FOR those who watched, glued to their TV screens, it was a hugely symbolic moment. As the first chunks of concrete were loosened and eager hands grappled for pieces to hurl to the ground, such defiance of The Berlin Wall – after the deaths of so many who tried in vain to cross it – seemed almost incredible.
The ugly barrier separating West Germany and the communist east – built by the East German government in 1961 – brought to a halt the defections to the west. But that didn’t stop thousands trying to escape and many were shot by border guards in their desperate scramble.
For 28 years it divided the nation and often family members. But the Eighties brought change and as the political power base crumbled so too did the barrier as the East German government finally announced on November 9, 1989, that its citizens could visit the west.
The mood was euphoric, with celebrations on both sides, as people clambered on top of the wall and tore at it with their bare hands.
It did not yield easily, of course: the demolition – involving the military and industrial equipment – was not complete until 1990, the year German reunification, which soon followed, was formally concluded.
While its physical presence was finally gone, the emotional scars were, of course, to last. But that date in 1989 became a hugely symbolic one and is classed by many as the day the wall came down.
This year, which also marks 100 years since the start of the First World War and 75 since the start of the second, is the 25th anniversary of the official breach of the wall.
Yet another event to re-draw the maps of Europe, it is being marked by Side Gallery in Newcastle with three big Eurovisions exhibitions,
The first, All That Falls, opens on Saturday and it sees Amber (the film collective which Side forms part of) setting the scene with work – held in the AmberSide Collection – by photographers Mark Power, Paul Lowe, Dana Kyndrova and Jindrich Streit.
In 1980, Solidarity, Lech Walesa’s anti-Soviet trade union movement in Poland, started to emerge in the shipyards of Gdansk. But it was repressed until 1985 when a different kind of Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, started to herald change with policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring).
In 1987 Amber Films became possibly the only independent filmmaker from the west to make a film about East Germany when it took part in an exchange project with film company DEFA, documenting the fishing and shipbuilding town of Rostock in From Marks & Spencer to Marx and Engels.
For its part, DEFA, in the aftermath of the Black Monday stock market collapse, made a film about the imminent collapse of western capitalism in Newcastle and North Tyneside.
Within two years East Germany had gone but Amber and Side Gallery’s interest in its changing landscape continued, with photographer Richard Grassick eager to forge contacts with like-minded photography galleries in both eastern and western Europe.
One, Gallery 4 in Cheb, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), proved fruitful, leading to meetings with photographers Jindrich Streit, who had endured a spell in prison for taking an image of Communist Party officials sleeping at a local meeting, and Dana Kyndrova.
He was making plans for exhibitions at Side when the Berlin Wall came down (Sovinec, a show of Streit’s images of his home town, was later hosted in 1990).
Soon after that moment of history-in-the-making, the gallery showed Mark Power’s work on both the Berlin Wall and Poland alongside scenes of the Romanian Revolution by Paul Lowe in 1990’s Glimpses of Change in the East.
Meanwhile Side and Gallery 4 started up a series of international photographic workshops and residencies.
It saw Grassick set up an International Photography Workshop in Crook, County Durham, in 1993, following a successful trial the previous year. Workshops in France, the Czech Republic and Germany followed.
Side hosted Kyndrova’s The Russians and the photographer came over for a workshop in Durham, joining Streit who went on to spend a residency in Rookhope, documenting life in Wear Valley communities for his exhibition Village is a Global World.
All of these Eighties experiences feed into All That Falls which opens at Side on Saturday. It will be followed in May by a second Eurovisions exhibition - a collaboration with photographer George Georgiou exploring struggles in Ukraine and Georgia - and then, marking the November anniversary itself, Kai Weidenhofer’s Confrontier, looking at the continued use of walls to divide communities around the world.
As part of a programme of linked events to run at Side, Richard Grassick will host a free presentation and discussion about the international photography workshops on March 8.
Other events cost £5 (£4 concessions) and feature Prague Spring, a screening of four examples of 1960s filmmaking in Czechoslovak before the flourishing industry was ended by the arrival Soviet tanks. They are Blonde in Love (February 6), Closely Observed Trains (February 13), Firemen’s Ball, a Communist Party satire banned “forever” following the Russian invasion, (February 20) and Larks on a Spring (February 27), which was banned as soon as it was made in 1969 and released only in 1990.
Then Amber will showcase its own film in the Marx & Marks double bill that resulted from its 1987 exchange with East Germany’s DEFA. On March 6 it will present DEFA’s From Marx and Engels to Marks & Spencer and Amber’s From Marks & Spencer to Marx and Engels.
Finally, a free presentation and discussion will take place on March 9 of a new film, a work-in-progress by Amber. Unredacted reconnects – 25 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification – with the people of Rostock whose lives it documented in 1987.
This event is free but tickets for the others can be bought from Side Gallery on Newcastle quayside or online via www.amber-online.com
Screenings will start at 7.30pm. The exhibition All That Falls opens on Saturday at 2pm.