Deconstructing Walls —German Department Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Photograph from fall of Berlin Wall
The opening of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz is shown on November 12, 1989. East Germans pour through the newly opened wall, as a West Berliner cheers them on from on top. Washington Post photo by Carol Guzy

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November 1, 2019 — Department of German Professors Astrid Weigert and Anja Banchoff are hosting a week-long event series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that will kick off on Monday, November 4. Students and faculty will jointly participate in several events that speak to the history of the Berlin Wall, its demolition, and the significance of walls, both mental and physical, that exist in society today.

More than a Wall

The event series will begin with a poster exhibit in the Edward B. Bunn S.J. Intercultural Center Galleria on Monday, November 4, 2019. The exhibit, “Understanding Borders: The Berlin Wall 1961-1989” will feature infographics that detail aspects such as where border troops were stationed, and the locations of those individuals who lost their lives attempting to cross. Its purpose is to shed light on the history of the wall’s construction, as well as showcase that the wall was much more than a simply wall, it was a border complex.

This is the third landmark anniversary of the wall’s fall that the German department has held at Georgetown. Each time, Weigert has designed the events so that the students can reflect not only on the wall as it existed in 1989, but also on the concept of walls as they persist in our current society.

“With our series of campus events, we aim to make the historic event of 1989 accessible and relatable to our students, most of whom were not born yet when the Wall fell thirty years ago,” says Weigert.

Walls Beyond Berlin

25th Anniversary Berlin Wall replica
25th Anniversary Berlin Wall replica

It is for this reason that Banchoff and Weigert have arranged for a replica of the wall to be displayed in Red Square from Thursday, November 7 through Saturday, November 9. Students can write and draw on it to express their current thoughts and feelings surrounding not only the Berlin Wall, but other walls, metaphorical and literal, that play a role in their lives. A replica of the wall was also used during the 20th and 25th anniversary events of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Weigert reported that five years ago, students wrote on the wall in multiple languages, addressing walls between the United States and Mexico or Palestinians and Israelis.

“While the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall is a central feature in our Advanced courses, its relevance goes beyond a single historic event in a particular course,” Banchoff says. “Today, 30 years later, walls between countries and peoples continue to exist, or are in the process of being built. Our students are encouraged to draw connections between then and now –  between Berlin and the US-Mexico border, or the separation of the two Koreas.”

The Georgetown community will also have the opportunity to hear an eye-witness account of the wall’s collapse from Michael J. Mucchetti, an American citizen who was a student in Germany on that fateful day in November of 1989.

“Despite the fact the I was not even living during the Fall of the Berlin Wall, learning about this topic has been as relevant as ever to both my German studies and the current political environment,” says Ben Lang (C’21). “I genuinely look forward to furthering my understanding of the importance of the fall during all the exciting events planned by the German Department during this week.”

Speaking of Walls

Banchoff and Weigert have also invited students across all disciplines to speak for brief, five minute intervals about walls as part of the BLITZSlam! Conference. The walls that students discuss can be physical, they can be conceptual, or they can be abstract, but their talk must be based on the idea of a wall. Students can only speak in English and German, however.

This discussion will contribute to the broader idea of walls that Weigert and Banchoff are hoping to emphasize in this event series.

“Writing on a replica of the Wall on Red Square, interacting with an eye witness, and creatively exploring the various “walls” we all encounter in our lives will hopefully enrich and further their learning experience at Georgetown,” Weigert said.

Ceremonial End

25th Anniversary Cake
25th Anniversary Cake

The event series will conclude on Saturday in Red Square with a ceremonial “tear down the wall” cake cutting. A cake made to look like a portion of the Berlin Wall will be cut and shared on the actual anniversary of the wall being torn down.

No matter the generation, the collapse of a barrier, between countries, cities, or individuals, is always worth celebrating. Banchoff and Weigert encourage students to look at what events such as these mean not only in our pasts, but for what lies ahead. “The fall of the Berlin Wall, then, is a hopeful sign for our future,” says Banchoff.

– Shelby Roller

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