The Berlin Wall Walker - John Runnings


Destructive Acts


With any kind of conflict, there will, of course, be those that protest, and among those, some will prevail. This can be seen in many widely known figures of protest, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks among many others. All these figures had human wellbeing in mind and through protesting in various ways, they succeeded in changing the status quo in favour of their causes.

The Berlin Wall brought around a focus of human rights through its unethical approach at dividing a nation and a capital city. Not of the division, but the abuse of trust that is put in a government. The Wall was officially known as an ‘Anti-Fascist Barrier’ by the East German government, the force that constructed and patrolled the wall. The fact that those that wanted to leave from East to West Germany were warned, arrested or shot, contradicted the official reasoning completely.




The Wall was not only the focus of many protests due to its direct impact, but also the embodiment it had in the conflict between Eastern and Western forces of the USA and USSR, capitalism and communism. One of many famous protests against the wall and the rising tension of the Cold War were conducted by John Runnings. His actions are immortalised on Axel-Springer-Strasse, Berlin through Stephan Balkenhol’s piece, ‘Balancing Act’.

John Runnings was an avid anti-war protester and campaigner, in his home country of Canada, the neighbouring USA, and further into his life, in Europe and Russia. His protesting began during the Vietnam conflict that the USA had been involved in, John joined a rally in Seattle against the Vietnam War and subsequently started his journey to end conflict throughout the world.

Wall Runner

Wall Runner

When his focus moved towards the Berlin Wall and the developing Cold War around it, in 1986, he started using braver and more precarious techniques to provoke border guards and bring media attention. Walking on the wall and taking a sledgehammer to dismantle part of it are just some of his actions against the wall dividing Berlin.

Runnings was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protesting methods, and thus never resisted arrest by the East German Border Guard. A trait he was particularly known for was the ‘Police Station Game’, whereby after being arrested he would only answer with ‘yes sir’, or ‘no sir’, during interrogation. His longest stint under arrest was a three month stretch in an East German jail, after which he was released back into West Germany due to media and political pressure.

Balancing Act

Balancing Act


Through his work and the work of many others, the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1989, just three years after John began protesting in the city. It is likely that many documentaries and videos of the Berlin Wall will show a clip of John Runnings damaging the wall with a sledgehammer, such is the magnitude of his actions.

In 2004 John Runnings, unfortunately, passed away, however, his actions have since been embodied in Berlin with a figure balancing on a remnant of the Berlin Wall, added in 2009. This is surrounded by many original pieces of the wall, in bits or laid on their sides around the ‘Wall Runner’ figure.