Memories of the wall
November 4, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In honor of that historic occasion, the Calvin Germanic languages department hosted "Social Justice, Revolution and the Church. Twenty Years after the Berlin Wall,” from 6 to 8 p.m., Sunday, November 8 at the Woodlawn Ministry Center. Wolfgang Groeger, a pastor in Leipzig Germany, and Wallace Bratt, professor emeritus of the German department, spoke on the significance of the wall and its demise. Recently several members of the Calvin community shared their memories of the day the wall came down:
Donna Joyce, event coordinator, advancement: I still see the images, strong images of people taking it down on national news. It wasn’t just the Berlin Wall being taken down; it was a visual of walls that can be taken down around the world. In our daily lives—just the politics of the world—we draw boundaries based on our own non-negotiable values, whether it be a physical wall or a wall of disagreement. Those barriers need to be taken down, and we need to be able to have good conversations to try to understand the views of our community and the world.
Henry DeVries, vice president for administration, finance and information services: I remember the television coverage. What that probably says is that we’ve gotten used to the media making international events local … This really started with the first Desert Storm, when you could watch the bombs dropping over Baghdad, and ever since then, we’ve gotten the idea that we can participate in anything around the world.
Keith Johnson, textbook coordinator, campus store: If my memory is correct, it started to happen out in the country first, where the wall wasn’t as forceful, so to speak. And I kept expecting Gorbachev to do something or to force East Germany to do something. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Ramiza Fazlic, food services employee, Calvin Dining Services: It was wonderful, wonderful. I went with some German people who lived in East Berlin. Oh, they were so different in the two Berlins … They live poor with no jobs and no money is East Berlin, and in West Berlin they have everything …They make wall now in my country (Bosnia).
Randy Bytwerk, professor of communication arts and sciences and keeper of the German Propaganda Archive: Actually, I was giving a lecture at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. I was scheduled to give a lecture on East Germany, and the wall started coming down. So, needless to say, I had to change what I was saying …So I did my best to say intelligent things about the wall coming down and what it might mean for East Germany. So, that was my memory, sitting in Tulsa, watching the wall coming down and thinking, “What am I going to do now?” (Bytwerk is pictured holding a piece of the Berlin Wall.)
Judy Vriesema, department assistant, admissions and financial aid: It was this time of the year, in the fall. It was just so wonderful that barriers could be broken down. I took German in high school and again in college, and I had thought about being a missionary to Germany because I had heard that ever since World War II, people were so disillusioned with God—because so many of the Christians threw in with the Nazis, and so many terrible things happened … They had built themselves economically, but psychologically and socially, there was such a void. I was told that you could tell the difference between East Germany and West Germany because in East Germany, there is no color. I was so happy for these people because it meant not only freedom but that maybe you could paint your home a different color.
Robert Schoone-Jongen, professor of history: Mine is watching it live on television, on CNN and absolutely floored to live to see the day that it happened because it (the Berlin Wall) went up on my 12th birthday … I had never seen the wall, but I had had Neil Hegewald here as a professor. He used to teach an interim class here on Nazi Germany, and one of the things he did in that class was talk about how he got out of East Germany in the early ’50s. So, he would tell us that story of going from East Germany through Berlin with the background now that the wall was there now, and he could not have gotten out … I was teaching high school when all this happened, so my job was to teach all of these immortal teenagers: “Do you know what you’re seeing?” For a history teacher, it’s not that often that you and stand up there and say, honestly, “You know, you’re going to read about this one in the books.”
Natalie Hubers, administrative assistant, HPERDS: I remember seeing it on TV—just the shots of people sitting on the wall, celebrating. I remember being amazed that it was something that happened in my lifetime … I wanted to see the piece of it when they got it at the Ford museum—up close and personal.
Wally Bratt, history professor emeritus: It’s important to talk about because the fall of the wall marks the symbolic end of the Cold War. It’s important to talk about because it marked the beginning of new freedoms for 17 million East Germans. It’s important to talk about because it marks the beginning of a unique political experience in that you have a free market, capitalistic society incorporating into itself a socialist-communist society with its 40 years of deprivation and a failed socialist experiment. It’s also important because it opened for the church in East Germany new opportunities which in some senses it was unable to capitalize on.
Michael Booker, building services supervisor, physical plant: It just touched my heart, you know? ... Seeing something like that coming down. A lot of history.
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing