Now We’re All Berliners

Posted November 3, 2009 at 4:48pm

With due respect to President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation, “Ich bin ein Berliner,— it seems that D.C.’s own Newseum is where we’re all Berliners — at least for a day.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall, the museum will host an interactive Berlin Wall Family Day on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

According to Newseum Executive Director Joe Urschel, “The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is particularly good for us. It teaches a really quick, easy lesson about the difference between open, free societies and closed, totalitarian societies.— The West Berlin side of the wall, he said, is covered in paint and graffiti while the East Berlin face is strikingly blank.

“When you have a society in which free expression is limited or lost, you have no ideas, you have no color, you have no joy, you have no life — you just have a blank, restrictive appearance in society.—

The event is part of an occasional series of family day programs tied to either an exhibit or an important anniversary. In the case of the Berlin Wall, the event works for both, since the museum already has a large piece of the wall as part of its collection. The family day will include speakers, games, a scavenger hunt and an open invitation to “exercise your freedom of expression— and paint on a re-creation of the wall.

“It’s an interesting dilemma for a museum to have a piece of graffiti,— Urschel said. The museum is caught between encouraging the freewheeling spirit of graffiti artists and preserving a piece of history. According to Urschel, the re-creation of the wall is an attempt to balance both impulses.

Painting, he said, “is something that kids like to do. Since we couldn’t let people do any kind of painting or graffiti on the real wall, let’s come up with something that’s a reasonable facsimile.—

In addition, D.C. artist Tim Conlon will be on hand to talk about the graffiti styles and techniques used on the wall. He is also slated to discuss the personal risks artists took in defacing the oppressive wall, since even the West Berlin side of the wall was technically within East German territory.

Ultimately, the Newseum sees a lesson about journalism in the fall of East Germany and the dismantling of the wall.

“It’s also a story about modern technology and information,— Urschel said. “They could keep people from coming in and they could keep people [from] going out, but they couldn’t keep news and information about what was going on in the world from breaching that— wall.