The fall of the Berlin wall - 25 years later
Anthonya Visser, Professor of German Language and Literature, was a PhD candidate in East Berlin just before the fall of the wall. The 'Wende' became the theme of her research. 'My focus is always strongly on the East German perspective.' On 7 November Visser will give a lecture in the Studium Generale series, looking back at the fall of the wall and its impact.
Where were you on 9 November 1989, the day the wall fell?
‘I was at home in Amsterdam watching the TV. I found the images both thrilling and very moving. I don't think it would have made a great difference if I had been there in person. In the months before, I had been staying in East Berlin for my research. It was an exciting time.People were protesting about their lack of freedom. I saw armoured vehicles on the Alexanderplatz and everyone was afraid there would be a violent reaction against the protesters. My East German friends suspected that something major was about to happen, but at the start of October I had to return to the Netherlands for appointments here. I wanted to know how everyone was doing after the initial euphoria, so I returned to East Berlin a few months later.'
What did the fall of the wall mean for you personally?
‘The events have had a real impact on my life, both personally and in my work. The fall of the wall and reflecting on its significance have become the key theme of my research. It has made me more aware of the role of coincidence and the fact that the course of your life and the choices you make are very dependent on the country where you are living.'
What is your research about?
‘I study all possible cultural expressions, from film and drama to literature and public debates. The East German perspective is always key focus of my analyses. Colleagues who have never been in the GDR don't always take this approach. The former East Germans have really progressed, but unificatin also had some negative consequences for them. They felt belittled, and certainly at the beginning West Germans always got the more important jobs.'
How did you come to be in East Germany at that time?
‘In ’87 – ’88 I was carrying our PhD research in East Berlin, based on a cultural treaty between the Netherlands and the GDR. My research was about poetry in the GDR. At that time both the East and the West Germans believed that poetry always contained a political message, even if the author never intended any such message. In the Soviet Union, people were enjoying increasing freedom thanks to the reforms made by Gorbachev. It was not the same in the GDR; the regime there responded to these developments by becoming more repressive.'
So the opening up of the wall on 9 November ‘89 came as a big surprise?
‘It did, although the climate had already changed when I went back there for a short while in the summer of 1989. The level of unrest had increased. The border with Hungary had just been opened, and many East Germans fled there.'
What will your lecture be about?
‘I will show fragments from documentaries and films, like Das Leben der Anderen, about life in the GDR and the fall of the wall. I will also talk about literature over the past 25 years. At first there was a lot of criticism of the GDR. Then a new generation of writers came along, who had not had direct experience of the regime, and who took a more positive view. In recent years a lot of novels have appeared that look at the history through the eyes of a family, which makes these stories more personal. The way we look back says a lot about the present day and about who is doing the looking back.’
(5 November 2014)