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Getting students involved with German history

Partnership with Germany Embassy to bring events, exhibits and a piece of the Berlin Wall to campus

Image of Henry Thomson, Volker Benkert and Richard Amesbury speaking in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall at it's unveiling event in October.

Speakers say a few words at the unveiling of the Berlin Wall on ASU's Tempe campus.

January 27, 2022

Arizona State University has partnered with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany over the last two years to bring events, exhibits and a piece of the Berlin Wall to campus, all for students to interact with and help them better understand German history.

The initiative, which is titled “Germany in USA,” began in 2020 through a partnership with the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, School of Politics and Global Studies and School of International Letters and Cultures at ASU. It started as a virtual lecture series around Germany’s reckoning with its Nazi and socialist dicatorship.

“With the support of the German Embassy, we invited world-leading scholars to speak to (students) about the history of democracy in Germany and the relevance of that history for American democracy today,” said Henry Thomson, assistant professor of political science and a member of the organizing team for the initiative. 

Thomson, along with German Lecturer Christiane Reves and Assistant Professor of history Volker Benkert, chose three themes for the initiative to revolve around in 2021: German elections, the future of memory for young Germans and Jewish life in Germany.

“Although focused on Germany, many of the questions we hope to explore around dictatorial oppression, the power of popular protest and the belief in representative democracy are relevant beyond Germany and … also speak to the stories that our colleagues tell,” Benkert said.

A piece of the Berlin Wall was acquired as part of the initiative in spring 2021 as a long-term loan from the German Honorary Consul Carolin Gey and the German cultural center and restaurant Treffpunkt. With their help, and the help of ASU staff and facilities management, the wall was delivered to the Tempe campus in October. 

At an unveiling event during Humanities Week, students from the three ASU schools, as Thomson stated, “got a unique, direct perspective of repression in communist East Germany by viewing a real piece of the Berlin Wall.”

Benkert is organizing a research opportunity for students to build out an exhibit for the wall this semester.

“A group of undergraduate and graduate students will develop a small exhibition around the Berlin Wall fragment on display at the fourth floor of the Lattie F. Coor Hall building,” Benkert said. “Our main goal is to present the fall of the Berlin Wall as a result of the mass demonstrations in East Germany in 1989 in the context of the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe, especially Poland.”

As a new year for this initiative begins, there are many more events to come. 

“I would like people to take away from the lectures and the exhibition that Germany's way to come to terms with the two dictatorships on its soil in the 20th century is far from complete,” Benkert said. “It is an ongoing process with constant new challenges on how our history shapes us today.”

To stay up to date on the initiative, see upcoming events and exhibitions and view recorded lectures, visit the Germany in USA website.

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