By Gerry Moran
Every morning I see them. Two men kissing. Two elderly men in their 60s or more. Two, not very attractive men, locked in a passionate kiss. A full on, mouth to mouth, kiss. I see this every morning when I go to my fridge for milk.
What I’m looking at is a fridge magnet. And the image on the magnet of two elderly men kissing, is not promoting gay rights (which I totally endorse) but rather it’s actually a famous, historical image. Not in Ireland but most certainly in Germany on the Berlin Wall. Or what remains of it. The two men depicted in the painting on my fridge magnet are Leonid Brezhnev (and I remember good old Leo) the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, as it was at the time, and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the German Democratic Republic (the GDR).
The kiss was a socialist greeting, a passionate one cementing relations between the Soviet Union and East Berlin. The painting is an actual reproduction of a photograph taken in 1979 celebrating the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the GDR. It was painted in 1990 and has become one of the best known pieces of Berlin Wall graffiti art, one of numerous murals decorating the Wall.
The fridge magnet is a present; a present from myself to myself! I bought the magnet at the Berlin Art Market last Easter Sunday morning. My wife, and I, were in Berlin to visit our son who works there. Berlin is, in three words: A History Lesson. Everywhere you turn there’s a monument, a cemetery, a park, commemorating some historical event from World War 11. Not least the genocide of the Jews (for another time perhaps).
When one is in Berlin one checks out Checkpoint Charlie, the best known Berlin Wall crossing point. Which we did, along with the numerous other tourists checking it out. The Wall, or some of it, is now one long stretch of graffiti art. Artists from all over the world were asked to paint a particular panel of the wall which they did in their various, distinctive styles; one of those depictions being the famous kiss.
Here are a few facts regarding the Berlin Wall: Erected in April 1961 to prevent people from East Berlin escaping to West Berlin it was 87 miles long and ranged in height from 3.5 to 4 metres. It was a heavily guarded concrete block wall, the embodiment of the ‘Iron Curtain’ separating the West from the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
It was guarded by 48,000 barrier guards, 500 watch towers and mine fields. Around 191 people were killed trying to cross it; 5,000 people escaped to the West while another 5,000 were arrested. The Wall fell on November 9, 1989.
There are many, many walls on this planet of ours. There’s the Peace Wall in Belfast, Hadrian’s Wall on the border of England and Scotland (built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, without planning permission). In Jerusalem there’s the famous Wailing Wall, Judaism’s holiest site where Jews go to pray. Then there’s Trump’s Wall which has never been finished (thank God) while the most famous wall of all is The Great Wall of China (the only man-made object on earth that can be seen from outer space) And now – a new wall. A Beer Wall!
I am travelling with my wife and our great friend Jack in Pennsylvania when Jack, aware of my Irish predilection for a pint, pulls into this unassuming, low-sized concrete building in Wrights Town. “You might be interested in this, Gerry,” Jack smiles. And in we go. It’s a bar. But not as we know it. There is no bar! No barman! No barwoman! Instead there’s a line of beer taps running along a wall. It’s a relatively new concept called Pour My Beer. Not at all unlike an ATM you insert your card, angle your glass at 45 degrees, choose from 14 beers, open the tap, pour and pay. My kind of wall for sure. Cheers.
PS: Oh, and a wall soon to be opened here in Kilkenny, the Crematorium Wall in St Kieran’s cemetery where the ashes of our loved ones can be stored. But we don’t want to go there!