As those of you who watched the news today know, it is the anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall. We had a post here on the Attic some time back about the Wall being a destination for dark tourism and some of our cohort "celebrated" today by going to a lecture on German Expressionism at New Walk museum. I had my commemorative moment by re-watching Goodbye Lenin the other night. It reminded me of my childhood.
I was born on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The summer I was conceived, my parents were on a road trip through Hungary, and stopped at a bookstore, so my mother (who had gone to a special language school and learned English) could buy forbidden foreign literature to keep up her English skills. There, she bumped into a woman from Germany, and for many years, they kept up a connection that crossed political boundaries. My mother recalls how she and my father were treated like exotic animals when they went to visit in the late 1980s; how much anxiety and hostility there was on the part of West Germans to reunification for cultural and political reasons. I remember with what shock I viewed the tall, lean, German woman in a floor-length fur coat who entered our two-room apartment in 1989 - she was like a glamorous alien from another world, dwarfing our lives with the unaccustomed gestures of freedom.
I don't remember the fall of the Wall. Reports of it were heavily censored in Soviet Russia, though my grandfather's seditious loyalty to the BBC World Service probably ensured that we knew before the official channels announced it. What I do remember is watching my parents' faces as the footage streamed into our living room on the tiny screen of our black-market colour television. Aged 7, I didn't understand why people scrambling over graffitied concrete was so important (I was probably more shocked by the presence of graffiti, being then, and continuing now to be, a very uptight sort of person) - I did understand, by the looks on my parents' faces, that what was happening was important, possibly life-changing. I wasn't aware, really, of the significance of the fact that my uncles had fled as refugees to the US months earlier; I didn't know that in less than a year, we would ourselves emigrate and settle in Canada. I wasn't included in adult discussions of political and religious repression, their frustration at the lack of an acceptable living standard (food shortages that lead to rationing and the spectre of Chernobyl, I do recall), or their painful knowledge that there was a better life beyond the boundary marked by the Wall which was denied to them in Moscow. But I do know, now, that the short years 1988-1991 were ones in which people-power and the will to change ended in results. It wasn't ideal (too much, too soon), but it did change my life and the lives of millions of people. November 9, 1989 was an important day, and I would venture to say, a good day.
But, lest we forget... There are still many walls.
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.