The death trail that once marked the Berlin Wall is alive and well … with cherry blossoms. Every year around the beginning of May, over 1400 cherry trees burst into bloom along this stretch of the erstwhile mined no-man’s land. Now it fills visitors with joy instead of dread.
This wonderful display of blooms got its start thanks to a spontaneous act of friendship by the German-Japanese Circle of Friends in Berlin in 1990 and to the generous contributions of thousands of Japanese who contributed after the private Japanese television station Asahi asked for donations for this action. All in all, enough funds were collected to plant over 10,000 trees in Berlin. The most impressive result can be seen in Lichterfelde, along the border to the city of Potsdam.
Two men who got to know each other while planting the young trees, each coming from a different side of the Wall, initiated a Hanami or Cherry Blossom Festival along the Lichterfelde strip in 2001. Since then, this yearly Festival attracts a growing number of visitors. This year, over 3000 came to admire the blossoms, Japanese handicraft, hear the German-Japanese Choir sing and take part in a “cherry pit spitting competition” for a charitable cause: the five top “spitters” qualified themselves to challenge the current German champion who spits cherry pits the proud distance of 24.33 meters (about 72 ft.).
Off to one side, a forlorn bronze plaque gives thanks to the Japanese citizens and quotes one of the most famous of the 18th century Haiku poets, Kobayashi Issa:
cherry blossom shade
no one an utter