Countdown: Best Places to Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall (besides Berlin)
This Sunday, November 9th, hundreds of thousands of people will gather in Berlin to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall with numerous events commemorating a quarter century of democracy in Eastern Europe, and ongoing hope for a world without walls. But if you can’t make it to Berlin to party like it’s 1989, there are plenty of opportunities stateside to mark the occasion with lectures, screenings, German beer tastings, and perhaps the chance to break out a sledgehammer and tear down a wall of your own. Here’s a roundup of the best events outside of Berlin commemorating the Peaceful Revolution.
7. University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, CA
The University Art Museum will play host to the the exhibition Barbara Klemm: Light and Dark, Photographs from Germany, an “exhibition of 124 iconic documentary photographs that capture forty years of cultural, social, and political history in Germany.” Tours of the exhibition will occur from 1-3pm this Sunday the 9th. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Ability to tear down an actual wall: 0/5
6. Newseum – Washington, D.C.
Photo: The Newseum http://www.newseum.org/event/fall-of-the-wall-day/
This iconic museum in Washington, D.C. is celebrating with a full line-up of events on November 8th. The schedule includes two documentary screenings and programs with Author Mary Elise Sarotte and former ABC reporter Barrie Dunsmore. Additionally, the Newseum will offer tours of its Berlin Wall Gallery which features eight sections of the original wall.
Ability to tear down an actual wall: 0/5
5. Sauf Bier Haus, Washington, D.C.
Sauf Haus is a brand new biergarten in Washington, D.C., located downtown. They will be one of the only German bars on this side of the pond to throw a celebration in honor of the fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the occasion with a lesson on German beer and tasting this Sunday. Three different tastings are being offered throughout the day, each including three different beers, plus a sample of choice. Reserve tickets here for only $12.
Photo: Sauf Bier Haus http://saufhausdc.com/about-us/
Ability to tear down an actual wall: 0/5
4. Duke University, Durham, NC
A number of colleges and universities have erected their own version of the Berlin Wall on campus to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its fall. Duke’s version of the reenactment features a six-foot high version of the Berlin Wall constructed out of cardboard boxes, a choice that looses some points for historical accuracy, but is bound to lead to some very satisfying demolition on the 9th. The wall was constructed on November 2nd, and since then, community members have contributed messages and spray paint, including an excellent rendition of the My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love mural, a favorite of the East Side Gallery. The German Department urges students to “come in your most appalling 80s garb to hear a little bit about Berlin’s Cold War past and to destroy the wall” this Sunday at 3pm.
Ability to tear down an actual wall: 4/5
3. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
UVA has partnered with the German Embassy to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall with a series of events. A weeklong symposium includes an enviable array of lectures, screenings, and discussions leading up to this Sunday the 9th. The symposium will be capped off by a Moment of Remembrance on campus.
Ability to tear down an actual wall: 0/5
Image: University of Virginia http://www.virginia.edu/arts/berlinwall/sunday.php#ceremony
2. University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ
Another partner school with the German Embassy in Washington, ASU is hosting a range of activities, including the tearing down of a wall of boxes on Hayden Lawn. One of ASU’s roundtables with faculty will “engage the historical context of Nov. 9 against the backdrop of other highly charged events associated with the Nov. 9 date, such as the 1938 Nazi pogrom [kristallnacht].” This discussion of the historical context is a program that seems to be unique to ASU but represents an important layer to consider in the commemoration of this date. German history is complicated enough that it’s rather fitting that one of the nations’ darkest hours of tyranny and its most triumphant embrace of liberty should have occurred on the same day. Kudos to ASU for discussing both.
