|Monika Hohbein-Deegen||Tracy Slagter
Why should the campus community care about the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago?
Heike Alberts: Even though the fall of the Berlin Wall might seem like a very local event, in fact it really was an event that changed world history. For decades, the Cold War had divided the world into two spheres of military and political influence. Germany was the only country, and Berlin the only city, that were split in half, so in many ways they were the focal point of the Cold War. For many people, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate with the Berlin Wall was the symbol of the Cold War and the division of the world. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the main event that resulted in a chain reaction which ended the Cold War and led to a completely new world order, the world order in which we now live. If the Berlin Wall had not fallen, we would likely live in a very different world now. People in Eastern Europe might still not be free and live under Communist dictatorships, and we could not interact in friendship with people in Eastern Europe or visit the countries that once were behind the Iron Curtain. World politics might still be dominated by Cold War rivalries.
Tracy Slagter: Why are these things important, and why should students care about them? I believe very firmly that this event has significance for everyone, in that it fundamentally shaped the world we live in today. There is virtually no area of the world that was untouched by the events of November 9, 1989. In order to understand how the world works today, we have to know what happened then.
Monika Hohbein-Deegen: The fall of the Berlin Wall was an event that not only impacted Germany itself but the entire world. In fact, it is now considered one of the major events indicating the end of the Cold War. World politics have changed dramatically following this event, and our modern world would look quite different had this event not happened. Besides that, the fall of the wall did happen because of the desire of the East German people to live in freedom and democracy. It was due to their civil courage, their public demonstrations for change prior to the events of Nov.1989, that made this possible. Also known as the peaceful revolution, the end of East Germany was in major parts a result of its people’s desire for freedom. I believe that our young students should be aware of this historic event and understand what it meant to international politics of the last 20 years. It gives them a story of a country that no longer exists as such and its people who believed in their desires for freedom and democracy. It shows our students how powerful the common man on the street can be and that together they can even overthrow governments. It should also teach students the consequences of war. The separation of Germany was the direct result of World War II and the allied occupation of Germany following it. Post-war separated Germany became the battleground of two very different and hostile ideologies. Students who took my European Odyssey course on Modern Germany from Separation to Unification oftentimes drew parallels to the US involvement in Iraq, especially when we discussed the role of the allied forces in Germany. One can and should always learn from history. The history of post-war Germany is a good example for teaching our students about democracy, human rights and the consequences of dictatorships.
What do you hope the students and instructors take away from this event?
Heike Alberts: We hope that students will get a thorough understanding of what it was like to live during a time when the world was divided into two spheres of military and political influence, and nations that we now consider our friends and allies were our enemies. Students will realize that the fall of the Berlin Wall was truly an event with global implications, an event that changed the lives of people not only in Berlin and Germany, but also in many other places of the world. We hope that participating in the events will allow students to see that events do not happen in isolation; rather we live in a world where an event taking place in one location often has far-reaching consequences in other places as we are all connected in multiple ways. Learning more about this time period will help students to place current events in their historical context and help them develop an appreciation for the importance of history, political freedom and human rights.
Monika Hohbein-Deegen: I hope that they take away much knowledge that they can relate to in different ways. Besides the historical facts, I believe they can connect to this event and the people involved in it through listening to personal stories, discussing the event and its consequences for the world, and learning from a very well made feature film more about the struggle for freedom of a selected group of people. I also expect them to learn more intercultural acceptance as well as how this knowledge could be useful on a personal level. My European Odyssey students did reflect to me what this knowledge can mean to them today. Many of them said that it made them aware of issues such as human rights, freedom, historical events around the cold war, and they reported that they feel more appreciative of how they grew up and live their lives in the United States. They gained a deeper understanding of current politics by learning about the role of the US in Germany after the war. Overall, engaging in this topic increases students’ awareness of international affairs. They become better educated world citizens.
How can instructors incorporate this event into their curriculum?
Heike Alberts: We hope that many instructors, especially those teaching in the social sciences such as history, political science, geography and international studies, will be able to directly incorporate the topics covered in the events into their classes. For example, it is hard to imagine a modern history class, geography or political science class, or class on contemporary Europe that would not discuss the Cold War and the new world order after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our events will expose students to the experiences of people who actually lived through the events and can therefore offer a different perspective on the history. Instructors could use the events as a basis for class discussions or as a topic for an assignment such as a reaction paper. While the events are probably most helpful for instructors teaching in disciplines that deal with similar topics, we believe that attending this event would be completely in line with the goals of a liberal arts education. If our goal is to give students a well-rounded education, knowing about this important time period should certainly be part of it. Whether students are in a math or chemistry class, they would benefit from learning about an event that shaped the modern world order. We hope that instructors will be creative in incorporating this event into their classes. For example, a kinesiology instructor could use our event to start a discussion about different training methods in East and West and the Cold War politics behind sports events such as the Olympic Games. An astronomy instructor could use this is a starting point to talk about the space race and later cooperation in the exploration of space. An education professor could start a discussion about different approaches to teaching and the differences in content taught during the Cold War. We certainly hope that instructors across campus will not only bring their students to these events or encourage them to do, but actively incorporate it into their classes.
Monika Hohbein-Deegen: Depending on the course taught, there are several ways one could incorporate this event into the class. Many topics are touched during this event and lend themselves to incorporation into courses. Whether one discusses world politics, history, the strive for democracy, or one likes to focus on a more specific topic such as life under dictatorship, art, literature, music and culture as protest, the role of religious institutions within a society, environmental pollution … the possibilities are endless. For a liberal arts education, we are trying to raise our students to become widely educated and socially responsible citizens. To learn about the history and fall of the Berlin Wall, many lessons can be taught. It is certainly up to the imagination of each instructor to find the best possible way of incorporating such an event into the classroom. Depending on the course taught, there are several ways one could incorporate this event into the class. Many topics are touched during this event and lend themselves to incorporation into courses. Whether one discusses world politics, history, the strive for democracy, or one likes to focus on a more specific topic such as life under dictatorship, art, literature, music and culture as protest, the role of religious institutions within a society, environmental pollution … the possibilities are endless. For a liberal arts education, we are trying to raise our students to become widely educated and socially responsible citizens. To learn about the history and fall of the Berlin Wall, many lessons can be taught. It is certainly up to the imagination of each instructor to find the best possible way of incorporating such an event into the classroom.