Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
May 03rd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

All We Are is But Another Brick in the Wall

allweareisanotherbrick1Greetings from the Berlin Wall. The “Fascists Protection Barrier” (as the German Democratic Republic auspiciously called it) has been torn down. It will be 20 years ago this November when the Cold War got a tad warmer. When East and West Germany were finally united after more than a quarter of a century, divided by one of the most politically charged symbols of the 20th Century—the Wall. When this section of Berlin, surrounded by the Iron Curtain, was amalgamated once more with its fellow Berliners to become one of the most artistic, thriving cities in Europe. When people broke through the Wall, pecking at it, pushing it down by force of will, they flooded into the streets in a mass celebration to end all celebrations.

Now Lance Armstrong puts in this kind of mileage before breakfast. But for me, who has never come to terms with the idea of tight cycling shorts, 160K seems rather a long way. And as I found out, it is. 
With my command of German language being what it isn’t, asking for directions, should I get lost, would prove to be a hopeless task. That, and my second-hand, rather classic bicycle with its flat tires is almost a California cruiser if not for the fenders and utilitarian basket on the back for groceries. For most Berliners bicycling is not a sport. It is a way to get to the grocery store, the brothel, the club, the allweareisanotherbrick2doctor’s office. That said, my good ride is best suited for short rides through the maze of Berlin’s excellent bike paths and failing that, public transportation network of subways and trains, not some long-ass tour through the city, through the vast hinterlands of Berlin—a city as flat and spread out as Los Angeles.
allweareisanotherbrick3Beginning at the Brandenburg Gate, where scene after scene of throngs climbing over the wall or enthusiastically tearing it apart by the same tool (hammer) of communism happened, seemed like the proper place to start. Joined by my 71-year-old German mother-in-law, who has lived all those years in Berlin, we headed through the middle of the city, guided by bricks laid in the street where the Wall once stood.
After Unification, the city took rapid steps to put its past behind it. The city is, of course, well-practiced in this. The former “Death Strip” with its barbed wire, double walls, guard towers and shoot-to-kill orders for anyone trying to escape to the West, suddenly became appealing land for developers. Soon enough we rode into the midst of Potsdamer Platz, with high-rise buildings, shopping centers and posh apartments built atop Hitler’s bunker—exactly the kind of thing the communists had always warned their people about.
Then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev used to describe Berlin as “the testicles of the West. Every time I want to make the West scream, I squeeze Berlin.” 
Even though it’s been only 20 years, it’s hard to imagine a wall, much less a fence, dividing Berlin. It all seems the figment of someone’s absurd imagination. The once austere Eastern sections of the city are now more desirable and vibrant places to live than the former West. Artists were the first to take advantage of the cheap (or non-existent) rents and, predictably, they gentrified it.
By the time we reach the Eastside Gallery, the longest section of the Wall still standing, I’ve dubbed my cycling companion, Mauer (wall) Mama. Part of this comes from her ability to navigate the complicated streets. The other part is she was a judge who presided over many court cases to decide who owned the land, homes or buildings after the Wall fell.
allweareisanotherbrick4allweareisanotherbrick5This section of the Wall is a mile-long art gallery. On the other side, next to the river, are a beach, reggae and techno music spilling out of beer gardens atop the former no man’s land. Unthinkable paradise back then, but Mauer Mama tells me nobody in Berlin thought it possible a wall could ever be put up. How could anyone divide a city of four million with its complicated infrastructure trains, roads, streets? 
Yet that is exactly what happened on “Barbed Wire Sunday,” Aug. 13, 1961. While Berlin slept, the Wall went up nearly overnight. Suddenly people were cut off from work, school, their family. Stories abound of lovers, one living in the East, the other in the West, not seeing each other again for 30 years.
The next day I set off alone, riding 60 kilometers along the Wall’s former path through farmlands, nature preserves, and finally ending up in an industrial section far to the north of the city. Only about 12 feet of the Wall is left along this section and aside from the wide “death strip” slowly being overtaken by trees and brush, it’s difficult to decipher the historical border. Called the Mauerweg (Wall Way), the trail mostly follows the old patrol roads. When the imagination works overtime against the allweareisanotherbrick6monotony of pedaling through this overgrown history, I often think I hear the bark of guard dogs, the sound of tanks, or, arriving at a lone guard tower swallowed by trees, the command to halt.
But it is only the song of birds now, the rustling of grass, the hum of tires, the clank of a loose fender. This is simple clean recreation with nary a threat of being mowed down by machine guns, though that would make for a slightly improved form of extreme cycling. Instead, I have been allowed plenty of allweareisanotherbrick7time to dangerously ruminate on borders, fences and the like, whether they keep us in or keep us out or whether they establish limitations or dictate the paths we take.
On this tour of the Wall I can’t help but be grateful I can freely go in all the directions this ratty bicycle can take me, coupled with the hope that other dividing walls—Palestine and Israel, North and South Korea for example—will one day be mere bicycle paths. Berliners, both former Easterners and Westerners I’ve managed to talk to along the way, say they thought the Wall would never come down. Now they have a hard time remembering where it was.
So tomorrow, I’ll head out with Mauer Mama for the final leg. From the map it looks like more farmland on the left, suburbs on the right. Some things never change.

