On November 9, 1989, when a representative of East Germany’s governing party announced new loosened regulations that would effectively allow East Berliners to travel to West Berlin for the first time since 1961, crowds gathered at checkpoints along the Berlin Wall. Border guards, initially confused by how they should respond, soon let the flood of East Berliners cross through and set foot in the West. Within weeks, the Malta Summit between the United States and the USSR contributed to the end of the Cold War. Within months, the Berlin Wall was demolished. And within a year, German reunification was complete.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbol that separated Western Europe from the Eastern Bloc, has come to “signify the radical transformations of Central Eastern Europe and the end of Europe divided by the Iron Curtain,” says Heather Duemling, interim assistant director of the Hamilton Lugar School Institute for European Studies. But this event, often considered celebratory in the West, has more various resonances throughout Europe and the former Eastern Bloc, the Soviet Union’s communist allies. In East Berlin, for instance, the culture, politics, value system, and economy all radically changed; to some, reunification seemed more like annexation.
To understand the fall of the Berlin Wall on its 30th anniversary, the Polish Studies Center, the Institute for European Studies, and the Russian and Eastern European Institute—all part of the Hamilton Lugar School—are jointly hosting Writings on the Wall: The End of the Eastern Bloc in Cultural Memory. The event will take place on Monday, November 11, from 4:30pm to 7:00pm at the Faculty Club in the Indiana Memorial Union. The informal event, which is free and open to the public, will include discussion by experts from the Hamilton Lugar School’s Polish Studies Center, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, and Institute for European Studies, as well as the College of Arts & Sciences’ Departments of History and Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, and the Department of Musicology in the Jacobs School of Music, among other disciplines. Witnesses who saw first-hand the fall of the Wall will also be in attendance to share their perspectives.
The fall of the Berlin Wall was preceded by uprisings in Hungary and Poland, and the dismantling of the barbed-wire border separating Austria from Hungary. Writings on the Wall will look at the many ways the identities of Eastern Bloc countries changed, and what 1989 itself means culturally for the region. Each presenter will bring an artifact—such as a video, sound clip, photograph, poem, or poster—and discuss what their artifact means in the context of the year 1989. After presentations, there will be time for questions and a reception with snacks and drinks.
Writings on the Wall is one of many events hosted by the Hamilton Lugar School’s Polish Studies Center, Institute for European Studies, and Russian and Eastern European Institute. Later this year, the Institute for European Studies itself will host the Midwest Model EU, with seventeen participating universities, a one-day conference on the future of the EU, and an event featuring civilian memories of World War II.