The Catholic University of America

Nov. 2, 2009

CUA Students to Rebuild and Tear Down the Berlin Wall 20 Years Later

  From left, Katie Baxter, a senior from Herndon, Va., and Jenni Krichbaum, a senior from Germantown , Md., stand with Kate Jacob, a sophomore from Princeton, N.J., and Professor Bornholdt in front of the 8-foot-tall replica of the Berlin Wall.

Nearly 200 students at The Catholic University of America will build replicas of the Berlin Wall, dramatically re-enact Germany's bifurcation and reunification, and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the wall's dismantling with a feast of bratwurst, potato salad, Black Forest cake and other German foods.

On Monday, Nov. 2, students in the university's German Club placed one replica of the Berlin Wall - 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide, covered with graffiti, as was the real thing - outside the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. Special T-shirts, which are being sold in the Pryzbyla Center for $10 each, are the ticket to gain entrance to the big event on the actual 20th anniversary of the dismantling of the wall.

That big event, on Monday, Nov. 9, begins at 7 p.m. in the Pryzbyla Center's Great Room A, where the German Club will screen "Ode to Joy and Freedom: The Fall of the Berlin Wall," a 50-minute documentary about the end of the Second World War, the Cold War, the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall and the events that led to its 1989 dismantling and Germany's reunification.

After the documentary, students and faculty will be divided according to the color of their T-shirts (which are being sold in red or yellow). Each color cohort will enter Great Room B of the Pryzbyla Center from a separate side, with the two groups completely separated from each other by another replica of the Berlin Wall. The participants will then join in tearing down this wall and celebrate their "reunion" with catered German Oktoberfest food and 1980s music and dance.

A sound system will play recordings of American presidents speaking at the Berlin Wall" (e.g., Ronald Reagan's 1987 "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and John F. Kennedy's 1963 "I am a Berliner").

"We're doing this to remember the event that ended the Cold War and reunited 80 million Germans that had been separated for 28 years," says Claudia Bornholdt, assistant professor of German and faculty adviser to the German Club, who was born and raised in Germany.

"It will be a big celebration," says the professor. "Though we'll also make the point to the students that there are still a lot of walls left in the world, we want to show that it is possible to peacefully dismantle walls, as was done in Germany 20 years ago."

For the students, it's an opportunity to do something creative and viscerally connect with a historical event that happened before most of them were born, says Bornholdt. "It's one thing to talk and read about the Berlin Wall, and it's another thing to build an 8-foot-high replica of the wall and stand in front of it."

The professor notes that the students will symbolically relive the German experience of being separated from family and friends. Students who buy two T-shirts - for themselves and a friend who'll also attend - will be given two different colors so that friends will be separated by the replica wall at the Nov. 9 event.

"That's part of the reality," says Bornholdt. "The wall separated family members and close friends."

For professors who were born and raised in Germany, the event will have a more emotional meaning. "Every time I see the documentary we'll be showing, it makes me cry," says Bornholdt. "Every German has a very emotional reaction to this history."

Another CUA professor of German, Hanna Marks, will speak at the event about her memories of the wall and how it separated her family.

CUA German students organized the entire event with the help of their friends. Students in CUA's School of Architecture and Planning designed the T-shirts and helped to design the indoor and outdoor replicas of the wall. Although organized by the German Club, the event is co-sponsored by the History Club, and is supported by $3,000 from the university's Student Fee Allocation Board.

The event is open to students, faculty and staff who purchase and wear their T-shirt, which are being sold from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Nov. 2 through Nov. 9. For more information, contact Bornholdt at or 202-319-5240.

MEDIA: To cover the event, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in Catholic University's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.