2020 has been, for some, one of the most divisive and difficult years in recent memory. The fear of a global pandemic along with a tumultuous political landscape in the United States has caused a rift in the culture of inclusivity that America usually embodies.
Many people have resigned to apathy about the status of the world and many have given up hope that things can get better. Throughout history, when things get tough, people have come together around symbols of the strength they need to push forward. When the world is constantly putting up barriers and separating people based on culture, color, and social status it is important that people can find a reason to break these barriers down. One of the most famous symbols of fear and separation was the Berlin Wall and when it was broken down by the people those broken pieces became a beacon of inclusivity and love. Now those pieces are here in Tampa, Florida.
Who-What-Where is Tampa?
Tampa, Florida has been a melting pot of different cultures that have come together over the years to form a beautiful community that remains one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. If you take your time and travel throughout the different neighborhoods of Tampa you will see the distinct cultural pride that each area displays and also the diversity of the community is very clear. Tampa has a strong population of Cuban immigrants and the latino food scene cannot be matched. Throughout the area you can see the influence of the Italian culture with the many restaurants that have brought fame to the area with their food and their stories. Across the bridge in St. Petersburg is a community that was built by Russians escaping religious persecution and their legacy is obvious to this day. Everywhere you turn you see unique cultures from all over the world living together peacefully, making Tampa a beacon of unity.
It is no surprise, then, that Tampa is now the home to the largest private collection of pieces of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. They are currently on display by appointment only at Red Door No.5, a 1920’s fire station that has been converted into an event facility by Tampa artist Dominique Martinez of Rustic Steel Creations. The location was chosen because of the uniqueness of the facility and the items inside. Red Door No. 5 displays 1920’s Ford Model A’s, antique Volvos from the 70s, a huge military truck, and many of pieces of artwork, furniture, and rare items from all over the world that makes the location a melting pot mirroring the city itself.
The History of the Berlin Wall.
On August 13th, 1961, the German Democratic Republic of East Germany began the construction of the Berlin Wall. The wall was built to completely cut-off West Berlin to East Berlin and East Germany. East Germany was backed by the Soviets at the time, while the U.S. backed West Germany. Although the East claimed it was building the wall to stop Western spies from entering East Germany, it was actually built to stop citizens from leaving East Germany for West Germany. The Berlin Wall is also referred to as the Iron Curtain.
136 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall during its existence.
The Berlin Wall, until it’s destruction, was a creation directly correlated to human fear of one another and a world divided. It is believed that approximately 5,000 people made the escape from East Germany to the West successfully by crossing the Berlin Wall. The West side was covered in graffiti while the East side was not. The subway system that had run across Germany was divided after the Berlin Wall was built. Subways on the East could only operate on the East side and vice versa. West Germans would often throw garbage over the wall into East Germany – knowing that the East Germans and Soviets could do nothing about it.
As for the artwork. Many artists and people who didn’t proclaim themselves to be artists, painted on the West wall while the East wall stayed grey and bare. It was their way of expressing themselves and their emotions. Some People even wrote love letters or hate comments to their neighbor on the East side. Because families were separated, many people wrote to them on the wall in hopes that they would someday read it.
Breaking Down Barriers
On June 12, 1987, more than 25 years after the Berlin Wall first divided the city’s East and West, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, challenging his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev by declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
On November 9th, 1989, it wasn’t the leaders that tore down the wall, it was the German people. They smashed the wall apart with hammers and any tool they could get to once again be reunited with their family and friends on the other side that many had not seen for over two decades. It was on this day that remnants of this infamous wall became symbols and tokens of inclusivity and love.
East German Art
Throughout the tenure of the East Germany’s existence, it was occupied by the Russians. After World War 2, Stalin populated his newly occupied city with Russian citizens. After the wall came down and throughout the 1990s, Russian artists began to paint on the broken pieces of concrete. This expression of human emotion through art is something that would have resulted in execution by firing squad due to the strict nature of the Russian authoritarian communist government. Now, those pieces are on display far in the West, in a firehouse in Tampa, Florida. With over 60 pieces available, ranging in size from a brick to a 4X5 concrete slab, the East German art is something to behold, especially when realizing the significance that our currently divided world can learn from these enduring symbols of human struggle.