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Missouri College Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of Berlin Wall Coming Down

Next Monday marks the 20 year anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. The liberal arts college here in Missouri where Winston Churchill gave his speech referencing the Iron Curtain will hold its own anniversary celebration this weekend and Monday night. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.

Just as Winston Churchill's speech became a key moment in early Cold War history, the fall of the Berlin Wall became a symbol of the Iron Curtain and communism coming down. For many of us, we remember where we were twenty years ago as we saw images of excited faces and sledgehammers hacking away at the concrete wall. But for most of today's college students like Christopher Arnold, they only know about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall by way of history books.Arnold says, “Most of us in college nowadays were born just as the wall was falling. So, even though we were alive at that point, it doesn’t really connect to us very much.”

The anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down resonates with the Westminster College campus in Fulton because it was here in 1946 that Winston Churchill declared an Iron Curtain had descended across the continent of Europe. The college also is home to the largest complete section of the Berlin Wall in the United States. It arrived on campus in 1990, thanks to a request from Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys. She created a sculpture using the wall panels by cutting out silhouettes of a man and woman, giving people the chance to walk quite literally through the wall.

“What was the symbol of oppression and fear now can be considered a symbol of freedom.”

That symbol will be celebrated this weekend on the Westminster campus with a debate tournament focused on topics related to the Cold War. Gregory Rockson, who is originally from Ghana is president of the Westminster debate society. He says the Berlin Wall coming down sends an important message that still resonates with people all over the world.

Rockson says, “No matter how long freedom takes, it will surely come. People might set up boundaries to prevent people from understanding the truth but freedom is something that is innate, is within human beings and is something we cannot suppress. The more you try to suppress freedom, the more people yell for it. And as such, people cannot build walls to prevent people from understanding what freedom really means.”

The centerpiece of the anniversary celebration at Westminster will happen Monday night. In preparation for the event, students built replicas of the eight panels of the Berlin Wall that stand on the Westminster campus. Student Christopher Arnold describes how the panels were built.

Arnold says, “We picked up all the materials at a lumber store in town. Then we put together the first section. It had a wooden frame and then drywall was screwed to the wooden frame. Then you just paint it gray"But if you’ve ever seen sections of the Berlin wall, you know that much of the wall wasn’t gray. Many of the panels were covered in graffiti. In some ways, the wall was like a giant canvas. So, to give the replica panels a more authentic look, they were set up around town so people could cover them in graffiti. Bush Elementary School students used paint markers to add graffiti to a panel.

With the replica panels covered in graffiti, Westminster student Philip Mohr says they’re ready for Monday night’s event.“At the same time twenty years ago that the original wall was allowed to be torn down, we will push over our sections of the wall, making our own breakthrough, as it were.”Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys says she’s pleased the students at Westminster chose to re-live the fall of the Berlin Wall.Sandys says, “It’s rather an exciting idea. I think what it does is reminds them of 20 years ago but it also lets them participate as if they’re really going back in time. It brings it right into their consciousness.”

Westminster College President Barney Forsythe lived in West Berlin, inside the wall for three years. He says knocking down a replica of the wall in the shadow of the actual Berlin Wall is a fitting way to mark the 20th anniversary. He hopes it will make the meaning of the event as real for the students as it is for him.“My wife and I had the chance to go to Berlin in 2002. It was the first time we’d seen Berlin without the wall. We stood at Checkpoint Charlie and hugged each other and wept with joy that we could walk back and forth what used to be no man’s land. It’s just sort of another city block now. It’s pretty remarkable.”If you can’t make it to Fulton to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, college officials say you can learn a great deal about the history of the Cold War by visiting the campus anytime. There’s the section of the Berlin Wall on display. And the school houses the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library, which includes interactive exhibits on Churchill’s life.