The anniversary conjures up strong emotions in many people from Central and Eastern Europe. For almost half a century, they lived under communist regimes imposed on them by the Soviet Union. Their separation from the Western world was most strongly felt in Berlin, where, in 1961, a wall was built surrounding the western sector of the city.
Aurel Braun, Professor of Political Science at U of T, explains that the purpose of the wall was “to prevent the East Germans from leaving. It was a symbol of the communist world: needing to build walls to keep their people in. The fall of that wall signaled freedom. It was a major sign that the Cold War was ending."
Braun adds that when the wall fell, “initially there was extraordinary euphoria. This was followed by a very difficult period, when tremendous expectations on both sides were not met.”
Strong economic and social divisions remained between East and West Berlin after 1989, but the city was now free and united. Around 10,000 people tried to escape East Berlin between 1961 and 1989, but only about half made it across. East German authorities killed 191 people trying to escape to the Western side.
The Goethe-Institute of Toronto has been commemorating the anniversary for the past month with a series of events, including book readings by German authors, film screenings, and photo exhibits. The events explore how ordinary people reacted to the changing political situation.
Christian Horn, program coordinator at the Goethe-Institute, explains that the events try to answer a common question: how did people manage to bring down the wall?
Many of the highlights are still to come. On November 6, Markus Meckel, the GDR's foreign minister in 1990, will be giving a talk at the Goethe-Institute on University Ave. The institute will also hold a “vintage throwback” techno night on November 7 at the Drake Hotel on Queen West. The event will feature German DJs and music from 1989.
Ruth Renters, the deputy director at the Goethe-Institute, hopes that the anniversary events emphasize a less discussed, but still important, time in Germany history.
"The events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequences world wide [can’t] be underestimated,” she said. "The Second World War and the Holocaust should not be the only topics addressed [in German history].”
The Toronto German Consulate is also hosting a photography exhibit about the Berlin Wall until the end of November. On November 16, Soundstreams, a cultural institute in Toronto, will be organizing its own photo exhibit and lectures at the Gardiner Museum.
For more info and schedules, visit the websites of the German Consulate www.toronto.diplo.de; the Goethe-Institute Toronto http://www.goethe.de/ins/ca/tor/enindex.htm; and Soundstreams www.soundstreams.ca.