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.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Humpty-Dumpty

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.

4 comments:

Amy said...

Thanks for this great and very evocative post J. I had planned to write about the perspective from the other side of the Wall, but you've reminded me that I've previously done that, in the post about Berlin, dark tourism and the Wall. But needless to say, as a thirteen year-old total 'news hound' it had a HUGE impact on my future academic career and my contemporaneous understanding of the world (perhaps more so than my contemporaries, as I was aware, even at that age, not just of the enormity of the event, but the likelihood that Europe was, as a result, on the cusp of revolution).

I recommend that everyone takes a few mins to have a look at a series of photographs of Berlin immediately post-fall uploaded to Flickr by 'Margareta (Maggan)' and taken by her husband.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23659815@N03/4086674730/in/photostream/

Ceri said...

Wow Julia that is a very interesting perspective and makes me feel how privileged we are in the West even if the Daily Mail and the Tory Party (and some elements of Labour) seem hell-bent on making it seem like the most depressing place on earth. Many of our walls are only in our minds, elsewhere they are depressingly real. It also shows that human beings are their own worst enemy - we have all these abundance of riches and the ability to do marvellous things but squander them seemingly in trying to outdo each other and try to control those things we are afraid of always at the expense of others.

As for my own recollections of the Wall I remember the fall of the wall being shown on children's TV, Going Live it was, with Philip Schofield and there was a competition to win a fragment. I remember it being very important although I cannot remember knowing exactly why. Still it was important to stick in my memory especially remembering the crowds of people rushing to knock down a symbol that meant so much more than a physical wall.

J said...

Thanks - I'm much better able now, as an adult, to evaluate those memories and that time in terms their importance to my own life. I think we all experience life-changing moments that redefine our sense of the world, even if we don't realise it at the time. The zeitgeist stays with you. I wonder what the next generation, defined by 9/11 or 7/7/7 will make of the world's boundaries (physical and psychological).
And Ceri - I agree, I think the good life makes one complacent. But I really value that complacency. I love living in a part of the world where I can afford to be complacent, where my political views don't really matter, and where politics is mostly hot air. Much better than living in seriously "important times," as the "Chinese curse" goes.

Elee said...

J, you're right about "important times" - we take our ease of life for granted. I met a 15 year old Afghan lad a few months ago (via a BL project) who had escaped being a child soldier with the Taliban to seek asylum over here. He said that young people in the UK have things easy, and should see what other countries are like. I asked if he liked being here, and he replied "Of course! It is heaven!" I've never heard such a heartfelt reply, and it brings a lump to my throat just to think of it!

So what do we, in museums, do with all of this feeling then?