Facing the Wall: Four Personal Perspectives

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It can easily be imagined that this massive construction was experienced in different ways by different persons; and The Wende Museum has pursued a program of acquiring a wide range of artifacts, documents, photographs, uniforms and signage, all vividly recording the realities of the Berlin Wall and what it meant to live or work in its shadow during the Iron Curtain years. For the specifically human element, the Museum turned to its oral history program to incorporate suitable video interviews into its presentation.

The current exhibition includes interactive excerpts from four oral histories conducted in 2006 with key figures whose lives were deeply imprinted by their proximity to the Wall. The first of these is the testimony of Hagen Koch, a former State Security officer who had been present when the original borderline was drawn dividing the city and who in later years has acted as an informal chronicler of Wall history. His recollections are augmented by the memories of Peter Bochmann, a former border officer who served some twenty years with the passport control section at the East Berlin port of entry used by tourists, foreigners and the diplomatic corps where many a major or minor confrontation occurred.

From the Western side comes Thierry Noir, an artist who was part of a small group of painters who, after 1980, turned the west face of the Wall into a transitional work of art, embellishing it with daring designs and bold splashes of color. His opposite number in the initial aftermath of the Wall’s opening was Alwin Nachtweh, one of the most active of the so-called “wall peckers,” hastening its very removal one colorful chip at a time for the very lucrative souvenir trade.

Four oral histories: four contrasting accounts of the power and the purpose of the best-remembered symbol of the Cold War. If any one message is to be taken from a visit to The Wende Museum it is that the Berlin Wall held an abundance of meanings: confinement and a fortified border for the East Germans, tourist object in the West, an endless canvas for a painter, a place of regular employment for a guard, an inexhaustible subject of research and expertise for a veteran officer, and--for the entrepreneur--a profitable source of income over the short term “when the Wall came down.” 

All interviews were conducted in 2006 by John Ahouse, The Wende Museum’s Curator of Special Collections.

Continue to:

Facing the Wall: Crossing the Border
Facing the Wall: A Day in East Berlin
Facing the Wall: Wall Pecking

Return to:

Facing the Wall
Facing the Wall: Building the Berlin Wall