Woodgrove Commemorates Fall of Berlin Wall


Imagine waking up and realizing you can never see your family again. You walk outside and there are hundreds of guards stopping you from traveling to the next town over. They won’t even let you pass to get to your job. Overnight, a border has gone up that will change the lives of surrounding people dramatically.

On August 13, 1961, this was exactly what happened to millions of people living in Eastern Germany. Millions of people woke up that morning to find that a fence had been put up right through the middle of Berlin. Barbed wire and armed guards obstructed many East Germans from seeing their families. Some who worked on the West side of the capital city even lost their jobs.

Recently, new LCPS superintendent Dr. Eric Williams has said that he would like high schools to be integrating three things: world events, project learning, and cross-curricular topics. German Teacher Frau Effie Hall had the perfect idea. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the wall. The Woodgrove Community decided to celebrate this event by building their own version of the Berlin Wall. It follows the superintendent’s three categories beautifully.

This anniversary showcases an event that was momentous all over the world when it happened. The actual building and decorating of the wall is a huge, hands-on project for many students and even a few teachers. It was constructed by Tech-Ed teacher John Jose and his students out of 2×4 planks of wood with a height of 12 feet, the same height as the Berlin Wall in Germany. The German students at Woodgrove, and a few others, have designed 384 square feet of “graffiti” to cover the surface of the wall, similar to the paraphernalia present on the barricade from 1989.

Hall believes that this project is a fantastic opportunity for a “cross-curricular learning experience.” As well as Hall, English teacher Dr. Chris Cuozzo was greatly involved in the process of connecting this event to all the subject areas offered at Woodgrove High School.

Cuozzo believes that it is important for students “to see how language plays a role in history, politics, economics, science and technology and how all those things fit together.” He emphasizes that, in the real world, these subjects “don’t exist separately like they do in school.” The Berlin Wall project at Woodgrove effectively fits all these topics together. Both Hall and Cuozzo believe that the cross-curricular aspect of this event is very significant.

“I think the reality is that life is cross-curricular. Real life isn’t separated into these disciplinary boundaries, and any chance we get to help you guys see how life crosses those boundaries I think is important,” said Cuozzo.

The recreation of the Berlin Wall can directly relate to students who enjoy and/or excel in social studies, as there is a great amount of government involved. The history of what happened between East and West Germany is very important to understanding the freedom that it symbolized.

The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev relayed great amounts of oppression upon his German territory. Because of this, people of East Germany began fleeing west to freedom. The thousands of people leaving the GDR sent the Soviets into a panic. They decided on the night of August 12th to put up a barricade to cease the emigrating of their people.

Although it is easy to recognize this as an intranational conflict in Germany, the breakaway of East Germany from West greatly symbolized the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, also known as the Cold War. Since the United States occupied land in West Germany, they took great offense in the wall the Soviets put up them. Gorbachev sent a clear message to the United States by constructing the Berlin Wall.

A great deal of East Germans wanted the wall gone. Ever since it was put up, they had absolutely no contact with those in the west. The fortification caused great amounts of peaceful protest from people on both sides, as well as from France, Britain and the United States of America.

Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” marked the official end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was finally torn down on November 9, 1989. It was a cause for celebration all around the world. The people of East Germany were so ecstatic that they climbed up and started dancing on top of the wall that had caused them so much grief. East and West Germany were reunified on October 3, 1990, almost a year later.

Although this commemoration could take place anywhere, Frau Hall advocated several reasons why she chose to involve the students of Woodgrove.

Hall said, “In high school, we learn about world events, but they’re two-dimensional, and I wanted you all to have something that you all could actually look at and feel.”

She feels that building a real-life, tangible version of the Berlin Wall will help students to become involved and understand what really happened in August of 1961. She also hopes the Wall sitting under the portico in front of the school is something to which every student can relate, no matter their subject area.

The wall was unveiled at 8:00 a.m. on November 17, 2014, marking the first day of American Education Week. Many German students were roleplaying as the peaceful protesters in Berlin, carrying candles and signs that read “Wir sind das volk,” which translates to “We are the people.” A local Harris Teeter donated 500 bananas, which were known as the “freedom food” at the time of the fall of the wall because they were difficult to acquire in East Germany.

During FLEX that day, Woodgrove students were invited to join Frau Hall and the German students in the auditorium to discuss what happened 25 years in the past. Speakers included Mr. Skinner, Mr. Shipp, Frau Hall, and Dr. Cuozzo, who all discussed the peaceful protest that took place as well as their own recollections of what happened the day the wall fell down. English teacher Mrs. Lea Longerbeam, who owns a genuine piece of the Berlin Wall, also shared her stories.

To continue the Berlin Wall ceremonies, Frau Hall showed the movie “Good Bye, Lenin!” in the auditorium for all students who wished to attend. It shared the story of a man who lived during the time of the Berlin Wall. After the movie, speakers told the students about their personal stories from the fall of the wall. English teacher Samantha Purvis talked about how she was stationed in Berlin for 4 years, from 1977-1981. She describes her experience as “stepping into a different world.”

Tanja Woldt, mother of Freshman Paul Woldt, was living in West Berlin at the time the Berlin Wall was established. She had relatives living on the other the wall, to whom her family would send packages. Many never reached their destination due to the Soviet Union tampering with all of the mail. When the wall fell, she got an unexpected call from said relatives explaining that they had crossed the border into West Berlin and did not know where they were

. She and her mom went looking for them and were overwhelmed and confused by the amount of celebration all over Germany.

“I’ve never seen Germany, before or after, so happy, so friendly, so welcoming. It changed my whole perspective on life and the way I was raised,” said Woldt.

The final speaker was Mr. Werner Sӓmmler-Hindrichs, an American soldier who was drafted into the military in 1967. “Like most soldiers at that time,” he said, “we drank, chased women, and tried not to be court marshalled.”

Later on, President Reagan hired him as a Russian translator to work in the Soviet Zone of occupation, East Germany. On the night November 9, 1989, his friend showed up at his door, passing out hammers for people to beat the wall with. He rushed to the wall to celebrate the freedom with rest of the nation.

“I was assaulting it with a geological hammer, sitting on top of the wall drinking heavily and whooping it up,” said Hindrichs.

He described how people were crying, yelling, screaming, and basically showcasing every emotion. He said the partying seemed to go on forever for people of Germany as they were celebrating their patriotism, freedom and their unity.

Hindrichs emphasized how amazed he was that the people of Germany could protest until they made a change.

He said, “And they did it peacefully! Let’s bring that back.”