Ability to Tear Down an Actual Wall: 3/5
Image: University of Arizona https://asunews.asu.edu/20140930-berlin-wall-fall-anniversary
1. Davidson College, Davidson, NC
Davidson College has put together a complete package of events to celebrate this year’s anniversary in partnership with the German Embassy. This week, events have included: “an “Eyewitness to History” panel, a Berlin Wall trivia contest, a staged reading of a banned play, visits by local and international dignitaries and a Nov. 5 keynote address by an elder statesman of Germany’s reunification, who also was Davidson’s first German exchange student after World War II.” Davidson has also constructed its own Berlin Wall (made of particle board – decent aesthetics, satisfying destruction) which will be torn down this Sunday at 6pm, accompanied by “triumphant music and rousing speeches and Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit [unity and justice and freedom] for all…and Bratwurst….and Döner vegetarisch.” Hard to beat that!
Ability to tear down an actual wall: 5/5
Photo: Davidson College http://sites.davidson.edu/german/101-102/mauer-fotos-vom-29-10-2014/
The high quality and well-rounded series of events pushed Davidson over the top; congratulations to the College on earning the distinction of Best Place to Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall (besides Berlin)!
My latest fascination related to European history and borders is embodied by this video:
There are a couple things that really strike me here:
1. The fluctuation on the British Isles. Scotland, Ireland, and Wales alternate between independence and being sucked up by England’s imperial gravity over the course of the video.
2. The long fragmentation of ‘Germany’, particularly as other nation-states become larger and seemingly more unified around it.
3. The amazing music choice, somehow making 1000 years of European war and conquest more dramatic than it already is.
But these are just minor observations. What I really want to talk about is the last 20 seconds of the video, the last 70 years it represents, and how we understand the permanence of borders.
So go back and watch the last part, starting after World War II where the purple of Nazi Germany is squeezed off the map. After this there is a minor shake-up, and then, calm. For the three-second period that represents the Cold War,nothing changes. This is astonishing after having watched the European map morph unrecognizably for the last three minutes. At 3:16, the Iron Curtain falls, the Soviet Union collapses, and Eastern Europe gets rearranged, while Western Europe remains still. Overall, this 70-year period from World War II to the present day sees significantly fewer fluctuations of borders and territory than almost any other 70-year period throughout the rest of the video.
In the long view, 70 years is not much time, and the medium of the timelapse illustrates this perfectly, giving equal weight to each year as an impartial observer. My lived history, the German division that gets my heart racing and my fingers reaching for the pause button, the Nazi occupation which looks so terrifying on this screen, are all treated equally, as the format cannot understand or accommodate which events resonate with its viewers, which movement of lines and colors changed lives. It is the combination of this equality inflicted by the medium, and the familiarity of the last 70 years by virtue of the human lifespan, which makes this period stand out and demand special consideration.
Europe has become an ‘easy’ place to travel, a summer destination for college students and retirees alike, comfortable, peaceful, and relatively well-off.
It’s easy to forget that this is a new development for a weary continent.
When we learn geography, it’s too often from the perspective of “this is how things are” not “this is how things are…for now.” My lifetime alone has seen the fall of the Soviet Union, the dawn of the European Union, Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty, the construction of the Israeli Separation Barrier, South Sudan’s secession, the rise (and fall?) of the economic borders of the Eurozone. And despite this, I still have an overwhelming, gut reaction to regard current borders as the Alpha and Omega of political geography, because stuff like this feels real:
But my fascination with borders comes from the inevitable yet improbable changes they undergo, physically, mentally, geographically, politically. It’s easy to forget that these changes happen at all when you’re standing at the base of a 30-foot wall. But this timelapse of European borders reminds me that these changes happened both 1000 years ago and in my lifetime, and in all likelihood, they will happen again, for better or worse. Changing borders requires daily work, maybe a watershed moment, but also patience to remember the long view and appreciate the passage of time, because stuff like this is real, too:
Last winter, an intern at Facebook created the above graphic, which represents ten million “friendships” on the social networking site with a thin blue arc connecting the real world locations of the users. The result was astonishing. By plotting this data, Paul Butler created a recognizable world map, which displayed not only Facebook friendships, but also continents, oceans, and countries. Paul wrote about the project and commented, “What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships.” Yet, a cursory inspection of the map is enough to realize that the lines often DO imitate political boundaries. Although they do not represent borders themselves, the Facebook map reinforces their presence and significance in our lives, which is perhaps more profound than we realize.
