As young girls growing up in Germany, Heike Alberts and Monika Hohbein-Deegen lived on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. Twenty years ago, they both witnessed the fall of the wall from very different perspectives.
On Monday, Nov. 9, Alberts and Hohbein-Deegen — now both faculty members at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh — will share their experiences as the campus commemorates the 20th anniversary of the historic event with a daylong series of presentations and exhibitions.
“It was such a momentous event,” said Alberts, who was a student attending high school in West Berlin at the end of the Cold War in 1989. “I wanted to celebrate the day so the next generation of students has the opportunity to learn about the wall’s impact.”
“The Berlin Wall and Beyond” activities on campus will include:
- “Life on Both Sides of the Wall: Berlin 1945-1989,” 11:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m., Reeve Memorial Union, Room 202, by Alberts, an associate professor of geography; Hohbein-Deegen, an assistant professor of German; and Michelle Mouton, an associate professor of history.
- “The Fall of the Berlin Wall: Worldwide Implications,” 1:50 to 2:50 p.m., Reeve Memorial Union, Room 202, with Alberts; Hohbein-Deegen; and Tracy Slagter, UW Oshkosh assistant professor of political science.
- Taste of Nations — Germany, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Reeve Union Marketplace.
- College of Letters and Science Dean’s Symposium, “Children at the Great Divide — Cold War Policy in Berlin 1945-1955,” 3:30 p.m., Reeve Memorial Union, Room 221, by Mouton.
- Screening of the film “The Tunnel,” 7 p.m., Reeve Theatre.
- Berlin Wall Exhibit, Nov. 2-30, display case in Polk Library lobby, with photos and original documents and pieces of the Berlin Wall.
In the first presentation, Alberts will share what it was like growing up in West Berlin surrounded by the wall. She said about 95 percent of the time she didn’t notice the wall’s presence in her life. “The wall was already there when I was born, so it was absolutely normal,” she said.
However, when Albert’s family wanted to travel to see relatives in East Berlin, the visit had to be planned weeks in advance. Also, many restrictions had to be considered, including making sure they carried no printed materials with them over the border.
In East Germany, about three hours southwest of Berlin, life for Hohbein-Deegen was quite different.
“I come from a country that no longer exists,” she said. “I was 20 years old and a university student when the wall came down. That’s the age of many of our students here today at UW Oshkosh.”
Living in East Germany, Hohbein-Deegen grew up “very much aware that we were locked up.” Also, her family’s proximity to the border meant they had access to Western television and had a realistic view of life on the other side.
Hohbein-Deegen said the inability to travel outside her country had the biggest impact on her. As an education student learning how to teach English, she never dreamed that she would one day have the opportunity to teach in an English-speaking country.
Just six days after the wall came down, Hohbein-Deegen crossed the border into West Germany for the first time, where she immediately noticed how much more colorful and modern the country looked compared with East Germany.
At a supermarket, she was overwhelmed with the variety of options. “I saw things I had never seen in my life … like kiwi,” she said.
The long-term effects of the end of the Cold War have been significant in Hohbein-Deegen’s life.
“I was old enough at the time that the wall fell to understand what was happening and young enough to take full advantage of the changes and turn my life totally around,” she said.
For more information about UW Oshkosh’s Berlin Wall project, visit http://www.uwosh.edu/colsreports/berlin-wall-beyond.