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October 17, 2014

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25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall

A collaboration across Syracuse University has four different schools celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in an artistic- and figuratively concrete – way.

by Sydney Franklin, Goldring Arts Journalism Program

The School of Architecture has joined Maxwell’s International Relations department and the Moynihan European Research Center, the Department of Language, Literature and Linguistics and VPA to bring a replica wall to life on SU’s campus.

Assistant professor of architecture Jonathan Louie has teamed up with eight architecture undergraduate and graduate students to construct the walls that are set to stand for one week before being ceremoniously knocked down on Saturday, Oct. 25.

On Sunday, Oct. 19, two 10-segment wooden and foam walls will stand in front of Crouse College. At 40 feet long, 8 feet high and 4 feet wide, the walls will create a physical barrier for students to experience the feeling of entrapment found in Berlin during the three decades the wall stood. On Monday, October 20th, students will have the opportunity to draw on the wall replica from 12:45 to 2:45 pm. This will be preceded by a talk by Professor Louie at 12:30.

Graduate students Ray Sova and Anthony Principe have collectively put in over 65 hours on the project within the last week. They’ve dealt with over 300 wooden spindles and loads of foam to assemble the life-size walls. This campus event has turned into an impromptu exhibition for the students at the architecture school. Though Louie and his team had just over one month to plan the installation, he welcomed the challenge and chance to work with other schools.

“Walls are really important in the history of architecture and it’s exciting to physically build this kind of representational barrier on campus,” Louie said. “We want students to be within the two walls and to feel that sense of containment and hopelessness.”

Louie was given permission to run free with the project by Maxwell’s chair of international relations and head of the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall event series Mary Lovely. “Architecture took this way beyond our expectations,” she said. “The wall was a huge physical presence in people’s lives and a huge presence in international relations. We want students to feel that presence physically here at Syracuse.”

Lovely worked with the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. to coordinate the Fall of the Berlin Wall campus event series. The physical construction of the walls is just one of many events including lectures, films and conversations happening on campus over a two-week period.

On Monday, over 40 local high school students studying German, including groups from Fayetteville-Manlius and Onondaga County High Schools, will arrive on campus to begin drawing on the walls – a nod to the famous graffiti done to the wall’s side facing West Berlin.

One wall will be made of a solid foam frame and painted a neutral gray. It will be open to large-scale illustrations and representations on one of its sides, symbolizing the idea that people could walk right up to the border wall and touch it in Berlin.

The other wall will be an open wooden box frame comprised of various primary shapes that students can step into, representative of high Russian constructivism. This wall suggests the other types of materials used to physically keep people from crossing the border including barbed wire, steel mesh and signal fencing. The space in between the two parallel walls is representative of no man’s land, the barren gap that was 30 to 100 yards wide and patrolled by tanks and soldiers.

Louie plans to give the visiting high school classes loose instructions in drawing on the walls, but SU students and community members can come throughout the week to add to the graffiti. “Just like the actual wall in Berlin, our wall will be an overlay of ideas over a period of time and a compounding of messages,” Louie said.

The foam wall with graffiti provides an opportunity for students to artistically express their emotions towards the event. The open frame wall gives students a different chance to feel the intense sense of segregation and loneliness found in the city during that time. “In this wall, you don’t experience what you see when you experience the solid wall,” Louie said. “It gives off a sense of isolation. One person can duck inside to be alone with their thoughts, or two people can squeeze inside to experience it together.”

Construction on the Berlin Wall began in August 1961 by the German Democratic Republic. Eventually, it completely surrounded West Berlin, totaling 96 miles long. The portion that split Soviet-occupied East Berlin from the German West Berlin was 29 miles. The wall was meant to prevent emigration and defection from East Germany to the West. Today, remnants of the Berlin Wall remain in the city, reminding the people of their fresh rebirth. Syracuse students and community members can commemorate the wall’s final destruction in this unique, synergetic event.

German Embassy representative Maria Adebahr, First Secretary of the Political Affairs Department, will travel to Syracuse for the “tearing down the wall.” She grew up in East Germany and was 14 years old when the city was liberated on Nov. 9, 1989.

Check the official event website for further information on the schedule of events.