“No one has any intention of building a wall!”

June 26, 2013

Germany

Today I have something pretty special to share with you. Exactly 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech to demonstrate US support for a divided Berlin, 22 months after East Germany had erected the Berlin Wall. To mark the occasion, Museum140 and Berlin based organisation asisi, which specialises in creating 360° historical panoramas, organised a MuseUp together last night at the Berlin panorama “Die Mauer” (Engl: The Wall). Located at Checkpoint Charlie, the panorama depicts a divided Berlin during the 1980s.

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To begin with, we learned a bit more about Yadegar Asisi, the organisation’s namesake and mastermind behind the panoramas, of which there have been several to date, in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin. Asisi was born in Vienna in 1955 as the son of Persian immigrants. He went to school in Leipzig and later studied architecture in Dresden and then art in Berlin. ‘The Wall’ represents a selection of his experiences during the 1980s in Berlin Kreuzberg, where he still lives today. The introduction to the panorama quotes Asisi as saying “If you really want to comprehend history, I believe you have to look at people’s everyday lives”.

As an aside, we also learned that the panorama concept was invented and patented by Robert Barker (from Edinburgh!) in 1787, and quickly became a mass medium of entertainment. It was superseded by the advent of cinema around 1900, up until which many major cities in Europe had one. Asisi coined the amalgamated term “Panometer”, as his first 360° panorama artworks were exhibited in abandoned gasometers.

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But back to ‘The Wall’. The panorama is a massive 15 metres high and 60 metres long, giving a total surface area of 900 square metres. Asisi first started work on it about five years ago, parallel to other projects. Each panorama starts with a concept, where Asisi considers from which angle the audience will view it. The view itself is actually not that of Checkpoint Charlie, were the panometer is located, but of the area further East between Moritzplatz and the Engelbecken basin – Asisi’s neighbourhood. There is also some artistic licence involved – some buildings were added or removed to show a better view of a typical neighbourhood, or scenes from Asisi’s personal experiences.

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The artwork itself is a collage of painting and photography, and a fun fact to hear was that the people who appear in it include Asisi staff, friends and family. The final version of the artwork is scanned in to a computer, and a digital print is made on to large banners which are then hand sewn together. It is near impossible to see the seams, such is the precision work that goes in to it!

The scene changes from day to night, and is accompanied by an audio soundtrack of daily noises, such as traffic, mixed with extracts of significant historical speeches, including Kennedy’s famous “I am a Berliner” quote. While everything is dark, we hear snippets from the international press conference in 1961, two months before the Wall went up, where State Council Chairman  Walter Ulbricht bold declares “No one has any intention of building a wall!”

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One thing that differentiates this panorama from all the others Asisi has conceived so far, is that it is not actually a full 360°. A viewing platform erected in the middle has been built in to the panoramic scene to look like scaffolding, thus cutting off about a third of the main hall (it’s difficult to explain, but the picture below might help).

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The vestibule, which is thereby created, hosts an accompanying eye witness exhibition with photos showing daily life around both sides of the Berlin Wall. Around 200 personal submissions were received for the exhibition, after a public call went out. Some particularly poignant ones included a group of nursery children celebration Children’s Day in the shadow of the barbed wire topped wall, and two photos taken 25 years apart, of a group of friends in exactly the same position in front of the Brandenburg Gate – once with and once without the Wall. The photos are complemented with extracts from the documentary “On the Border – Private Views of the Wall”, which was created from numerous private eye witness videos.

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Visitors can also participate by sharing their thoughts about freedom on the vestibule’s graffiti walls, in their own words and own language. As well as the exterior walls, there are more graffiti panels in the middle and as they fill up they are being added to the wall (as seen top right in the picture below), which will eventually measure 15 x 20 metres.

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As one of the MuseUp participants tweeted, “You see remainders of the wall [throughout Berlin] but it’s hard to understand what it was like to live then. The Panorama offered what can’t be put in to words.” The trailer to the panorama gives a glimpse of what it is like standing in the recreated shadows of the Berlin Wall, but at the end of the day this is an experience that all the photos and videos don’t do justice. You really have to see it for yourselves! At the moment, “The Wall” panorama is scheduled until Spring 2014, when the lease for the site runs out, but asisi are hoping for an extension. Either way, if you find yourselves in Berlin, this is not one to miss. Many thanks to the Asisi team for a wonderfully insightful evening!

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3 Responses to ““No one has any intention of building a wall!””

  1. QWoo Says:

    This post hits the nail on the head!

    Thanks for an excellent #MuseUp (again) in this marvellous exhibition.

    Reply

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  1. Discovering Berlin: asisi Panorama “Die Mauer” | The Ex-Expat - October 23, 2014

    […] The panorama is located at Checkpoint Charlie, and will be there until at least Spring 2014 though asisi are hoping for an extension. You can read a full account of my visit, along with more photographs, over on Museum Diary.  […]

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