Building Up and Bringing Down the Berlin Wall [on Campus]

A Berlin Wall mock-up rises on the main quad; but its days are numbered

Even now, 25 years after its fall, memories of the Berlin Wall still bring tears to Corinna Kahnke’s eyes.

“Beyond its historical significance, the Wall is very personal to me as a German,” Kahnke, a faculty member in the German Department, said. “I had family in East Germany and only got to visit them once while the city was divided. I still get emotional when I see images of it falling down.”

Kahnke and undergraduate students in Duke’s German Club teamed up to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Berlin with “I Been Lookin’ for Freedom,” a weeklong reenactment of the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall on the Chapel Quad. Beginning with its “construction” on Nov. 2, students and community members are invited to spray paint the cardboard box structure with images and written messages. The “wall” is to be demolished by students, faculty and community members on Sunday, Nov. 9, the 25th anniversary of the wall’s fall.  

berlin wall

A cardboard reenactment of the Berlin Wall will fall again this coming weekend on campus. Photo by Riyanka Ganguly

The reenactment is spread over a week to reflect the decades in which the wall defined the life of Berliners on both sides of the divide, said Erick Lowe, a Duke senior and president of the German Club.

“Friends and family were kept apart for more than a generation by this wall,” Lowe said. “We wanted to reflect the passage of time in our reenactment and try to show how the Wall changed over the course of three decades.”

Beyond sparking a discussion of its historical significance, Kahnke hopes the reenactment will help students connect with “walls” that may be going up in their lives and how they have overcome such challenges in the past.

“There’s a whole generation now who grew up after the fall of the Wall and might not even remember the impact that this event had,” Kahnke said. “The Berlin Wall serves as a reminder that people have the power to peacefully overcome injustices and challenges they face today. And there are still walls being built up and torn down by ordinary people. Take bans on same sex marriage—that wall just came down, and it was accomplished through a peaceful popular movement.”

Lowe added that he hopes students studying German language and culture and those outside the department will use the artistic side of the reenactment to tear down their own “walls.”

“We want students to see this as both a fun artistic outlet and a way for each participant to think about how the Berlin Wall’s demolition can speak to their own experiences,” Lowe said. “We hope students will write their own ‘protests’ on the wall and then actually tear down those barriers, big or small.”

“I Been Lookin’ for Freedom”: Berlin Wall Reenactment will remain on the Chapel Quad through Sunday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m., when it will be torn. Students and community members are encouraged to write and draw on the cardboard box wall throughout the week. For more information, visit the German Department’s website.