Marc Fisher: Remembering Baerbel Bohley, an Artist Who Helped Bring Down the Berlin Wall

Roundup: Talking About History

[Marc Fisher is The Washington Post's enterprise editor for local news and the author of "After the Wall: Germany, the Germans and the Burdens of History."]

On a snowy evening four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I made a return visit to Baerbel Bohley's apartment on Fehrbelliner Strasse in what used to be East Berlin. The building was a typical relic of World War II shrapnel damage, Communist-era neglect and post-Berlin Wall materialism -- satellite dishes hanging over a urine-stenched entrance hall.

Inside, Bohley, an abstract painter and the mother of the East German revolution of 1989, had transformed her home into a bohemian mix of East and West, past and present. She had added a new white Siemens clothes washer in the kitchen since I'd last seen her. But she still lived without central heating. "Like a real Ossi," a real East German, she said.

As the events of 1989 have moved from journalism to history, Bohley's name has given way to those of politicians such as Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev, and her death at 65 from lung cancer this month barely registered in the United States. But it was Bohley, a wisp of a woman with a delicate voice, who made the fall of the Wall possible, who lent the East German people the courage to take to the streets that fall and demand rights that had been denied them for 40 years.

"Without her, the autumn of 1989 is unimaginable," the German journalist Stefan Berg wrote in Der Spiegel after her death. "She was the challenge to think for yourself, to get involved."...

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