A Certain Identity: 20 Years Ago, Tear Down This Wall. – Meet Axel Menzler
November 9th is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. To discuss this historic event, I sat down with Axel Menzler. A man who has been shaped by the wall: in a physical sense he was separated from the west, but more than that, the wall is a dividing marker between his childhood, and adult life.
– What was living in the GDR like?
The culture was very focused on the individual. It was very personal and very human. There was a heavy emphasis on education and activity. For me as a person who liked sports it was very enveloping. From 8 in the morning, to 6 at night, the institution of government would train me in education and athletics.
However, it was very specific and there wasn’t much choice. For example, if you were a man you wore ankle boots, one brown, one black, and that was it.
– Could you sense just before the wall fell something was about to happen?
I grew up in a very academic home, and we were always talking behind closed doors about the world outside of the East. My father had put an antenna on our television that would allow us to see western news. The west and the world wanted a change. People in the east always wanted to get out. They were unhappy, and wanted free speech. They hoped to reform socialism, wanting to gain political choice instead of one party that misused Communism.
A map of Berlin after the Wall was constructed (from Monroe MacCloskey’s The Infamous Wall of Berlin) in 1967. (via Fall of The Berlin Wall by Paul L Baron)
– Any thoughts on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the wall?
I’m super happy. If the wall had stayed, I wouldn’t be here in Canada selling things with variety. That concept didn’t even exist there. I’d be a completely different person. It’s an interesting mix actually. The way I was brought up to think, to judge people and evaluate a situation is very different than the way I do now. Also a little bit sad. There’s still to this day the idea that things are of lesser value from the East, so people don’t stay, and East Germany is left with an aging and deteriorating population.
– What was your impression of Unification?
Total overload. We went to so many shopping malls and there were so many colours and choices where before there had been none. It was a bit ridiculous, and I still don’t like shopping malls to this day. A lot of wealth was “destroyed” in the East because of the exchange to the West Deutsch marks, but it was just a perceived destruction. The money never had any real value.
Berlin Wall (Wikipedia)
– How did you end up in Canada?
I visited BC in 2003 to go snowboarding, and I fell in love with the country while in a motorhome going to the mountains. After I finished my advertising apprenticeship back in Germany I moved here.
– How did you start working with Zeha Berlin?
I had already been in distribution and went to a Premium Trade Show back in Berlin. There I met Alexander Barre, and he had been looking for someone to distribute in Canada. They wanted someone young, who understood the brand, spoke German, and was from the east. Someone who could understand the history. At first with Unification, everything from the east had been dismissed as poor quality. Then with time, good quality brand, like Zeha were valued as good contributions from the east.
– Do you feel Zeha Berlin represents Germany?
I would say yes. In the twenties and thirties the shoes were worn by the bohemians and artists of Germany. Then with Communism the shoes were made for football teams, the Russians, and then our Olympians. And now as artists flock to Berlin and the rise of neighbourhoods like Prenzlauer Berg Zeha is once again being worn by people of character wanting something of quality that’s mature, elegant and more than just a brand. All of those things are a mirror to Germany; we lived through challenges, made the best of things, and came out with something valuable.
Interview & Words by Jon Yurechko
(Zeha boots: Natsumi’s own)
The ZEHA Story:
It all began in 1897 in Weida, Thuringia, Germany: then and there the master shoe maker Carl Häßner started to produce shoes which were soon to become popular all around the world. After the German separation Zeha had distinguished itself as a specialist shoe factory, and, in 1960, became official supplier of the GDR Olympic team. In the late 70s, Zeha shoe research had grown to be an indisputable GDR hallmark. In 1993 the production ceased under the name ‘Zeha shoe factory Hohenleuben GmbH’ after the fall of the Berlin wall and interim re-privatisation. In 2002 two Berlin designers, Alexander Barré and Torsten Heine, rediscovered Zeha and initiated the company’s successful comeback.