By Raoul Biron, Contributing Writer
Students have been exposed to the iconic images of West Berliners helping East Berliners through toppled segments of the Berlin Wall since first being issued history textbooks. However, for many UNH students, the events of Nov. 9, 1989 can feel as distant and removed as anything else written on a high school classroom chalkboard.
This November marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and for UNH’s German department, the occasion is anything but distant.
“I woke up, and I smelled something. It smelled like East Berlin,” said Johannes Frank, a lecturer in the German department who was a resident of West Berlin in November 1989. “It was the start of an amazing atmosphere. Everybody was celebrating. … It was almost a utopian moment.”
On Oct. 9 2014, UNH introduced its own tribute to mark the political and cultural milestone.
“To give a sense of the physicality of the wall, we wanted to build an actual segment,” said Ben Cariens, associate professor of art, addressing the public in front of a life-sized 12 foot by 8 foot replica segment of the Berlin Wall. The wall was built under Cariens’ artistic authority in congruence with members of the UNH German department and funded by the German Mission to the United States.
The sculpture mirrors its historical counterpart both in scale and in design. The gray, “East Berlin” side displays only panels with key dates in the history of the Wall and a QR code that links to the German Embassy’s website, providing more information on the history and context of the fall of the Wall.
The “West Berlin” side of the wall, originally designed by Cariens — in part, modeled on actual art and expressions present on the original — is an eclectic mix of colorful graffiti and student’s additions.
Mary Rhiel, associate professor of German and UNH’s Berlin Program Director stated, while handing out Sharpies and markers to the public, that while part of the sculpture’s purpose is for somber remembrance, it is fundamentally a celebration and interactive.
The German and art departments encourage students to add to the art on the wall, hoping that it might reflect the current ideas of its population, much the same way that the West side of the original Berlin Wall did. “A historical layering of expression … always returning to the contemporary,” Cariens said.
“The historical memory was long ago, and it has been primarily lost for students. This works to refresh that memory,” Rhiel said, expanding on the concern that a student body mostly born after the events in 1989 might not have the personal context to have the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall resound with them.
“My roommate said, ‘Did you see that hunk of graffiti in front of the library?’ I told her it was actually a replica of the Berlin Wall, marking its 25th anniversary,” said Kristen Dionne, a freshman English major.
While the wall segment in front of Murkland Hall will be taken down in homage to the Berlin Wall on Nov. 10, the German department has already begun hosting a series of events designed to incorporate members of the UNH community in the 25th anniversary, including guest lecturers, film screenings (“Goodbye, Lenin!” on Oct. 14), an essay contest and Personal Experiences of the Wall with Q&A on Oct. 21.