Look at this map carefully and you can clearly see the shadow of East Germany in a significantly less-dense field of Facebook users. This map suggests that despite our increasingly globalized civilization, political borders still determine the way we live, work, and socialize in a way that is self-perpetuating. By examining a variety of contemporary maps, it will become clear that although the Iron Curtain fell 21 years ago, it is still a deeply felt reality beyond the traditional political map of Europe.
Consider this map of Europe (above) during the Cold War and compare it against the subsequent maps. You’ll see startling similarities.
Contemporary Maps and Statistics
The most startling examples are economic. Unemployment is higher, and income is lower almost across the board in areas once behind the Iron Curtain. Most strikingly, note the presence of our phantom East Germany, sharply distinguished from its western counterpart in each map.
The map to the left is about internet access, and how prevalent it is an given region. Again, notice the significant gap behind the Iron Curtain. This statistic seems like the odd man out, but is likely rooted in the economic struggle Eastern Europe faced under Communist rule, and the subsequent discrepancy in technological and industrial development. It also goes a long way toward explaining our Facebook graphic-it’s difficult to have online friendships when you don’t have internet access.
Here’s another off-topic statistic: countries once behind the Iron Curtain are more likely to have a lower percentage of their population in school at the primary and lower-secondary levels. What does this mean? There are fewer young people in the East. Especially, less young, educated people. The problem of young talent fleeing the East was a large factor in the construction of structures like the inner-German border and the Berlin Wall. It continues to plague these regions today, and the trend will probably continue as long as GDP and economic well-being (and internet access!) is at stake. And this time, there’s no physical border to stop them, only this invisible one, which lures migrants across.
It’s also important to note that there are a lot of maps and statistics from Eurostat that DO NOT show any sort of lingering east/west divide. These include things as diverse as: farming structure, transport infrastructure, and fatal diseases of the respiratory system. And, many statistics can be attributed to things like climate that are much larger than any political border.
However, the maps and the data they represent suggest that overall, Eastern Europe, specifically countries that were east of the Iron Curtain, are still behind their Western counterparts, economically and technologically. Furthermore, it is the lingering effect of Europe’s division that is to blame. Quite frankly, many people would not find it surprising that countries like Poland, Belarus, even the Czech Republic are a bit behind. Yet, the repeated appearance of the phantom East Germany on these maps is strong evidence that the gap is directly related to the Iron Curtain and its continued legacy.
The Recession and Conclusions
This issue has been dragged into the spotlight in European responses to the recent recession. As bailouts and debt were first hotly debated in 2008, Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek both voiced their fears of a new divide in Europe. Their countries’ economies are struggling, yet they desperately wish to avoid more debt owed to Western Europe. Gyurcsany actually invoked the term “iron curtain” while Topolanek warned against “new dividing lines” and a “Europe divided along a North-South or an East-West line.” Unsurprisingly, the recession hit hardest in weak economies once behind the Iron Curtain. As the Eurozone struggles to pull itself together, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore this touchy fact.
What can we learn from these maps?
- The Iron Curtain lives on as an economic and social gap between East and West Europe and remains tied to an identifiable place on the map.
- Political borders go way deeper than bureaucracy and citizenship. They permeate all aspects of economics, society, daily life, and will continue to do so long after their demise.
- Is the gap self-perpetuating? When considering the data represented in the above maps in conjunction with the Facebook graphic, it’s easy to make the case that the Iron Curtain has spilled into a younger generation, despite the march of globalization. If this is true, it’s hard to predict when its legacy will no longer negatively impact the present day economics and overall well-being of Eastern Europe, especially in under the pressure of a global recession that threatens the stability of the European Economic Union.