“Freedom without Walls” Event Commemorates Fall of Berlin WallPublished: September 15, 2009
“Berlin Kreuzberg SO36” opened Sept. 15 on the third floor of the Academic Services Building as part of the German Embassy’s nation-wide “Freedom without Walls” campus initiative commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Featured speakers included Wolfgang Drautz, consul general of the Federal Republic of Germany; and Martin Düspohl, director of Berlin’s Museum Kreuzberg. The event is sponsored by the German Embassy in Washington D.C.; the German Consulate in Los Angeles; and the Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, a government-funded foundation devoted to the examination and reappraisal of the communist dictatorship in East Germany.
The photographic exhibition runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 23. Photographer Peter Frischmuth, who has taken pictures for major German magazines such as Der Spiegel, Focus and Stern, visited Berlin in 1982 to photograph scenes of life in Kreuzberg, a district in the center of Berlin, that found itself on the fringe after the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
In 2006, Frischmuth returned to Berlin to retrace his steps to the same places and the same people.
“Comparing these two series of images demonstrates not only what has changed over time but also what has remained constant,” explained event organizer Nele Hempel-Lamer, associate professor of German, who joined the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department in 2006. “We are very lucky to get the exhibit here because it will serve not only as a kickoff event to celebrate the fall of the wall 20 years ago and the country Germany has become after reunification, but it shows us what Berlin looked like during the time of the wall.”
An associated film festival titled “Ostalgie–-Stories from the GDR” screens in LH 151 beginning Oct. 7 at 6:30 p.m. with 2003’s “Goodbye, Lenin!” The series continues with 1995’s “The Promise” on Oct. 14, at 6:30 p.m.; 1973’s “The Legend of Paul and Paula” on Oct. 21, and 1968’s “I Was Nineteen” on Oct. 28.
The film festival’s title “Ostalgie” refers to nostalgia for life in Eastern Germany before the fall of the wall. “There have been lots of problems with reunification,” explained Hempel-Lamer. “Some people look back to the communist era and feel nostalgic for the East. We called the film festival `Ostalgie’ to provide a backdrop to the challenges Germany faced and still faces due to its recent past as a divided nation.”
The series will tell stories about the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was officially known. “The festival is both a way to introduce this time period to students with no historical context as well as remind those who can still remember what it was all about,” she said. “The GDR was a country that existed for 40 years in the middle of Western Europe. Now it’s gone.” With the exception of “Good Bye, Lenin!” none of the films have been major releases in the United States. The first two films were directed by West Germans after the fall of the wall and the last two were directed by East Germans before the fall.
“The film series is a great opportunity for American audiences to see life during the Cold War from a German perspective,” she said. “Most all of the films enjoy pop cult status in Germany, but few people here will have seen them. We will have short introductions to the films before the screening to provide some context to the audience, and we are also planning question and answer sessions after the viewing of the films.”
Hempel-Lamer pointed out that many CSULB students are not even 20 years old, which means the wall fell before they were born. “The ‘Freedom without Walls’- projects we are conducting throughout the fall semester are an effort to make students aware of the wall’s historical implications, but in a very personalized way,” she said. “A student speech competition titled ‘Tear Down this Wall!’ for example, will address what walls students still see in their lives and will be judged by a panel of CSULB faculty members.”
Currently, RGRLL’s German program has two full-time faculty members. “It may not be the campus’ largest program, but in addition to our B.A., we run a successful M.A. program, we place our students in highly competitive Ph.D. programs, and we do teacher training for the local high schools,” said Hempel-Lamer. “Martin Düspohl, director of the Museum Kreuzberg, will not only speak here, but we also arranged speaking engagements for him at Anaheim’s Esperanza High School and at Long Beach’s Wilson High School. We’re also trying to connect across the campus by organizing an interdisciplinary mini-conference in early November, which will be a collaboration of faculty and student organizations in political science, journalism and history.”
When Hempel-Lamer recently screened a 26-minute documentary about the fall of the wall on Nov. 9, 1989, students were impressed. The documentary chronicled the days leading up to the fall of the wall, showing the courage of demonstrators in the GDR who risked their lives in what turned out to be a surprisingly peaceful revolution. “I want our students to be inspired to become agents of change,” Hempel-Lamer said and she encourages both the campus and the surrounding community to participate in “Freedom without Walls.”
“I know that many of our students are busy with full-time jobs on top of their school work, but at the same time it is important that they find things they can be inspired by. They need to be reminded why they are doing what they are doing,” she said. “I think students will find, by participating in these celebrations, that they are part of a broader global community.”