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On 30th Anniversary Of Berlin Wall's Fall, New College Students Knock Down Their Own

Students take sledgehammers to a replica of the Berlin Wall at New College of Florida, November 8, 2019.
Students take sledgehammers to a replica of the Berlin Wall at New College of Florida, November 8, 2019. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, students and faculty at New College of Florida swung their sledgehammers Friday and knocked down a replica of the infamous wall, which they'd built on campus in September as a way to study the history of the era and how societal divisions persist today.

The wall came down in a matter of minutes. It was a joyful moment for students who've spent months studying the wall that kept democratic West Berlin apart from Communist East Germany. 

Visiting assistant professor Lauren Hansen gives a talk in front of the mock wall.
Visiting assistant professor Lauren Hansen gives a talk in front of the mock wall, just before students knock it down. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF

Jay Stewart says the project made him reflect on the situation at the US-Mexico border.

"When we think of walls, we think of borders. There's this lack of respect, there's a lack of understanding that on the other side of that is another human being."

For Noah Opalsky, the project was about history repeating itself.  

"I think it's the past calling on the present. We have all these issues with borders and migration and getting met at the border with tear gas rather than a handshake or a hug,” he said.

"This project really spoke to that. And really got everyone thinking. That's how the world is right now."

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The shattered wall. Thomas Iacobucci/WUSF

Knocking it down "was really fun,” added Opalsky. “It feels like closure, to a piece of the semester and a piece of history.”

Students say they hope their generation won't repeat the mistakes of the past.

Student Jay Stewart holds a piece of the wall.
Student Jay Stewart holds a piece of the wall. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF
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The project was spearheaded by visiting assistant professor of German, Lauren Hansen. 

Scuplture professor Ryan Buyssens helped students build the wall out of wood planks and drywall in September. Drama professor Diego Villada coached the students as they re-enacted historical speeches from the era, including John F. Kennedy's 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, and Ronald Reagan's famous words to Mikhail Gorbachev: "Tear down this wall."

Students stand in rubble of wall.
The wall stood for almost two months. Students knocked it down the day before the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF

Student Emma Sunderman re-enacted a speech given on the east side of wall, days before it came down, by East German author Christa Wolf.

The Berlin Wall was erected by East Germany in 1961, and finally came down on November 9, 1989.

Pieces of the wall, after it fell.
Pieces of the wall, after it fell. Thomas Iacobucci/WUSF