Uijeongbu and Berlin Share the Dream of Unification

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Standing somewhat remotely at the edge of a small park and bordering on a non-descript parking lot, is a testament and tribute to one of modern history’s most monumental struggles for freedom and escape from isolation. It seems rather out of place, until a closer look provides the disquieting and stark truth of the stoic panels, and the truer nature and purpose of their placement here, a short distance from one of the world’s last remaining divisive national borders.

Given as a gift to the Honorable Ahn, Byung-Yong, Mayor of the City of Uijeongbu in his role representing the Gyeonggi Province Unification Academy in response to his request for Berlin Wall artifacts during a visit to the city of Berlin in 2012, the German government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted five separate sections of the infamous Berlin Wall to the city of Uijeongbu. With much publicity and a grand ceremony, the small display was formally brought before the public during a cold day in March of this year, fittingly, with scattered snow on the ground, reminding many of the brutal winters of seclusion suffered behind its walls and wires.

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Even as it stands now, with several panels flanking a replica of the Brandenburg Gate, the entire piece seems more linked to the parking lot fence immediately behind it than it does to the bustling and hectic pace of inner-city commuters scurrying by mere meters away on the main artery of the city. Maybe it’s because the panels are perpendicular to the buses, taxis and pervasive delivery scooters, and don’t get a second glance because of their cross angle. Or maybe they look eerily similar to the concrete slabs of the wall of a former U.S. military base that flanked the old railway depot in this very spot used for logistics during the Korean War; a small section sits at the corner of the park, and enjoys the same crude but kind artwork used to snuff the pain of division and stoke the hope of unity.

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Certainly the message is clear: what once was thought impossible to render joined, now becomes the very symbol of unity desired. It must be in this spirit that the good Mayor set the stones.Nearby to the wall, and set closer to the street, a large sculpture dominates a small space set aside with polished sitting stones, large flower pots, and a large and refreshing shade tree. At first glance it appears awkward, somewhat gaudy, and a gratuitous tip to modernist art. But stepping to the side, observing from multiple angles, it becomes apparent that this sculpture depicts the joining of two hands, fingers extended in a firm and solid grip, one from the north, and one from the south. A caption describes the joint vision shared by the United States and the Republic of Korea, expressed in the form of the unification sculpture, and the establishment of the Unification Park in the spot of the former shared U.S. Army base, to give hope and faithful wish for unification to come to fruition.

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Has the once-solitary nation lost hope of reunification, lost the desire to dissolve the barrier to brotherhood, to re-form bonds that remain broken by the battle-scarred border? Is this public display a bold and blatant clarion call, to summon resurgence and resolve, to not let the vapid disinterest and apathy fester and feast upon itself, year after year, decade upon decade? Have the generations since the Korean War grown to maturity with no hope, no interest, and no desire even for the bluster, bravado and blatant displays of bitter rivalry to come to an end? Must they be reminded of the still-simmering hate, fear, and loathing being spat from their northern brothers? Do they not realize that the very ground they walk on is deep with the blood and sacrifice of their forefathers and those who rallied to fight with them? Is this open exhibition meaningful enough to inspire them, or is it just so much gratuitous grandstanding, the symbols silently speaking to the hearts of those living, calling them to not forsake those no longer living?

Perhaps the good Mayor meant to spark the belief, to inspire the courage to consider it, as remote as the reality might seem, to make possible the impossible, as Berlin was once thought to be.

By Dr. Dave