Cindy on October 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm
I can remember the November night incredibly clearly. The Berlin wall, approximately 97 miles in length, surrounding former West Berlin, the site of over 900 shootings, 239 deaths, 200 injuries, was finally, incredibly, coming down. After standing for almost 28 years, dividing a nation and people since August 1961, thousands of men and women stood armed with sledgehammers, axes, and rudimentary objects of all sorts, banging away at the cement monster, as years of anger and bitterness fell away with each chunk that crumbled to the ground. I was both on the phone with people who were there at the wall that night, and watching it live on the t.v., pure euphoria was in the air. History of immeasurable proportions was in the making. Words failed at describing the emotion people felt, pictures barely did the night justice.
Now, almost 20 years later however there is a whole generation of people, the youth of Germany, that don’t know anything about former Eastern Germany, nor even anything about The Wall for that matter.
It seems, teachers in Germany have a common complaint with teachers here in the United States, “Too much history to cover in too little time”, and because of this, a huge number of students are uninformed about what went on. It’s taken decades for the educational system to grapple with how to teach about National Socialism, let alone communist East Germany. The GDR (German Democratic Republic, or DDR as the Germans would say) is part of school curricula at the end of the 10th grade, after the unit on World War II, but some teachers say they just never get to the GDR, because their students need more time to digest all of the heavy history before it.
So, what better way to teach something in-depth and hands-on than taking the class on a field trip? High school classes are now traveling to Berlin where remnants of the wall still stand and museums are in place for students to see, feel, and hear about what happened, not just read about it.
“In the end, I think the GDR amounts to a feeling,” said Abendroth. “What people experienced here, is essentially confined to this place,” she said. “And that is truly hard to convey. That’s why I think it’s important to come here, so that the students really get a chance to get to know what it was like.”
According to GDR Museum tour guide Hans-Michael Schulze, there’s a need for knowledge and he helps fill the gaps little by little.
After all, it is a painful and difficult part of history to share. Those that lived through it are probably happy to forget, and the few who want to share are probably encountering nothing short of what we’d experience here in the states, kids that really don’t want to sit around and listen to what it was like when Mom and Dad were younger.
At first thought it seems astonishing to me that something so historical could be so lost on today’s youth, but then all I have to do is pause and remember my mom’s stories. She attended a one-room school on the prairie that taught grades K-12 all in one room at the same time. She has told me about how my grandparents crossed the plains in a covered wagon and homesteaded in Colorado. Her home as a child was dirt-floored and the bath water was hauled from a creek and heated by coal in the furnace, and the baby of the five children bathed first, and the eldest last, everyone of them in the same bath water.
Thankfully, my mother also wrote and published a book about this, so that when her children finally got around to being interested in hearing her stories, there would be a place they could go to get the facts in case she wasn’t still alive.
So a distracted youth in California is not all that different than a distracted youth in Germany. The responsibility still rests upon the adults to educate children about the past. History is the mosaic from which we all came. Different pieces from each family make up a collective puzzle as a culture. Bad or good, it shouldn’t be ignored or forgotten. There’s always opportunity to learn from the past, and if it requires taking a bus to get there well, then, I’m getting aboard, because I can definitely benefit from a lesson or two.
John Adds: Great post. Can snapshots become part of the historical record? I was there in 1987 and snapped these: