Berlin Wall Coming to U.Va. Grounds

The University of Virginia is preparing for a yearlong celebration commemorating the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. From March through November, U.Va. will host an outdoor exhibit of international significance, and will present a comprehensive program of supporting events.

On Nov. 9, the world will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with global celebrations. On Monday, four panels from that Wall will be delivered to a site on Grounds; for more than a year, they will be on loan to the University.

The unveiling of this inspiring symbol of world freedom will take place during a public ceremony in April. That event will include guests from the local community, state and national government, and University and arts organizations.

“Our University community welcomes this significant exhibit, which speaks to the ability of people to effect change through free expression and to the liberating power of democracy – ideals that formed the foundation of Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs and his life’s work,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “The installation is a remarkable work of art that provides a profound learning opportunity for all of us.”

In 1990, art collector and business leader Robert Hefner was sensing a historic change as the Cold War was ending. Motivated by his collecting expertise, Hefner – founder of two Oklahoma City-based organizations, the Robert & MeiLi Hefner Foundation and the The Hefner Collection, which focuses on Chinese art after the Cultural Revolution – sent a representative to negotiate with the East German government for the purchase of four complete sections of the Wall.

He ended up with four panels from the wall. Measuring a total of 16 feet in length and 12 feet in height and weighing 8,818 pounds, the sections feature murals titled “Kings of Freedom,” by West German graffiti artist Dennis Kaun.

Painted on the West German side of the Wall, the images depict a brightly colored joyful king representing freedom next to a drab blindfolded king seemingly oblivious to the wishes of his people.

The side of the Wall that faced East Germany was gray and without color. Nothing was ever painted on that side.

Hefner believes this contrast artistically conveys the character of the societies on each side of the Wall before the fall.

The installation of this unique work of art will also be part of a larger University-wide program culminating in the Nov. 9 celebration, which also will coincide with supporting events during the Virginia Film Festival, to be held Nov. 6-9.

Jody Kielbasa, vice provost for the arts and director of the film festival, is currently talking to scholars, professors and artists across Grounds and leaders throughout the community to craft a series of serious and thoughtful lectures, panels and discussions for that week. These conversations and public presentations will focus on exploring the historical, cultural and societal impact of the Berlin Wall and its fall.

“There is tremendous excitement and interest from so many individuals across Grounds who want to participate in programming this extraordinary event,” Kielbasa said. “As the festival’s director, I am also planning on screening a sidebar of films on the Berlin Wall that will include discussions by artists, scholars and experts regarding its history and the global significance of its fall.”

The national and international sweep of this yearlong project for the University will emphasize its symbol as a center of higher learning that continues to underscore Jefferson’s principles of freedom and democracy. The supporting public programs and events will serve to enhance political thought, the creative arts and academic excellence at the University.

On Monday, McCormick Road will be closed from University Avenue to the west side of the bridge over Emmet Street during the unloading and installation of the Berlin Wall panels. The installation site is in the grassy area adjacent to the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and Alderman Library.

Events and programs related to the Berlin Wall project will be announced throughout the year. Numerous departments and disciplines across the University will be involved, including art, music, architecture, German studies, politics, history and sociology, among others.

A brochure that summarizes all of the programs as well as highlighting the history of the Berlin Wall, the “Kings of Freedom” panels and The Hefner Collection will be published and distributed to the University and alumni communities and to organizations from the local to the international level.

Further details and news about the Berlin Wall project, installation and supporting programs and educational events will be announced through the week of celebration in early November.

Media Contact

Robert Hull

Office of University Communications