This weekend the world commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain with a visual art installation of 7,000 LED balloons illuminating the path of the Berlin Wall – the last fallen symbol of the Cold War. The culmination was the balloon being released into the air. While Berlin filled with millions of people to celebrate the reunification of East and West, some appeared to think as merchants or souvenir hunters. The result was 1,500 stolen balloon poles, with an Ebay offer today to buy one for the colossal amount EUR 7,999. After pieces of Berlin Wall were spread around the world, now came the time for the balloon installation to follow the same path.
Of course, what could better symbolise the urge for freedom, changes and hopes than a white balloon. After all, Germany has a history with balloons as a symbol of change. Remember Nena sang 99 Balloons in 1983 inspiring anti-nuclear protests around the world.
The story of balloons started in the 1550s. In France, games were played with large inflated balls and found their way to Italy as a result of royal marriages. At the end of the century, the word was already part of the English language, as John Florio translated the meaning of the Italian word in his masterwork A World of Words as “…a great ball, a ballone”.
The first hot air balloon travellers, powered by fire, appeared in England in the middle of 18th century. And the rubber, inflated by gas balloon, as we know it today, was invented by Faraday in 1824 and “The step from fire balloons to balloons filled with gas..was now easy and obvious”, as the British scientific writer Dionysius Lardner wrote in 1831.
Balloons were not intended for parties, but had a military role to serve – from the tragic fame of the Zeppelin to barrage balloons inflated over London as an attempt to obstruct air attacks during the Battle of Britain.
Nowadays – 69 years after the WWII and 25 years after the Cold War, it is hard to imagine how colourless life would be without balloons and how a celebration could go without any. Give children a balloon and they will indulge into pleasure and play together regardless of their origin. Balloons could really make the world a better, more united place.