Archive for 1989

Bucharest, Romania

Posted in Romania with tags on December 31, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

Bucharest

Bucharest also hosted wreath-layings on the anniversary if the day that Ceauşescus fled the city. In 2009, the city was blanketed in snow, and much of the city’s bustle was in preparation for the encroaching Christmas day. Despite this, however, quite a number of people had stopped to reflect or to organize events. One student art group, for example, put up a public display featuring the scene of the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples but incorporating symbolic elements from 1989. They set up a videocamera behind the scene pointing toward the scene’s visitors, to document reactions, thus turning the piece into a circular reflection.

In a semblance of a reenactment, the city put up blockades on the street in the university area, as government authorities had in 1989, and projected images of the protesters on large screens. Although the crowds that gathered were small in contrast with what I observed in Berlin, Leipzig, and Prague (granted, it was very cold), this seemed to give the individuals’ attendance at the event a quite determined flavor.

I was struck by one scene in the underground Metro station near the university in Bucharest. A commemorative display featured ongoing videoclips, photos, and a stand with an open guestbook in which individuals were invited to write. Every time I visited this place, there were several people lined up, silently, waiting to write in the book. Usually the writer wrote for quite some time before handing over the pen.

Overall, however, it was evident that the commemorative events, which lasted for quite a few days, overwhelmed Timisoara, a smaller city of course, more so than Bucharest.

Commemorating through Music: Prague, November 14

Posted in Czech Republic with tags , , on November 15, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

On November 14, Vaclav Havel hosted a concert in a 13th century church in Prague to kick off the 20th anniversary commemorations of the Czechoslovakian “Velvet Revolution.” 

Celebrities in attendance included Adam Michnik from Poland, who gave a rousing speech, referring to Havel as the region’s Moses. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, born in Prague, also was in attendance.

Havel chose the performers for the star-studded performance. The singers Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and Renee Fleming performed pieces that had particular relevance for the occasion, including protest songs of the 1960s. One of the evening’s pinnacle moments was Joan Baez’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” with one verse in Czech. The audience sang along, and close-ups of the audience members revealed a host of teary eyes—including those of Havel. Later, a video was projected, featuring the 1989 Czech dissident crowds in Wenceslas Square singing “We Shall Overcome” and flashing peace signs to the police.

In fact, the U.S. Civil Rights movement was prominent as inspiration and source of the spirit of resistance that the evening recalled.  A clear theme of the evening was the importance of the arts for social change, exemplified by Vaclav Havel, a novelist who rose to the position of president of the democratizing Czech Republic.

Congratulatory videos came in from the Dalai Lama, Angel Merkel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Barack Obama, Bono, Bob Geldof, Mick Jagger, and others. Obama made a point of congratulating both the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic in his speech. Gorbachev praised the venue because he reported that he also loves music.  

Earlier in the day, Havel had harsh words for Russia, however, during a debate with students, charging the country with continuing controls on its society.  

Havel ended the concert with a pithy list of the societies still suffering from oppressive regimes, including Darfur, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Tibet, and others.

US singers Joan Baez, pictured in May 2009, Lou Reed and Suzanne Vega performed Saturday at a concert in Prague paying homage to former Czech president Vaclav Havel, a hero of the Velvet Revolution 20 years ago.

Angels over Berlin

Posted in Germany with tags , , , , on November 10, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

In a nod to the 1987 film, Wings of Desire, by German director Wim Wenders, angels appeared on the tops of Berlin buildings on November 9. The film depicts two angels who look down on the city from their perch on rooftops, and wander through the city watching and listening to Berliners’ hopes and struggles.

In an art installation atop four buildings along the route of the former Berlin Wall, actors with angel wings stood  and looked down on Berliners. They moved in slow motion, each with a different task. One waved, holding flowers in one arm, one lowered a bouquet of flowers on a string down to the street below, and one sent an occasional leaflet to drift down. Other performance artists were stationed along the street. Among them was a woman who claimed to be an angel-ologist, standing on a ladder in her long white dress and fur coat, with her camera equipment in a baby carriage.

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My own photo-documenting activity prompted a passerby to stop and explain that the angels are commemorating people who lost their lives trying to cross over the wall. She proceeded to relate her own story: she was graduating from secondary school when it was built, and she ended up on the west side and her father on the east. She said that one-third of her class was separated from their families. Her father never believed that the wall would come down.

The Re-fall of the Wall …

Posted in Germany with tags , , , on November 10, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

With a cold drizzle that built into a series of mud puddles, crowds gathered to remember the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or “Mauerfall,” as it is being called in German. The center of attention was the long row of 7-foot-tall handpainted dominos, most painted by schoolchildren from around the world, with a strong representation from Berlin schools. Several dominos were from Mexico, and portrayed the US/Mexico wall, as well as a “death trail.”

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Once the evening’s official ceremonies started, large screens broadcast the center-stage events down the street. The dais included, among other distinguished political figures, Mikhail Gorbachev. He seemed to get the loudest cheers. Videos from the 1989 protests showed Germans shouting “Gorbi! Gorbi!”—he clearly earned folk-hero status.

The performances included a song by Placido Domingo that had the crowds bouncing and brought the dais to its feet. Bon Jovi performed, and then reflected on his presence at the wall in 1989; they project a video of his chipping off a piece of the wall from ’89.

Hillary Clinton represented my country (well), receiving cheers from the group standing on the roof of the American Embassy just next to the Brandenburg Gate. President Obama addressed the crowds via a video from Washington.

The Polish Solidarity movement was honored and given repeated, strong recognition. Several Solidarnoscść contingents were visible: one group was in charge of tumbling several of the dominos, another had large banners. Lech Wałęsa spoke from beneath an umbrella. Hillary Clinton was among those who praised the Solidarity movement.

When the dominos tumbled, they stopped midpoint at a stable concrete domino that did not budge: it was sent from the Goethe House in Beijing, and was decorated with characters that appeared to be Chinese, but in fact were invented characters spelling out a German poem. The halt at this block was set up as if it were a surprise element in the evening, and the program then reflected on the meaning of this block that was still left standing. After this intermittent moment, the domino tumbling continued, and finished its run. (After the ceremonies, this standing domino, bookended by the toppled blocks, attracted crowds of picture-takers.)

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Security checkpoints were set up as you got closer to the Brandenburg gate, just to check for things like glass bottles in people’s bags. But at some point the guards held back the crowds, and a few took matters into their own hands and jumped the barricades, in an ironic re-enactment of the wall-crashing of ’89. At one point the guards must have let them through, as a heavier crowd started swarming down the sidewalk. But later I watched people held behind the barricades, even as those toward the front were starting to leave. I have a feeling there will be commentary about the irony of these actions on blogs.

The evening ended with dramatic, crowd-pleasing fireworks.

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CNN Video of the Celebrations

Crowds push their way into West Berlin, 1989

Posted in Germany with tags , , on November 2, 2009 by Susan C. Pearce

Short documentary on the Wall, 1962

Video from a Berlin Wall checkpoint, Fall of 1989

Video on Dismantling of the Wall