Silvio Schwartz

“So that’s the wall!!”

Silvio Schwartz, Online Communication Manager

When the Wall fell, I was six years old. And I lived almost next to it, in an apartment on a campus in Berlin-Mitte where the MDC is located today.

The author grew up in an apartment in Berlin-Mitte. Today a part of MDC is located at Campus-Mitte.

For we lived very close to the Berlin Wall, on the Humboldt University campus for veterinary medicine.
 Silvio Schwartz
Silvio Schwartz Communications Department

When you’re a little kid, you’re not really aware of the big wide world. I thought it was funny that the TV news map highlighted West Berlin, and East Berlin disappeared into the gray of the rest of the country. I found that unfair. I didn’t want to disappear into a gray blob on the map. 

Or the Brandenburg Gate. We were never allowed to go there; policemen and a fence blocked our way. And this fence always moved – so the gate receded further and further into the distance.

And then there were those strange men. Sometimes they followed us in the dark on our way home. For we lived very close to the Berlin Wall, on the Humboldt University campus for veterinary medicine. Today, the MDC’s Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology is located on the site. But for me it was just a big, protected adventure playground. 

Nor did I know that there was a highly political place right next door, the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany in the GDR. I only knew that there were also strange men standing around there. We crossed to the other side of the street so as not to walk past them. There was another important institution on the other end of the campus, namely the Office of the State Secretary for Church Affairs of the GDR. But for me it was just a place that was separated by a wall.

Everything was suddenly called into question

I can hardly remember anything about November 9th. I mainly recall the TV images. Adults sat on the wall, singing “Auf der Mauer, auf der Mauer, sitzt ne kleine Wanze” (On the wall, on the wall, there’s a little bug). That was funny. You often heard the slogan “Tear down the wall.” I finally understood what was going on when the wall on campus was torn down! So that’s the wall everyone was talking about! Of course, it was only the small wall to the Church Affairs office, whose building had now become accessible again.

Then many new things happened all at once. We could walk down streets where the world had ended before. In Friedrichstrasse station, the strange doors without handles were dismantled. Previously people had exited through them, but never entered. And in a West Berlin supermarket I learned that things on TV were actually real. But I was disillusioned, as a cartoon rabbit didn’t jump out of the package of cocoa powder. This was my first encounter with the market economy.

The changes didn’t stop. Green gaps between buildings in the neighborhood were gradually closed. At Friedrichstrasse station, people with beer bottles began sitting in the bus stop. There were burning garbage cans in front of them. “They don’t have an apartment,” my mother told me. She collected signatures so that Sandmännchen (Little Sandman) could stay on TV. And the shape of the little men in the pedestrian traffic lights changed. Everything was suddenly called into question.

The author in 1989 at todays's campus is Berlin-Mitte.

Finally, we had to leave the campus. After a brief debate about dissolving Humboldt University, the Department of Veterinary Medicine was assigned to the Free University and the campus facility was phased out. We moved into our house on the eastern outskirts of the city. There I went to a village elementary school, where I didn’t notice much about world events anymore. Apparently, that was all in the past.

Critical “objections”

But I was drawn back to Humboldt University to study. Through Gender Studies I learned to look at gender relations critically and gradually I also learned to look at German-German relations critically. Why were childhood descriptions in Germany always so different from mine and why did they always turn out to be West German? Why did everyone look for faults in the GDR, but never in all of Germany after the fall of the Wall? And why are media reports filled with clichés instead of genuine knowledge? That’s why in 2011 I decided to create a blog called with a friend. In it, we look at how East Germany is portrayed in the media. Recently I was interviewed by the NDR media magazine Zapp:

Another question has troubled me since the Palace of the Republic and my high school in Berlin-Marzahn were torn down. Why have so many places from my childhood and my youth disappeared? And why is hardly anyone interested? That’s why I started documenting the type of schools built in East Berlin. A new community is developing around these East German buildings. Some 175 buildings of this school type were erected; about 100 are still standing. They were built all over East Berlin in Mitte, Marzahn, and Buch, among other districts – all places where I grew up. They were constructed from 1966 to 1982. The following year, I was born in a country where I lived for six years and which still shapes me today.


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