“Die Mauer macht den Unterschied” (the wall makes the difference), the label reads underneath a large painting. The artist, Colin Turner, a sophomore majoring in geology, explains in a conversation with his fellow classmates that the concept of a dividing wall has not ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
“Walls continue to separate people, whether in Korea, the Gaza Strip, or perhaps, in the near future, the people of Mexico and the U.S.,” he asserts in conversational German. He explains that his art depicts the inability of seeing and experiencing, as the large grey strip is blocking the view.
“You can only see the blue sky that covers both sides of the wall,” he continues in German. A few students speculate about the meaning of the structure in the middle of the large grey wall. “It looks like a crack in the wall or perhaps a rose vine,” one student comments.
Turner’s spray-paint installation is one of the 22 pieces of art displayed in the exhibit “Über Mauern hinweg-Beyond Walls,” now housed at the Media Library of the Anderson Language and Technology Center in the Hellems Arts and Sciences building.
Turner and his classmates joined other visitors during the exhibit opening on Nov. 9—the 28th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The information panel of the exhibit gives a brief history of the event: The 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall cut through neighborhoods, separated families, and divided not only Germany but the world.
On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, East Germany tried to defuse growing tensions and protesters’ demands for free travel and democratic structures by making travel permits easier to obtain, but the announcement brought thousands of East Berliners to the border crossing points in the wall and forced the surprised guards to open the gates immediately.
Although the border guards initially tried to maintain order, it was soon clear that the years of division were at an end.
These current undergraduate students of the intermediate German language course at the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures are part of a post-Wende generation that only knows about the Berlin Wall from history books.
Yet, students critically discuss and creatively depict the situation of the Wende, the process of change from socialist rule to parliamentary democracy that took place in Germany around 1989 and 1990. Their discussions are informed by a fall semester project, largely funded by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), that allowed them to explore the impact of division on Germany’s national identity in diverse ways, through film, documentary and an interview session on campus with contemporary witnesses from East and West Germany.
Their impressions and thoughts are captured in art productions. “Yes, it could be a vine of white roses—like the Weiße Rose, the non-violent resistant group during the Nazi time, you know. Or perhaps a crack in the wall that is slowly growing,” Turner concludes his thoughts in German.
“Über Mauern hinweg-Beyond Walls” exhibit runs through Nov. 27 at the ALTEC Media Library, in Hellems 159.
Berit Jany is coordinator of undergraduate language instruction in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures.