Film, art to celebrate fall of Berlin Wall

November 4, 2009
Red and Black
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Film, art to celebrate fall of Berlin Wall
By Carolyn Crist

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the world changed.

Though most students on campus were born just before or just after the event and have no firsthand knowledge of what happened, the effects are still resounding today.

“The world we live in is a direct result of what happened,” said Martin Kagel, department head of Germanic and Slavic studies. “For students, it’s important to note the shift of conflict in the world from ideological to cultural. It’s important to know about revolution, political change and how to bring it about.”

To remember what happened in the days and decades after the wall came down, the department organized a roundtable discussion, a film festival and an art installation to take place Thursday through next Wednesday.

“We’re all interested in eastern European and German politics. It defines our department,” said Kagel, who was a student in Berlin in 1989 and moved to East Germany a few months after the wall fell. “We’re the generation who experienced the events consciously … and are making them visible again.”

On the day of the anniversary – Monday, Nov. 9 – two German and Slavic studies professors will lead a celebration of music and memories.

“It ended the Cold War, reunited Germany and started a whole new global idea,” said Brechtje Beuker, one of the professors involved. “It wasn’t just Germany, and we’ll look broader – Holland, Moldova and even an American perspective with John F. Kennedy’s ‘I am a Berliner’ speech.”

That night, Ideas for Creative Exploration will erect an 11-foot screen as a replica of a section of the Berlin Wall. Video projections and archived photographs will glow in the dark as a memory of what happened the night the wall fell.

“I was a freshman in college when the wall came down and went to Berlin a year later,” said Mark Callahan, director of ICE who organized the art project. 

“The wall was completely gone, but you could still feel the difference between the two sides. It’s amazing how the physical substance can fade away and memories change over time.”

Many students probably don’t have any memories in relation to the wall, and the project was created to capture what happened, he said.

“When we were planning what to create, one of the recurring themes was to try to convey that sense of excitement that existed that night – that strangeness and wonder,” Callahan said.

The ICE group will also place stands near Joe Brown Hall, Cine and Tate Plaza where students can write thoughts, poetry or drawings and attach them to wire to remember the anniversary. The question: What walls would you tear down?

“The world we live in – a globalized and connected economy and culture – comes directly out of what happened,” he said. 

“We live in a post ’89 world, and there’s a lot to unpack and understand.”

For Kagel, part of the project is to show all sides of what happened, even the negative reactions to the wall falling.

“I think people, Americans in particular, overidealize the event. There’s still a bit of separation between the two Germanies and the two blocs,” he said. “The wall came down, and that was great, but it didn’t solve a lot of problems or suspend all the division.”

Kagel said he remembers one scene of east Berliners, with few dollars in hand, walking down a street with expensive stores in west Berlin.

“The mood was not celebratory. They were looking at this obscene affluence on display as compared to what they hadn’t had,” he said. 

“They had mixed feelings and obviously resented their own government for depriving them of goods … and the wishes they had.”