Grafenwoehr Elementary students stop to reflect, break down the Berlin wall
November 24, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Grafenwoehr Elementary School celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
The Berlin Wall, built on Aug. 13, 1961, served as a border between East and West Berlin and was a symbol of the Cold War. At 96 miles long and approximately 12 feet tall, it separated families, friends and countrymen.
The first pieces of the wall were opened Nov. 9, 1989, symbolizing the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. The wall, almost completely torn down by 1991, left behind only a few reminders. A red line was painted on the pavement at the former "Checkpoint Charlie" to mark the course of the former Berlin Wall in 1997, and a remnant of the Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse was inaugurated as a wall memorial, Aug. 13, 1998.
Host nation teacher Frau Elfride Kean and several students from each fourth and fifth grade class worked hard to put together an assembly for students, faculty and guests that would clarify the events surrounding the Berlin Wall.
Through several PowerPoint presentations, students explained the timeline of events that led to the division of Berlin, and showed pictures of the wall being built as the barrier between East and West Berlin. Students also explained what it was like for Berliners during the 28 years the wall stood, the excitement when the wall came down, and what Berlin is like today.
"This is a lot of learning and thinking for the kids ... they put the pictures into the slides with two pictures per slide at the most, and they had to have a sentence per picture with slide animation," Kean said.
Fifth grader and Student Council vice president Ryan Randle welcomed students and guests to the assembly. She also presented "9 November 1989, the day the wall was opened," with classmate Haley Connell. "After 20 years, I would be graduated from high school ... it seems kind of strange to be away from your family for that amount of time because of the wall and the guards," Randle said.
Fourth grader Abriah Batts presented "Berlin today," which was organized by Pearl Clark's fourth grade class. Batts was very excited about presenting facts about Berlin to the assembly. She felt lucky to have been born after the wall fell, as well as not having family in Berlin during this time.
"I am glad I was born in 2000, and not any time during when the wall was up," Batts said.
During the assembly each class was separated into two groups by a mock Berlin Wall. Several skits took place with a student from each side wanting to visit someone on the opposite side of the wall but being unable to do so.
Graffiti posters marked the west side of the wall, which depicted the freedom of West Berliners. There was no graffiti on the east side, representing the oppression East Berlin suffered. Soldiers from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy shop built the mock wall during their day off.
Guest speaker Maj. Jim Amundson, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, delivered the closing remarks for the program. He spoke to students and guests about being stationed in West Berlin while the wall was still up. "Being an American Soldier in a mostly Soviet controlled area back then and compared to now is a completely different experience," Amundson said.
For Kean, depicting the tragedy of the Berlin Wall was deeply personal. She had an older half brother in East Berlin who did not know she existed until Dec. 14, 1989. Over the last 20 years Kean built a relationship with her brother who recently died.
She has always shared her story with her students because she wanted them to understand what it was like to live in a country that had been divided because of war.
"If you are free you can do so many things, but if you are not free you are in a cage ... wherever you go you hit a barrier that says you cannot go on," Kean said. "The feeling of being free is so valuable."