The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was observed this November. The wall was built in 1961 in a communist Germany and divided the country. The wall fell on November 9, 1989. Emil Nagengast, professor of politics, gives an interview discussing the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Is it important that people reflect on this event?
Yes, the Cold War was dominant in my generation and young students can’t understand how significant that event was.
I studied abroad in Germany my junior year of undergraduate studies. I vividly remember a trip I took to West Berlin to see the wall. We could walk up a platform and look over the wall and you could see all the land mines and guard dogs and soldiers with guns on the other side. That hit me really hard as an undergraduate. I saw one way of living on one side of the wall, and on the other side was a completely different way of living.
This wall was as real as politics gets. This is what pushed me into wanting to study politics.
What is the most important lesson from the installation of the wall?
The lesson is that we can’t be afraid to stand up for human rights. We can’t allow ourselves to be afraid to identify injustices in the world. The lesson is that our system in the U.S. works and we shouldn’t be afraid to get leaders of oppressive governments out of power. We learned that we were right to stand up to a communist government that could only sustain its population by building a wall to trap people in.
The friends that I made in Germany that summer couldn’t leave their country. One night they were talking about what they would do if the wall were not there. They wanted simple things, like to go see a soccer game in West Germany or to ride a motorcycle in California. That moment when my German friends took me to the train station to see me out of the country was really something. I was off to continue my life and they were stuck. They were trapped like a prison. It was amazing when just a couple months later the wall fell in November ’89.
How did the wall affect the national image of Germany as a whole?
The reason Germany was divided by the wall was because of the cold war. Germany represented, better than any other country, the cold war. There were almost a million troops in Germany on each side of that wall because of it.
Do you think the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall received appropriate news coverage?
Yes, it received a lot of coverage. I thought that people usually waited until the 25th anniversary to make a big deal about things so I thought it was good. There were a lot of special features and documentaries on BBC and CNN.
-Caitlin Stormont ’10, Juniata Online Journalist