Marc Bauder is a Berlin filmmaker. To mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, he and his brother Christopher Bauder conceived and executed a public art installation called Lichtgrenze (Light Border). Using approximately 8,000 large balloons, each one mounted on its own self-powered light post, the Bauder brothers lit a 15.3-kilometer stretch of the former border between East and West Berlin. On November 9th, 2014, spectators helped release the balloons.
To watch a video of Lichtgrenze, click here.
During a June, 2015 visit to North America, Bauder sat down with kultur360 to discuss Lichtgrenze and how it contributes to Berlin's memory landscape.
How did you come up with the idea for the Lichtgrenze project?
Originally I had the idea ten years ago. I’m a film director dealing with the past in today’s society so I had an interest in the GDR and the people who live in the GDR, were prisoners, etc. I had access to a lot of archive material, and my idea was to take that archive material back to the places where the history took place.
My brother is a light designer, and he came up to say, “Hey, we have to mark the former wall,” where it used to be, because in Berlin we only have two places where you can really feel and see the actual border. So we combined the two ideas – we have to mark and give information where the wall used to be, via balloons (he’s working a lot with balloons) – and we also have to include huge video walls where we show the material so people can start to find their own way to deal with history, because what I expect or experienced in Germany, and I think it’s a worldwide problem, that you have memorial days, at a specific time, at a specific place, but history took place in the whole of the country, or more than one country.
I’m very impressed by another artist, Gunter Demnig [http://www.stolpersteine.eu/en/home/], who invented the Stolpersteine [stumbling blocks]. He used to be a friend of my girlfriend’s mother, and she did a documentary about him. His idea of decentralized memorials, and bringing back the names of history to where history actually took place, so like bringing back the names to the houses where the Jews and the people who were deported to the camps and murdered had lived, so then you realize that they were a lot and lived around us and were part of our society. This was the best project and the best way to really feel and get an insight into what it meant because when you see the street with the stumbling blocks you realize everyone has seen it. And in the early 50s and 60s in Germany everybody said, “Oh, I got the information when the war was over when we saw the films." But everybody knew that there had been people living around them who were deported.
But the idea of decentralized memorials is a way I really like. So the Lichtgrenze is a combination of this. So we used the original wall, the original spot, but also the installation took place over three days, so it was open. And we realized also that light at first is a positive thing, you almost follow the light, so you see more and more lights, and you get the feeling “oh, maybe this is where the wall must have been.”
Did you have a lot of support from civic and national authorities for the project?
At the beginning it was really tough to find support. . . . I made three films about opposition to the GDR and I became well known to the Robert Havemann Gesellschaft, which is the best and most well known archive for GDR opposition. They are well connected with the city, and I proposed the project to them and they said, “well, it’s a good idea to remember and bring history to places,” and they suggested it to the city. At the end we had many people who think they are the inventers of the project.
But I think 25 years is a specific date, and when you know what’s going on right now in Europe, I think it’s a new phase of dealing with the past. You find it also in the late 60s – there was a new generation and new questions and a new way of dealing with and analyzing history. I think you can find it everywhere in the world. I think it was a new step and they realized that we need to find a new way of dealing with this, because before it was always at the Brandenburg Gate, so I think it was a good situation for all of us to try something new.
What kind of criticism did you hear about the project?
Well, we didn’t. At first everybody said this is a really open idea. There’s not as much pressure on it as with a typical memorial or a central organization telling you how to feel. This was very open and positive. Some said that at the wall a lot of people were killed and light is too positive, but we included in the video installation (which was a five-minute loop) all the names of the people who were killed at the Berlin Wall. And then some said – and this wasn’t a problem with our concept – don’t forget the new walls: we have new walls, we have new problems, we have people killed at the front to Africa. I think the Mediterranean is the place with the most dead people in the whole world in history. 40,000 people have died in the Mediterranean in the past 10 years. It’s the border with the most dead people. So some said in Europe we can’t celebrate that history is over, we also have to make connections to today’s problems. I liked this idea and I supported them, but the turning point is like with the Ukrainian crisis, everybody in Europe realized that history is not over. I think in the first two decades [after the fall of the Berlin Wall], Europe was too confident with the situation: we solved the problem and now we can relax.
Altogether it was the right situation with the project and to open up the new perspective of dealing with history.
Just listening to you now reminded me that when we think of Europe or deal with Europe, we deal with borders. This history of Europe is the history of shifting borders. And with the Europe of the past 20 years people have been amazed with the ability to travel freely through many parts of Europe. The borders haven’t become obsolete, but they’re certainly less visible. What I liked about your project was how it really highlighted the actual border. When you see the photographs of the city at night and you see the actual border lit up, visually that was incredible.
