The Ballonaktion was at its core a symbol of historical forgetting. The Wall was literally made lighter than air. It wasn’t a barrier to be overcome with sledgehammers and bulldozers, but a pure signifier, lashed to reality by the slenderest of threads. The Lichtgrenze was really a kind of photograph – a light-drawing – of the wall. Like a photograph, it was an image constructed with an apparatus fitting it to a particular narrative. And like a photograph, its fate was to be detached from the world, to be the index of an absence. Yet this detachment did not occur when the balloons were released. It was there from the start. The world either side of the Lichtgrenze assumed an air of photographic reality, no different from the screens of a thousand smartphones. It was built in a world of images whose fate long stands settled.
When the Ballonaktion saw the Lichtgrenze ascend to heaven, it left not rubble. Yet its light and lightness had their own physicality: freedom as inevitable as the natural laws of buoyancy. The release of the balloons celebrated an acceptance of fate, not a struggle to direct it. As lightly as the Lichtgrenze appeared, it was gone: the ultimate vanishing act, memorialized in the JPEGs of the dispersing crowd. Life went on, sure of itself, and festive in its certainty. History went on too. But last night it was swept away like a screensaver.
All that is solid melts into air.