October 7, 2009

A three-day symposium sponsored by the German government and held at Amherst College Oct. 14-16 will feature lectures, personal reminiscences and photographic and historical exhibits, as well as a free buffet lunch of German food, all to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Ute Brandes, Georges Lurcy Professor of German at Amherst.

The symposium is sponsored by the German Embassy, the Lamont Fund and the college’s German, European Studies, History and Political Science departments.

Although the Wall itself came down on Nov. 9, 1989, figurative cracks in its façade began appearing many months earlier, said Ute Brandes, Georges Lurcy Professor of German at Amherst. Brandes, who helped organize the symposium, grew up in East Germany and had a sister living in East Berlin at the time the Wall fell.

“I feel good that we’re the first college in the Pioneer Valley to have events that celebrate the Wall coming down, because by this time 20 years ago, the demonstrations in Leipzig and East Berlin were beginning to gather great momentum,” Brandes said. “It really was the people who brought the Wall down. And it was a peaceful revolution--no lives lost!”

The professor remembers being “totally incredulous” when a student tapped her on the shoulder during a lecture in Amherst’s Cole Assembly Room that day and informed her that the Berlin Wall had fallen. Once reality sank in, Brandes said she was exhilarated on the whole, but also worried that far-right political groups would make a strong comeback.

“In fact, the recent elections have shown that didn’t happen,” Brandes said. “Germany is struggling as other countries are, but its economy is looking pretty good. Twenty years later, things are really starting to gel. In retrospect, there were so many obstacles that it’s a miracle things worked out as well as they have. It’s definitely time to celebrate, and this symposium is a chance to do just that.”

The symposium kicks off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, in Pruyne Lecture Hall in the Fayerweather building, with a keynote lecture by  Constanze Stelzenmüller, a Senior Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the  Defense and International Security Editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, also in Pruyne Lecture Hall, Holger Teschke, visiting professor of theater at Mount Holyoke College, will lecture on “The Other Life—East German Culture Before and After 1989.”

At 8 p.m. on Thursday, William C. Taubman, professor of political science at Amherst College, will lecture on “If a Wall Fell in Berlin, and Moscow Hardly Noticed, Would it Still Make a Noise?” Taubman is the author of the book Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for biography; he is currently writing a biography of Mikhail Gorbachev.

On Friday, Oct. 16, from noon to 2 p.m. at Porter House, there will be a buffet lunch featuring German cuisine. There also will be a roundtable discussion at which Teschke, Brandes and Stefan Roloff—a video artist, filmmaker and writer who lives and works in New York and Berlin—will share memories and observations about the events leading up to the fall of the Wall and what Reunification has meant for Germany and German society.

A series of documentary videos, titled Life Inside and Outside the Wall, will also be presented at the roundtable session.  Throughout the symposium, the college’s Frost Library will display an exhibition depicting the historical genesis of the Berlin Wall — “how it came about and how it went down,” Brandes said. An exhibit in Porter House will feature large photos of the same locations in Eastern Germany, shot  in 1989 and in 2009.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Peter Rooney, Amherst College director of public affairs, at 413-542-8452 or prooney@amherst.edu.