Wir Sind das Volk': U.Va. to Commemorate Fall of the Berlin Wall in Weeklong Event

September 21, 2009

September 16, 2009 — The University of Virginia, having long boasted of its steadfast serpentine walls, will celebrate the demise of another iconic barrier, the Berlin Wall, Sept. 25 through Oct. 2.

U.Va. is one of 25 schools slated to participate in "Freedom Without Walls," a weeklong event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Last spring, the German Embassy in Washington selected the University from a nationwide pool of applicants as one of the first universities to receive funding for the event.

U.Va. students drafted ideas for the project week, which graduate students Brett Martz and Gerrit Roessler compiled into a streamlined application in September 2008. The University was one of the first selected by the embassy to participate, and since then the students have been making their ideas happen.

According to planners on Grounds, the event reemphasizes Thomas Jefferson's "We the people," embodied in the East German freedom movement's own slogan, "Wir sind das Volk."

U.Va. will host a variety of events throughout the week, including a 5K charity run on Sept. 26 to benefit Doctors Without Borders; a declamation contest on Sept. 30 that will feature students giving historic speeches and debating issues of political freedom; a graffiti wall art contest Sept. 25 through Sept. 28; and a by-invitation gala dinner on Oct. 2 that will cap off the week with photo displays and speeches.

The graffiti contest – a visual embodiment of the freedom of speech and expression that the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized – will allow U.Va. students to "graffiti" their original designs onto several slabs of wall replica that will sit prominently in the McIntire Amphitheater. Local artists will judge and award prizes to these paintings; entrants are eligible to win a trip to Berlin from the German Embassy, a prize awarded to the best wall design among all 25 participating universities.

The week will also feature a series of lectures and roundtable discussions on topics of architecture, economics, literature and culture, drawing upon faculty from the University's various schools and departments. Film screenings, including a short documentary made by U.Va. students who spent the 2009 January Term in Berlin; student art exhibits; and a photography exhibit of Germany's UNESCO World Heritage sites sponsored by the German Information Center will also run during the week.

"The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was a momentous event, the most significant in Germany since the end of the Second World War," said Jeffrey Grossman, chairman of U.Va.'s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. "Its impact at the time was profound and profoundly transformative.

"But the fall of the wall exerted an impact well beyond Germany's borders, transforming much of Europe and indeed of the world. It brought an end to a 'Cold War' that had assured 'mutual destruction' in the case of actual war, and that took a toll in the form of numerous 'proxy wars' fought in the developing world. When East German authorities allowed the opening of the Berlin Wall, people responded with amazement, and beyond that, with euphoria,"

For information on the week's events, visit www.uvawithoutwalls.com.