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Whither the Wall?

The Berlin Wall, once infamous for dividing friends and families, has since taken a message of unity to cultural and educational institutions all over the world, reports Katie Unwin.

The chilly autumn months of October and November in Germany are marked not only by the changing of the seasons, but are afforded special cultural and historical significance. Within just over a month, the anniversaries of both the fall of the Berlin Wall and German Unity Day remind history and Germany enthusiasts alike to contemplate themes of freedom, integrity and unity.

Recently, I tracked down the current locations of some of the segments of the Berlin Wall, torn down in 1989, and investigated how these pieces got to where they are today. I wanted to see what it meant to the staff and visitors of their new sites to have a slice of world history on their doorsteps and how we might reconfigure the Berlin Wall from architecture of division to enlightenment tool, fostering unity around the world.

We put together a map showing how far-flung Wall segments have spread, and got statements from several host organisations, which you can see in full here. These the new sites of the Wall, picked for their cultural or educational importance, all testify to its unique symbolic force. For example:

“It is such a privilege to have this reminder of the events from that time, a symbol of courage that is grounded in a spirited sense of hope in human potential.” – Atlanta International School, USA.

“This relic […] symbolizes and reminds us that desperate peoples aspiring and pushing towards the ending of totalitarian, dividing and oppressive regimes can bear fruit, can win.” – Janco Dada Museum, Israel.

“These wall segments still stand […] and serve as a universal symbol of unity in an increasingly divided world.” – Wende Museum of the Cold War, USA.

Increasingly divided as the current times are, what emerged from this project was an extremely heartening sense of community. By reaching out to those whose lives have been touched by the Wall in 2020, I was able to identify a new purpose for the once oppressive symbol of division. The Berlin Wall, wherever it now stands across the globe, seems to act as a cultural symbol of resistance to injustice, an opportunity for education and a great leveller.  It connects Germanists, curators, historians, politicians, students, museum-goers and anyone who encounters it in a transnational unity around the world.

Katie Unwin is a cultural researcher and Content Executive for German at Twinkl Educational Publishing

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