Mason Marks 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Posted: October 12, 2009 at 1:04 am, Last Updated: January 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm

By Devon Madison

At the Berlin Wall. Photo by Paul Fusco, 1961

At the Berlin Wall. Photo by Paul Fusco, 1961

Millions of people around the world can remember exactly where they were when the Berlin Wall fell. Most college-age students, however, were too young to remember; many weren’t even born yet.

For this reason, when the German Embassy decided to organize its campaign celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it included outreach efforts to colleges in the United States. Many feel that reaching out to modern-day university students is crucial to preserving the memory and inspiration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

George Mason University is one of more than 25 universities to receive a grant to participate in the national Freedom Without Walls campaign.  Like other universities participating in the program, Mason will host a range of events, from debates to lectures, art exhibitions (both on campus and at the Goethe Institute), a gala, a unity walk and the building and demolition of a replica of the Berlin Wall.

Marion Deshmukh, who teaches German history and art history, is coordinating the commemorative events at Mason.

“The commemoration at Mason doesn’t involve just the German department,” she says.  “We are enlisting as many different students and student organizations as possible. Students from communications are involved with the debates, students in the School of Art are helping to construct the wall, and students from the performing arts are preparing for the gala. It’s a wonderful community effort.”

The events at Mason span several months and began with a talk by visiting German installation artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock in mid-September. In late September, there was an on-campus panel discussion by German journalists, as well as a “Fall for the Book” event featuring presidential historian Robert Dallek and journalist James Mann. Well-known German novelist Peter Schneider will speak to students on Nov. 10.

Beginning Oct. 19, students under the guidance of Walter Kravitz, a professor in the School of Art, will begin constructing a replica of the Berlin Wall. The plywood structure will stand about 8 feet tall and 16 feet wide and will be erected near the North Plaza clock tower on the Fairfax Campus.  Kravitz and students will paint the replica a grayish color and give it some texture to mimic the surface of the original wall, which was concrete. The wall will be attached to a stage on which students will give speeches and hold debates.

Once the wall is up, students may paint graffiti on it, as was done on the western side of the original Berlin wall.

“The idea is not to repeat the social and political statements on the original wall but to make the new graffiti important and poignant within a contemporary context,” says Kravitz.

Beginning Oct. 26, an art exhibition of photographs from the Library of Congress will be featured at the Johnson Center in Room 116. Natasha Müller, a senior majoring in art history and minoring in German, has curated the exhibition of photographs that photographer Paul Fusco took for Look Magazine in the early 1960s.

The photographs, which depict scenes on or near the Berlin wall, were taken from the west side, as Fusco wasn’t permitted on the east side of the wall.

“There is this one of a woman who had just had a baby,” says Müller.  “She’s holding up her baby, trying to show her family on the other side. That one’s pretty intense.”

Müller, who was only four when the Berlin wall fell, has no memory of the event. Nor do most of her college-age contemporaries. This makes the commemoration events all the more imperative.

“These Berlin Wall projects are reminders that the wall existed, but also a celebration that it fell, freeing and reuniting people. These projects will be interactive history lessons and a great way to meet other students who are interested in this topic,” says Müller.

The events for Freedom Without Walls will culminate on Nov. 9. At noon that day, the university will hold a unity walk as part of the commemorative efforts. The walk will finish at the Berlin Wall replica. Then, students will be invited to demolish the wall, as the Germans did that very day 20 years before.

Jacob Kohut, a second-year graduate student working on a master’s in music composition, is organizing the unity walk. Kohut will also play the bassoon for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a student gala on Oct. 29. Dancers at the gala will also perform to a piece that Kohut wrote, titled “The Wall.”

Kohut believes that remembering the fall of the wall is critical to moving forward, as nations are interconnected as never before.

“To understand the path before us in a globalized world, we must ponder the mistakes that divided a city,” he says.

To learn more about Freedom Without Walls and the events taking place both on and off campus, visit the Freedom Without Walls web site. Freedom Without Walls can also be found on Facebook.

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