Berlin Wall Falls Between Halls

At midnight on Sunday, August 13, 1961, the border between East and West Berlin, Germany was officially closed, marking the beginning of the construction of the Berlin Wall and eight years of division and political unease.

In a similar manner, Colgate’s German Club gathered Sunday night on the academic quad to build their own “wall” between East and West Halls. The next evening, on Monday, November 9, this wall was torn down in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the real Berlin Wall.

Though it was constructed with sheets instead of concrete, and covered with German phrases scrawled in spray paint instead of the graffiti art and memorials that decorated the true wall, Colgate’s replica got the message across.

“People have been stopping to look at it, to see what it’s about,” senior Carolyn Brodbeck, President of the German Club, said. “I’m glad it’s getting so much attention – that’s hard to do when everyone’s got so much going on.”

Senior and fellow German Club member Alex Sklyar agreed that a major goal of the project was to grab students’ attention.

“It’s crucial that we increase awareness of such events on campus,” Skylar said. ” [We] are trying hard to break the ‘Colgate bubble’ and spark some curiosity among students.”

Both Brodbeck and Sklyar emphasized how easy it is for students of our generation to overlook the historical significance of this event.

“Because we’re so separated from it, many of us don’t realize how monumental it was,” Skylar said. “It’s important to look back at such a divided history and see how tearing down the Wall represented a reunification, a will for peaceful resolution. It’s not only important to German history, or even Western history, but global history.”

Such a commemoration does hit close to home for German Language Intern Eva Hoffman.

“I was eight years old when the wall came down,” Hoffman reflected. “It’s great to find interest here at Colgate over something that was such a personal experience for me.”

After the duplicate wall was torn down on Monday, a Brown Bag dinner and panel discussion took place in Lawrence Hall. Panelists included Associate Professor of Anthropology and Peace & Conflict Studies Nancy Ries, Professor of Political Science Tim Byrnes, Associate Professor of History and Chair of History Robert Nemes and Associate Professor of German Claire Baldwin.

Afterwards, Brodbeck and Sklyar conducted an interview with Colgate Alumnus and former trustee Virg Conway ’51, who helped bring a sizeable chunk of the actual Berlin Wall to campus in 1995. This piece currently sits in the front lawn of 94 Broad Street, and the German Club is in the process of designing a plaque to be installed alongside it.

According to Baldwin, the turnout at the dinner was positive and discussions were lively. She remarked that the commemoration seemed to achieve its aim, which was “to raise awareness on campus about this pivotal historical event that symbolically signaled the end of the Cold War and the success of peaceful political change that brought about the end of communist dictatorship, the rewards of the people’s civic courage to stand up for self-determination and freedom.”

Baldwin teaches the freshman seminar, FSEM 167: “The Berlin Wall,” which covers the history and culture of post-war Berlin, with an emphasis on the construction, meaning and significance of the Wall. Some of the students enrolled in FSEM 167 were involved with the German Club’s Berlin Wall project, along with students from other German courses. Baldwin also led the Colgate study group to Freiburg, Germany last spring.   

Contact Audrey Melick at [email protected].