photos by bruce willey

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Mountain Mystic

When Cora Evans died in Boulder Creek in 1957, her thousands of pages of religious writings hadn’t yet been published. More than a half a century later, Evans’ fiery visions and spiritual devotion have inspired a crusade within Catholicism to make her the Santa Cruz Mountains’ first saint

 

Wesak (Water) Taurus Solar Festival, Buddha Blesses the Earth

A most important celebration occurs Sunday, May 3—the Wesak Taurus Buddha Solar Festival/full moon. At the moment of the full moon the Buddha’s presence enters the Earth plane for eight minutes. He brings the Will-to-Good from the Father, which, when reaching humanity becomes goodwill (Mother Principle). Held yearly in a valley hidden deep within the Himalayas, the Wesak festival is prepared for for months in advance (beginning at Winter Solstice). On festival day, amidst pilgrims, disciples and Holy Ones gathered in the valley, the Buddha is invoked through movement, symbols and mantrams. At the moment of the full moon, hearing the words, “We are ready, Buddha, come,” the Lord of Illumination (brother of the Christ) appears in the clouds above the altar to emanate forth the will and purpose of God to earth. The blessing of the father is then held in safekeeping for distribution at the June full moon Goodwill Festival. The day of Wesak (May 3, 8:42 p.m. West Coast) all disciples (east and west) place crystal vessels filled with pure water outside (in gardens, on rooftops, porches and steps) under the heavens. As the Buddha blesses the world, all waters, including waters within our bodies, are blessed. The Buddha is accompanied by the Forces of Enlightenment to illuminate humanity’s minds. Humanity then begins to express new constructive, productive and beneficial ways of the Art of Livingness. Wesak covers five days—two days (before) of dedicated preparation, the actual festival “Day of Safeguarding,” and two days (after) distributing goodwill (the NGWS to humanity). Join us in the Valley by reciting the Great Invocation, mantra of direction for humanity.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of May 1

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Hole in the Wall

Popular Aptos spot opens for dinner

 

How do you connect with the natural world?

My connection to the natural world is through my art. I totally feel it there very physically in nature and even right here on the street. Jonathan Rosen, Felton, Pastor

 

Hess Collection Winery

My friend Emma from London came to visit for a few days in early March, so I took her wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains—a rare treat for her, as there aren’t too many vineyards in the middle of London. Her visit reminded me how fortunate we are to live in this paradise of ultra-fresh produce, with grapes growing in wild profusion.

 

Springtime Walkabout

May Day Flower Festival, free tours of the UCSC Farm, and a nondairy chocolate indulgence