The Berlin Wall

Florian Schäffer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Divided Germany – some background

This short article gives you a brief primer on the history of divided Germany, that period after World War II (from 1945 to 1990) when Germany was divided into socialist (Soviet Union) and capitalist (United States) spheres of influence.

This nine-minute podcast, broadcast on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, gives you some good information about the construction and impact of the wall on the city of Berlin:

Your task: why was the Berlin Wall built? Did the East German government achieve its aims with the wall?

Walled In: The Berlin Wall in detail

This computer animation gives you a detailed look at how the Berlin Wall worked:

Your task: what would make a country build such a formidable barrier?

Peter Schneider’s The Wall Jumper

In previous versions of this course I had students read the novel The Wall Jumper by Peter Schneider. It appeared in the early 1980s and was told from the perspective of a West Berliner who had contacts with people in East Berlin. By this time it was relatively easy to travel to East Berlin if you were a westerner: you had to pay a visa fee plus exchange 25 West German Marks for 25 East German Marks for each day you were in the east (this was a way for the East German government to earn foreign exchange). I visited East Germany a lot at this time as well (I went four times to East Germany in the 1980s, visiting friends in the city of Leipzig).

For this version of the course I thought I would have students read instead Ian McEwan’s excellent introduction to the Schneider’s novel. You’ll find it here:

Your task: the most famous quotation from the novel is repeated at the end of the review: “It will take us longer to tear down the Wall in our heads than any wrecking company will need for the Wall we can see.” This is especially ironic after 1989; the wall was quickly dismantled, but the divisive effects of the wall seem to linger. Remember, though, that Schneider wrote the novel at a time when no one really thought that the wall would ever go away. It was so large and dominating; it seemed permanent. Discuss your impressions of Schneider’s novel (as seen through this article by McEwan). What, exactly, is the object of Schneider’s criticisms, according to McEwan?

NPR Talk of the Nation: Germany Undivided

Talk of the Nation is a call-in radio show from National Public Radio. This episode was broadcast 9 November 1999, the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here’s the description of the show from the NPR website:

The Berlin Wall came down ten years ago, and while no one expected half a century of political division could be undone in less than a decade, many are surprised by the degree to which East and West Germany have remained culturally distant. Join Melinda Penkava and guests to trace the ways Germany’s division has influenced its culture over the past sixty years.

OTTOMAR RUDOLPH *German and Humanities professor, Reed College *Former visiting professor at Freiberg and Munich Universities
JOACHIM HELFER *Author, Kohn & Koenig (Suhrkamp, 1998) and Du Idiot (Suhrkamp, 1994) *1992 and 1999 winner of the Hamburg Literary Award
GABRIELA MENDLING *Author, Neuland (“New Country”)
MIKE SHUSTER *NPR Diplomatic Correspondent *Covered events in Germany in 1989.

Listen to the program here:

Your task: when listening to the program, pay attention to what the callers say, and compare that with what the experts (the guests listed above) say. Are their views of the fall of the wall and its repercussions for Germany similar or different?

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but traces of it can still be found around Berlin. Here are three examples:

Here are websites of the places visited in the video:

German Historical Museum

Berlin Wall Memorial

East Side Gallery

Your task: after viewing the video, discuss what you think might be the pros and cons of one of the ways the wall has been memorialized.


Ostalgia is a German neologism that was invented after reunification.  It’s a combination of the words “ost” (= east) and “Nostalgie” (=nostalgia): in other words, nostalgia for the east, for the former German Democratic Republic.

For this discussion, please read these two articles:

Your task: remembering the GDR is problematic. On the one hand, it was a country that committed many human rights abuses and denied its citizens basic political freedoms. On the other hand, people have fond memories of their earlier lives and feel as if reunification with West Germany was more of a takeover than a merger. Does Ostalgie heal the rift between the two parts of Germany or exacerbate the problems?

Border of Light

To mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, brothers Marc and Christopher Bauder were commissioned to create a memorial. They came up with the Lichtgrenze (Border of Light), a chain of thousands of standalone lamps that traced the wall’s path through Berlin.

Read this interview with Marc Bauder:

Marking History with a Border of Light

You can also watch these two videos:

MAKING OF_ LICHTGRENZE from bauderfilm on Vimeo.

Your task:  is the Lichtgrenze an effective memorial? How does it compare to some of the other memorials you’ve seen of the wall (for example in the ProfMoment in this module)? Would you have done anything differently?