important reminder of the past that can simultaneously help the viewer move forward. As Austrian author Stefan Zweig is quoted in Mauerweg saying, “…a sense of responsibility moves us not to overlook any traces that bring to life in concrete terms the history of our epoch: for only in remaining so informed can we take on so terrifying a past and then be able to turn and face the future.”
The removal of the majority of the wall and its fortifications “due to an understandable desire to rid the city of all traces of the hated structure” is, in a way, meant to help those who experienced the trauma of the Wall forget. While life must go on, we will not and should not forget the ugly scars left by the past; they exist, perhaps paradoxically, alongside the bright and vivid Berlin we celebrate today. Paul Sullivan notes this discord in his time spent walking the trail:
“The sun beats down on my neck and the birds chatter nonchalantly in the trees as I think about the decades of heartbreak these children’s families must have suffered, and are perhaps still suffering. It’s not the first time on this walk that I’ve felt this dissonance—the weight of the past colliding awkwardly with the unburdened present—and I realize it is an integral part of the Mauerweg experience. As I continue walking, I feel a deep gratitude and respect for the creators of the trail and its unflinching memorials, for the way in which they have anchored these stories to their rightful place and prevented them from being forgotten.”
Slow Travel Berlin’s slim book Mauerweg: Stories from the Berlin Wall is a guide well-suited both for those planning to walk the trail themselves and those too far away to do so. As the book’s co-authors traverse the trail, they intersperse historical anecdotes with their own experiences in Berlin and on the trail. Mauerweg begins with a fact-oriented essay by Paul Scraton about the history of both the wall and the path. Short interviews with people living nearby follow, and a more personal essay from Paul Sullivan about his reaction to various memorials and landmarks finishes the book. But the story they tell is just the beginning:
“These are just some of the many stories to be found on the Berlin Wall Trail. Some are tragic, others are filled with hope. And some are still being written.”