Stasiland is the new album by electropop trio Ekkoes, with lyrics/spoken excerpts taken from the book of the same name by Anna Funder. This is the second in a series of eight mini essays to accompany each of the main songs on the album, which will be released each week, beginning Friday 1 November, finishing on Friday 20 December
Everyone has heard of the Berlin Wall, and most people know the dates. The building of it was commenced on 13 August 1961, and on 9 November 1989, it was — somewhat unexpectedly — opened and, before long, destroyed by jubilant Berliners. You can reel off the statistics: 93.3 miles long, 66 miles of concrete, almost 12 foot in height and 4 foot wide, 302 watchtowers. But it is not about the numbers; it is about what it meant, psychologically, and what it represented - a huge, physical barrier, separating the ideologies of communism in the East and capitalism in the West. It might have been located technically away from the Iron Curtain between East Germany and West Germany, with Berlin located in the East, but it was the perfect visual representation of the face-off that was the Cold War.
But the Wall was not simply a static monument — a line on a map: it lived, it breathed, it had human stories. Despite its singular name, the Berlin Wall was, in fact, two walls, 100 metres apart, with the ground between them covered by sand or gravel — the so-called ‘Death Strip’. It was an apt name: with a clear field of view for the Wall guards, would-be escapees were an easy target. Figures are disputed, but it is believed that at least 80, and perhaps more than 200 people died attempting to cross the Wall.
“I became, officially, an Enemy of the State at sixteen. At six-teen.” — Miriam Weber
In 1968, the old University Church in Leipzig was demolished without any public consultation, people demonstrated, and the East German police dealt with it swiftly: turning fire hoses on citizens, and arresting many of them. A young Miriam Weber and her friend Ursula felt that this was wrong, and protested in a small, but illegal, way, buying ink and rubber letters, and making leaflets that were stuck up around town, with the slogans ‘Consultation, not water cannon!’ and ‘People of the People’s Republic speak up!’
The authorities did not tolerate this sort of open dissent. Eventually, they were caught, the Stasi searched their houses and found the letters. They were placed in solitary confinement for a month. Eventually, they were let out, to await their trials.
“When she got home Miriam thought, there’s no way they’re going to put me back in that place. The next morning she got on a train for Berlin. It was New Year’s Eve 1968 and Miriam Weber was going over the Wall.” — Stasiland, Anna Funder
She made her attempt to cross the Wall at The Bornholmer Bridge. The excerpts we use in ‘Across The Tracks’ describe her brave efforts, which, ultimately, fell agonisingly short. We tried to imagine, and create, a sense of tension, of terror, of adrenalin that Miriam would have felt as she prepared for, and then embarked upon, her daring journey.
There were many more like her.
It is hard to believe, walking around Berlin today, that the Wall ever existed, or ever could exist. The separation of people — friends, relatives, communities — by such an ugly, brutal, unsubtle methods would surely never happen again. 30 years on, it seems inconceivable, yet today there exists the imminent threat of Trump’s Wall between America and Mexico. And, in the admittedly unlikely event that it is ever built, there can be no doubt that others too will risk their lives in the pursuit of a better existence. But, ultimately, no wall can survive against the desire of humans to be free, no matter what any politician may think.
“The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years” — GDR head of state Erich Honecker, January 19th 1989
Read Stasiland Stories #1 — Utopia here
Preorder Stasiland by Ekkoes here
Buy Stasiland by Anna Funder here