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Education & Development

The Great Fall: Teacher experience

Updated Monday 3rd November 2014

The Open University's Associate Dean in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies shares his experiences as a teacher during the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1989 I was working as a teacher for German as a foreign language teacher in a private adult education centre near the Ruhr-Area. My students were mainly migrants from Poland and the then Soviet Union. They were ethnic Germans and had a right to resettle in Germany, although many of them did not speak sufficient German to get into the job market.
Together with a colleague, we had planned to take about 50 students from this centre on an educational visit to Berlin which was then sponsored and supported by the German government. This had long been planned and we were supposed to go there on 10 November 1989.
I had watched the events evolving in the Germam Democratic Republic (GDR) in the media and was very fascinated by what turned out to be the first and only peaceful revolution in Germany. Although journalists from the West faced quite severe restrictions in reporting from East Germany, the events there in cities like Leipzig and other places were well covered on television and in print media.
Imagine my surprise when, after packing my bag for a very early departure on 10 November, I switched on the news and it materialised that the border to West Germany had been opened for citizens of the GDR, not just in Berlin but across the entire German-German border. This is why in German it is called the Fall of the Wall (der Mauerfall) and not the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
I was very excited to go to West Berlin the following morning and some colleagues were quite envious to miss this historic occasion (although they then caught a flight to join us in West Berlin).
It was a long drive from Duisburg to Berlin via the transit autobahn and we arrived early evening in Berlin to complete chaos – all the roads were clogged and millions of Berliners from the West and East of Berlin and the surrounding areas were on the streets to celebrate. The atmosphere was utterly amazing.
What was very striking to me was the reaction of the students who all had migrated from Eastern Bloc countries – they were clearly very concerned about the events and hardly ventured out of the accommodation in which we stayed. If at all, they went in groups and none of them wanted to go to the Wall or cross the border into East Berlin.
Needless to say the content of the educational programme was quite different from what we had planned.

Read more articles from Open University academics about their knowledge and experiences of the fall of the Berlin Wall.


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