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UW students tear down mock Berlin Wall
Hands-on history

UW students tear down mock Berlin Wall

'The Cold War was not fun'

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LARAMIE -- Barbed wire snaked its way across the top of the wall, threatening any hands that would dare to climb.

Graffiti marred every inch of its surface. "Love to freedom," one mark said. "Berlin, get human," read another.

But in the end, this Berlin Wall was made of drywall and plywood and came down on Prexy's Pasture here Thursday at the hands of University of Wyoming students wielding sledgehammers.

The mock wall was the first in a series of events at the college marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a concrete Iron Curtain built between West Germany and communist East Germany in 1961 and crossed en masse by East Germans in 1989.

Stephanie Anderson, a political science professor and the brains behind the mock wall at UW, was an eyewitness to the wall's fall on Nov. 9, 1989.

"It was one of the most exciting moments of my life," Anderson told a crowd of about 100 students, faculty and visitors gathered on UW's campus Thursday. Hundreds of people died trying to reach West Germany from East Germany, Anderson said.

When, after several weeks of unrest, East German officials announced that their citizens could visit West Germany -- including West Berlin -- throngs of East Germans climbed over the wall Nov. 9. It meant the beginning of the end of the Cold War, Anderson said.

"Just imagine for a second Berlin and Germany during the Cold War," said Thomas Risse, an adjunct professor of global studies at UW.

Watchtowers were manned 24 hours a day by soldiers commanded to shoot anyone who moved, he said. Some 20,000 nuclear weapons stood ready on either side of the wall.

"The Cold War was not fun," Risse said.

One at a time, people young and old took turns donning safety goggles and hurling crowbars and sledgehammers at the symbolic wall in Laramie on Thursday. 

Anthony Farmer wasn't alive when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. But he grabbed a sledgehammer anyway and broke apart a toilet-bowl sized piece of plywood Thursday.

"It's a great thing to get involved in the university and to celebrate the history that allows us to do the things we do today," Farmer, a political science major, said. 

Cheers arose from the crowd as Kurt White, 18, ripped drywall from the wooden beams. The senior at Laramie High School dabbles in history and politics and said the fall of the Berlin Wall was a huge historical event.

"I find history interesting in general," White said. "So I figured why not get in on the fun."

Tanja Boerzel, a native of Germany and an adjunct professor of global studies at UW, said the Berlin Wall was more symbolic than anything else.

"It was something people could immediately relate to," Boerzel said after most of the crowd had taken whacks at the wall.

East Germans breaking through the wall -- and breaking free of communist East Germany -- was their statement about how they wanted to live their lives, she said.  

The same sentiment that tore the wall down will be what prevents another wall from being put up again, Boerzel said.

Reach education reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.


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