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Our Berlin wall.

November 9th, 1989; was a pivotal day in history--the day the Berlin wall opened. In order for many students at Giessen Elementary to understand the impact of this world event, I launched a school-wide art project. Twenty-eight classes, grades one through five, created a Berlin Wall within the halls of our school. As children of military and Department of Defense employees stationed in Giessen, West Germany, these students are aware of change. Giessen was the main refugee camp for the first wave of East German immigrants arriving via Hungary. After November 9th, 1989, the autobahns and countryside were suddenly crowded with hundreds of East German automobiles. Soon after, commercialism set in. Stands were set up to sell pieces of the wall and T-shirts to proclaim the mass event.

I traveled to Berlin from November 9th to 11th, witnessing the unfolding of events firsthand. Returning to school with photographs, memorabilia and personal experiences, I seized the opportunity to teach art as a form of current political expression. I divided my project into four lessons.

1. The history of Germany.

2. Painting the wall.

3. November 9th--opening the wall.

4. A piece of the wall.

Lesson one: The history of Germany

In order to understand the meaning of the wall, it is necessary to establish some background information. This discussion also clarifies for the students how they came to be living in Europe. I highlighted the main events through World War II which resulted in the east/west division of Europe including Germany and Berlin. Turning to Berlin, I focused specifically on the construction of the wall and its history as an art form. The plain smooth surface of the wall unintentionally invited graffiti artists to freely express their views on the western side. Current event magazines, postcards, personal photographs and historical books from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin were very helpful as visual aids. The students were given one week to contemplate the meaning of the Berlin Wall. Upon returning to class the following week they would have the opportunity to express their ideas on our own Berlin Wall.

Lesson two: Painting the wall

Two rows of butcher paper were stapled along the interior halls of the school. Tempera paint, wax and oil crayons were set on a cart. Each class was told to imagine they were in West Berlin separated from the east by the wall. Not being told what to paint or where to work, the students created their graffiti. Just as the real Berlin Wall changed its face daily, the school wall evolved as each class added images layer upon layer.

Lesson three: November 9--opening the wall

Two weeks later, a fifth-grade class was selected to recreate the events of November 9th, 1989. Their goal was to recapture the atmosphere during the historical weekend at the main sites on and near the wall. Instead of hammers and chisels, students were armed with scissors to cut away the first pieces of the wall. They cut out construction paper in shapes of people, buildings and monuments. The details were drawn with chalk. The finished collage pieces were taped on top of the wall and in the holes of the wall. Our Berlin Wall now represented a turning point in history. News passed quickly as other students at school noticed a dramatic change. Now that the wall was open, everyone wanted a piece.

Lesson four: A piece of the wall

Reflecting on the information presented earlier, each student selected a message to convey in commemoration of the wall. Given a piece of the wall, colored construction paper, scissors and glue, individual collages were created. Our previous studies of Matisse paper cut-outs were helpful. Emphasis was placed on attention to negative space and composition. A limited amount of drawing was also allowed. Although the last lesson represented the end of our Berlin Wall, the individual collages displayed at school and in the community continued to convey the students' ideas.

Since the Berlin Wall has opened, many changes have occurred. My students now know that art plays a significant role in recording history. They will carry with them a bit of history to remind them of their presence in Germany and the importance of understanding world events.

Barbara Scharf is Art Specialist, Giessen Elementary, Giessen, West Germany.
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Title Annotation:Giessen Elementary School, West Germany, creates a Berlin Wall
Author:Scharf, Barbara
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:715
Previous Article:The good wall.
Next Article:The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel.
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