Twenty Five years ago, on November 9, 1989, the 12-foot high Berlin Wall, with its mounted razor wire, manned guard towers, and the adjoining forbidding “strip of death,” all of a sudden, was no longer the brutal towering barrier that prevented East Germans from escaping West to freedom; the wall was coming down.
Woodgrove High School students from Lovettsville, an historic German settlement, and students from Western Loudoun County, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall by “protesting” what the German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, once described as the “wall of shame.”
Students spoke of the offending wall in German and said: “Nie wieder” – Never again!; they said, “Genug!”- Enough!, just as you’d push back against a bully; and they said, as if they were standing before the original wall themselves, “Wir sind frei” – We are free.
Woodgrove’s German teacher, Effie Hall, led the charge to organize a memorial to freedom by building a wall with the same dimensions in height and depth as the original in Berlin.
On November 17, in the corridor leading to the school entrance, the towering wall was unveiled, John Jose, Woodgrove’s Technology teacher, who built the wall with the students, pulled back the blue tarp, revealing the political graffiti, and students stood before the wall in protest, carrying signs mimicking the protests of those who did so before them but who did so at the risk of life and limb, proclaiming, “Wir sind das Volk,” the main slogan of the defiant East German demonstrators, letting the East German communists know, “We are the people.”
President John F. Kennedy once proclaimed in Berlin that: “All free men wherever they may live are citizens of Berlin.”
Effie knew this to be true, though she never lived in Berlin, ever since she knew her mother had to escape to freedom so she could live; her mother walked through the fiery rubble of Dresden in World War II to escape the horror of the lifeless innocent, wondering why she was spared, to find a new life in Bavaria, to have her daughter, Effie.
Effie knew family that fell on either side of the cutting knife’s edge, between East and West, divided by that wall in Berlin.
Effie took heart in 1989 when protesters stormed the West German Embassy in Prague to escape the East.
Then, in November, 1989, her friend, the school librarian, called Effie from class to the LoudounValley School library, to a back room with a tv, where she saw and heard CNN announce that freedom had finally arrived for East Germany; the wall was coming down. Effie couldn’t do anything but cry. “I cried,” Effie said. So did the librarian who alerted her. The students looked on.
Effie said, “It changed everything.”
Effie says one lesson she teaches her students draws upon two phrases from a song in protest: “Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken und Mauern entzwei” and “Die Gedanken sind frei.” It means: “My thoughts tear all gates and walls apart” and “thoughts are free.”
The thought of freedom – of Freiheit – begat action, the sustained peaceful protest that tore down this oppressive symbol, restoring freedom to the German people.
The lesson is that the thought of freedom, by itself, is critical to having freedom and we must be vigilant in our time to preserve and protect this human right because – Wir auch sind das Volk – We are also the people.
(To watch a youtube video of the event – http://youtu.be/I_w-TRplCg0 )