Our concept from the beginning was also to block streets, because that way you feel how that border was part of daily life for people from both parts of Berlin. With blocked streets you couldn’t do this and that. So just for a couple of days giving people the feeling of what it really meant that the city was separated.
But today when you mention borders, in Europe, in the countries of the European Union, we don’t feel borders, we don’t get them because you don’t even have to show your passport, even if you take a plane, which I really find irritating with today’s problems and terrorism and nobody checks your passport, but as soon as you get outside there’s more protection. So Europe is protecting to the non-E.U. countries; the protection is very high, there’s a very intensive communication with the U.S. and how they invented and prevented their borders.
As a filmmaker you’ve done some documentary films and even a feature film that concentrate on the issues of East Germany’s past. But you were born in Stuttgart and raised on the Lake Constance, so what draws you to this theme?
To understand daily life, and with the question of today I have to deal with the past. The second point is that my wife is from the east, her parents were part of the political opposition and spent two years in prison for political reasons. At the end of the 70s they moved to West Germany. With her perspective I got a new insight, and I think the biggest problem in society in general is that we don’t have contact with people who actually have this kind of experience, whatever experience it is. Immigrants, wars, whatever – we read about it in the news and form an opinion, but we don’t get in direct contact. The problem in Germany was that there was the west, which was still the west, and there was the east, which had to adapt to the west’s system. So there was no reason for people from West Germany, which was 70% of the population, to adapt in any way. So for me it was a real new way of getting insight, to deal with East German history, because I understand that there’s something going on. A lot of problems which showed up in the last 20 years which were based on the fact that one system was adopted. There was no merger, like two companies who merge and try to find a new identity, a new culture. Through personal contact I started to deal with it, and we did two documentaries about it. We moved to Berlin because we realized that when you do films about this, when you want to deal with German history, you have to live where it actually is.
Berlin is a city of history.
Behind every corner there are layers and layers and layers of history.
Do think there’s too much of that in Berlin? Sometimes I get the sense that the city is almost becoming a theme park, a history or memory theme park, especially with the two big eras of the past, the Third Reich and the Cold War. What’s your view of how Berlin functions today in terms of these memory discourses?
But that’s in general a global problem, I think. In the 90s it was different, and I think in the last ten years Berlin and the tourist offices and the tourist industry developed the chance to make money. People want to experience history in a very easy way – so you can book Trabi tours where you drive in old cars or whatever – but it’s the same in Vienna. When you go to Vienna in the city centre there are tourists trying to experience how Vienna was 100 years ago. I think this is a general problem. You can’t influence the way people deal with it; you can give them new hints and new perspectives like the way we tried to do with the Lichtgrenze, which is maybe not possible.
People today, they go to Bernauerstrasse and East Side Gallery and they say, “Oh, this is only 3.2 metres high, so I just get two friends and we go over it, what’s the problem?” This is a very specific way of dealing with it, but I think it’s normal. I can do what I do, just making films, finding new ideas like Lichtgrenze which I think went really well and was accepted because it was totally different from the typical way of dealing with it. As I said, it’s decentralized, it’s different ways of communication and getting people involved in it without the pressure of “you have to feel this and that.” More open.
In every city you have a tourist guide and this is where you go. You go to Hollywood Boulevard to see fake stars which were invented to bring people to Hollywood Boulevard. It was a commercial idea. That’s how tourism works; it’s based on commercial ideas.
Is the commercialization of memory in Berlin lessening the actual memory itself?
No, but I think that teachers and educational programs which deal in different way – and you’re open . . . . It depends on your individual way and need to get more information. Tourism is the first contact. If you are open, you have more questions. There are so many opportunities to really get into German history or the history of the city. I think that the effort is in building the bridge, to show that there is more. And for this in Berlin you can find a huge variety, not only to understand German society or history but also Europe, making connections between other problems in the world.
My concern with Berlin is that the tourists will only go so deep. They’ll do Checkpoint Charlie or the expected sites, and then you wonder do they really grasp the more complex or nuanced issues.
Not really. But that’s the human way; you just want to know what’s good and bad, you don’t deal with the grey area. I can’t change it other than making films. As soon as they watch the films I can bring them to new ideas, new questions – not answers, but new questions.
They’re your audience so you can confront them with your ideas.
But I prefer that while watching a film they develop their own questions. So I try to make my films and also the installation in such a way that the audience has the feeling of developing something by themselves. So I lead them, but I try to lead them in a way that they don’t feel suppressed. I just give them information and they have their own questions which, when the film is good, are similar to my questions. They find their own answers on the topic.
Herr Bauder, wir danken Ihnen für dieses Gespräch.