Kicking off a week of festivities, speaker events and a reconstruction of the Berlin Wall in Red Square and the Intercultural Center, Georgetown began its celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Monday.
The Freedom Without Walls initiative – a collaborative project among students, faculty and the German Embassy – featured the dismantling of a mock Berlin Wall built and decorated by students last week. The rebuilding and dismantling of the wall was the most visible part of the week, but the initiative also featured multiple speaker events, a student speech competition and Berlin Disco Night at the German Embassy.
Featured speakers included Hans Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall; Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic; Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J., former president of Georgetown University; and Peter Schneider, a leading German novelist, essayist and professor in the German department.
Georgetown was one of about 30 universities nationwide that planned events to commemorate the 20th anniversary, according to a press release by the German Embassy. The German Embassy offered financial support to the German Department to help set up the week’s events.
“The purpose of this project is to promote awareness about the historical significance of the Berlin Wall and its symbolism in history,” Karl Viet Phi Nguyen (SFS ’11), co-leader of the Georgetown Freedom Without Walls said. “The wall was also not part of the collective memory of our generation, so when I suggested this two years ago to the German Embassy, the idea got actualized in such form to `resurrect’ autumn of 1989 and to instigate various emotions.”
Nguyen, along with co-leader Kat von Faber-Castell (SFS ’11), invited the Georgetown community to help replicate the Berlin Wall in Red Square last Friday.
Faber-Castell said the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizes one of the great triumphs in world history.
“I think that the fall of the Berlin Wall will always relate to the notion of freedom. The Berlin Wall was not torn down by an army nor by government officials, but by the German citizens,” Faber-Castell said. “They proved that any wall or border can be broken in the hope for a better future.”
For millions, the wall was a symbol of oppression that marked the effects of communism in Eastern Europe.
“One should remember the fall of the Berlin Wall in a sort of future-oriented way, a kind of prospective memory, so to speak,” said Peter Pfeiffer, a German professor and director for the European studies certificate program. “Then the fall of the wall becomes a reminder for all the demagogues and dividers of people that building walls and fortified borders may seem like the easiest way to address some issues, but they will ultimately fail.”
According to Pfeiffer, however, the wall is more than an icon of oppression.
“One shouldn’t forget that it was not just a symbol but also the day-to-day reality for all people living behind the Iron Curtain, an almost impenetrable border that imprisoned millions of people, robbing them of pursuing their aspirations.”
The mission of the project was to promote awareness for those who know about the fall of Berlin Wall only as a collective historical memory, said Nguyen. Nguyen shares a personal connection with the Berlin Wall.
“Growing up in post-Soviet Russia, my view of the fall of [the] Berlin Wall was somewhat different than of those from the Western European/North American region. As the wall was demolished, my motherland was in chaos,” he said. “To me, the fall of [the] Berlin Wall symbolizes the historical turning point in the history of my homeland, which contributed greatly to my personal development and how I view the new world order on the geopolitical arena.”