Reframing Walls

diverse world


by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    January 12, 2020

No, not that wall, but an equally divisive one. This past November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the day in 1989 that the Berlin Wall came crashing down. Built in 1961 to keep disaffected East Germans from fleeing to the West, the Wall divided East and West Germany and became a symbol of oppression and division.

Jennifer Rosenberg, in “The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall,” describes the overnight erection of the Wall and the consequences of living in a separated Berlin:

“Just after midnight on the night of August 12–13, 1961, trucks with soldiers and construction workers rumbled through East Berlin. While most Berliners were sleeping, these crews began tearing up streets that entered into West Berlin. They dug holes to put up concrete posts and strung barbed wire all across the border between East and West Berlin. Telephone wires between East and West Berlin were also cut and railroad lines were blocked.

Berliners were shocked when they woke up that morning. What had once been a very fluid border was now rigid. No longer could East Berliners cross the border for operas, plays, soccer games, or any other activity. No longer could the approximately 60,000 commuters head to West Berlin for well-paying jobs. No longer could families, friends, and lovers cross the border to meet their loved ones. Whichever side of the border one went to sleep on during the night of August 12, they were stuck on that side for decades.”

And so it was. Perhaps the Wall is so etched in my memory because I remember very clearly announcing to friends during those decades of separation that the Wall, that formidable, indestructible symbol of a divided city, would surely never come down in my lifetime.

But on that November night in 1989, I was happily proved wrong. That night, the crashing of sledge hammers was accompanied by jubilant singing, ecstatic dancing, shouts of disbelief, and tears of remembrance.

There are two profound and moving signs of hope I hold on to about the Wall. It never occurred to me at the time to wonder what happened to the thousands of tons of cement that had once formed the solid, impenetrable symbol of division. I learned later that much of the concrete was pulverized, reformulated, and transformed into building material to construct roads for the newly opened city of Berlin and its suburbs. I love this image of reframing, taking something that had once symbolized a torn city and warring ideologies and turning it into an agent of communion, helping people to be reunited and move forward with ease, to travel to new landscapes, to be exposed to fresh ideas and to share common copy

The second sign of hope that touched me was the observance of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2019. Near the Brandenburg Gate, an art installation was set up. Thousands of strips of cloth, colorful fabric streamers named “Visions in Motion” held greetings, wishes, hopes and memories from Germans and from the global community. Now over the footprint of the menacing wall waved a thing of beauty, signaling welcome and spaciousness of heart and communion and hope.

As we’re in the early stages of this new year, the Wall might serve as an invitation to reflect on the promise of Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.” In this passage that we heard during the season of Advent, Isaiah insists that God can and does bring forth new life where none seems possible.

So if the year past has seen the building of personal walls as seemingly immovable as those built of concrete, may we commit to the tough labor of restoring cherished relationships severed by hurts or words spoken impulsively in anger. May we examine whatever exclusionary and unwelcoming walls have gone up in our own souls, in our families, neighborhoods, communities, relationships, nation. May we work, with God’s grace, to collapse those boundaries. May the Wall remind us of what a loving God repeats over and over: that it’s not too late, it’s never too late.

Happy and spacious new year!


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Might there be any walls of judgment, hurt, or anger residing in your heart at this time?
What inner soul work might it take to break down those barriers?
Ask the Holy One to sit with you and strengthen your hope that new life and new direction are possible.

Vision in Motion

Please hold in your prayer the following events:

January 13-16: A guided retreat I’m offering for the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore, Maryland.

January 25:  A day of reflection and discernment with the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast (HSNNE) in Caldwell, NJ.

Thank you!

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2 thoughts on “Reframing Walls”

  1. I was in Cologne Germany right after the wall came down as my husband was an engineer at Ford Motor Co. and offered a job at Ford German facility.
    It was not an easy time for my family and what I remember most is the hostility held by many Germans against Americans ,the residue of a lost war.
    I am encouraged by your article as it speaks to division in our hearts our homes our communities and our country. I pray along with you that we can heal and unite. Thank you.
    I do have to wonder why you would compare the Berlin Wall , how it was built and the reason why, to I am assuming the wall dividing the border between the USA and Mexico. There is no comparison but I would like you to elaborate if you disagree.

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