Global Education

Exhibits celebrate 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall

By Justin Quinn
Published: November 2009

Standing 12 feet tall and winding 96 miles through a dense urban environment, the Berlin Wall divided Germany into East and West Berlin. Its static, unyielding, intimidating gray presence separated the two regions for nearly three decades.

On November 9, 1989 the impossible happened. The Wall came down, giving the people of Germany a reason to celebrate, and sending ripples of hope and change through Central Europe.

At last the concrete cracked. Citizens on both sides chipped, chiseled, and sledge-hammered holes and openings. The hated Stasi stepped aside, or slipped to the West with everyone else.

Earlier this month, all over the world, people celebrated the 20th anniversary of this historic event, still wondering why and how it came to be and, naturally, what it continues to mean.

Tension between communist East Germany and its neighbor West Berlin, the consistent drain of the East’s most talented to the West, prompted East Germany to build a wall between the artificially post-WW2 created countries in 1961. The ‘Ëœsocialist’ East needed to prevent citizens who were living under their communist government from escaping to capitalist West Berlin.

The wall separated not only schools and train stations, churches and parks, but also families and personal connections between people once connected. While it was not a popular decision, citizens in the region had no choice but to stay apart or risk being killed trying to escape.

Many believed the Wall would never fall.

Following the Wall’s destruction, another No became Yes; in the year 1990, Germany was united as one country. Despite regional differences and great uncertainty among neighboring states, the peaceful reunification of Germany was seen as one of the biggest triumphs over conflict this century.

The Wall’s fall has been a sign to many that times were changing and more than Communism was at its end. The Soviet Union had come apart, signifying the end of the Cold War, and much more. A divided Europe began to move towards a European Union.

Today, Germany is a stable and strong member of that growing partnership.

Twenty years after the fall, differences between the two parts of the country are still apparent in economic stability and social consciousness, but large advances have been made. A new generation of German citizens born after the fall feels the distinctions within the country are not an issue. This new generation can live in the freedom their parents could only dream of. The future appears bright for the citizens of Germany as differences are becoming less significant.

Celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall took place on November 9, 2009, commemorating this historic event. World leaders, including German Chancellor Angela, Merkel Dmitry Medvedev from Russia, Nicolas Sarkozy from France, and Gordon Brown from the UK, gathered to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany. President Barack Obama joined the meeting via video address.

“There could be no clearer rebuke of tyranny. There could be no stronger affirmation of freedom, he said.

In the city of Berlin where the Wall was previously located, 8 foot tall foam dominoes were erected to topple upon each other. Thousands of people attended celebrations across the country.

While many events took place in Germany, the Goethe-Institute in Boston also set up an exhibit, “Moments of Time 1989/1990,” which runs through December 18 and gives a unique perspective to this much talked about event in history.

At the opening of the exhibition, Dr, Rainer Rother, director of the German Film Museum in Berlin said, “In an odd way, in a perverse way, the Wall was a kind of security. The Wall drew a line that was both concrete and symbolic between East and West; it made clear if there was not a difference, there was certainly a separation.

The exhibit features photographs and video unlike those that would appear in the news. Rother invited “the people to contribute their images. These featured “photographers were amateurs, their pictures “vernacular images, halfway between snapshots and the more polished and mediated photos Newton students and teachers have come to know.
The exhibition mounts images taken by both bystanders and participants during the events of late 1989. The Berlin Wall “average or common story that hasn’t made the news allows viewers to share the excitement during a rally, or the abundant joy when the Wall actually fell.

Some pictures come with interesting descriptions and personal stories from the photographer. The exhibit includes pictures from a wide range of years before and after the fall of the Wall. The scenes captured each cover a distinct period from the view of the citizen, as opposed to the news camera. They capture emotions on the faces of people and the power of a situation that no one ever expected to occur; they provide a new way to look at a life-changing event.

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