Christopher Bauder and his younger brother, Marc, first visited what remained of the Berlin Wall during a school trip from southern Germany in late 1989.
The next time Christopher came to Berlin was a couple of years later, in a permanent move to the city. By that point, the structure had almost entirely disappeared. Tracing its exact path was difficult, and in some parts of the city, totally impossible.
“The scar grew over very fast,” Christopher, an interactive designer, says.
Aside from die Partei, Germany’s satirical political party which has been campaigning, jokingly, to reinstate the Wall pretty much since it came down, few lament the loss of what the Wall once represented. Christopher and Marc, both in their early 40s, wanted some way for Berliners to be able to easily trace the path of the structure and experience the border that had formerly divided their country in two. As a physical memorial to a once-divided Germany, however, Christopher calls it “a shame” that the structure has almost completely disappeared. Right after it came down, he says, “people were always asking whether they were in the East or West. We were thinking that for an anniversary–20, 25, 30, 40, 50–that would be a good occasion to bring it back temporarily, even just for one evening.”
Turns out the 25th Anniversary was the one that worked. But it wasn’t easy.
The Bauders applied for a grant in 2008 for their proposed commemorative project, a border of illuminated orbs called Lichtgrenze (translation: “light border”), which would eventually be released into the air. Nothing came of the proposal, however, and the brothers put the project aside. Christopher, however, kept the proposal for Lichtgrenze on his design firm’s site, WHITEvoid. Meanwhile, Marc, now a filmmaker, while working on a number of documentaries about former East Germany, became well acquainted with Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft, Berlin’s influential organization on G.D.R. history and a huge archive on G.D.R. opposition. The institute proposed the brothers’ project to the city to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, on November 9, 2014, and in conjunction with Kulturprojekte, a nonprofit that manages Berlin-area cultural projects, the Bauders began seriously developing Lichtgrenze in 2011. When it goes up on November 7, it’ll be the city’s largest-ever public art installation.
“To contrast the massiveness and heaviness of this original monument, we were thinking of something light and ephemeral, something positive to attract people, and then they can make out of it whatever they like,” Christopher explains of the glowing, gorgeous final project. The three-day installation will consist of approximately 8,000 illuminated, natural latex balloons following the 9.5-mile path the Wall once occupied (save for a few locations where houses have been built directly on the former border). The balloons, set on flexible carbon rods, to combat wind, extend 11 feet high, reflecting the Wall’s dimensions while contrasting its original purpose. “We didn’t want to erect another wall of some sort,” says Christopher. Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft is posting 100 information boards throughout the re-created border, noting specific events in particular locations and memorializing East Germans who died there while trying to cross over to the West. Marc and his studio, Bauderfilm, directed and produced a video collage of Wall-related historical material that is being presented on 14 LED screens along Lichtgrenze.
The light poles themselves were designed and produced by WHITEvoid, and assembled by a German Red Cross workshop for mentally handicapped people in Potsdam. Within each piece, an interior funnel is affixed to the balloon, which attaches to the stem-like carbon rod, reaching to a stable, water-filled base. A flat sphere of battery-powered LED lights sits just beneath the balloon for consistent illumination. A biodegradable mechanism joined to the funnel, beneath the balloon, lets the balloon be released by a key entered at the structure’s foot. Insert the key, pull an attached lever, and the balloon floats away.
The orbs will be released by individual patrons, who signed up earlier at Fall Of The Wall 25 to participate in the installation, tell their own stories of the former Wall on the microsite, and attach messages to small tags on the balloons. The release will start between 7 and 7:30 PM (German time) on the evening of the 9th, from a few points around the city, with central festivities taking place at iconic Brandenburg Gate.
Where the balloons land is anyone’s guess.
“Maybe they’ll fly to Poland, or they’ll just make it to Potsdam,” says Christopher, noting that the balloons’ path depend on wind, temperature, and air pressure.
While Christopher and Marc pieced together Lichtgrenze’s route, “it was a very strange feeling, we were always in construction sites.” Previously empty space is now premium property in the middle of the city, and “they’re starting to build all over it.” In about four of the project’s locations, houses sit right on the former border, and as Berlin’s boom continues, the path of the former Wall will be further lost to history.
For three days, at least, Lichtgrenze will pay tribute to one of the biggest milestones of the city’s past, gently illuminating a long swath of its present.