German Culture in Atlanta 6: “Once in a Lifetime”

In German Culture in ATL, Sina's Posts, Tamás' Posts on November 19, 2011 by SN

At the afore-mentioned dinner party that took place a couple of weeks ago Tamás talked to the Vice President of Oglethorpe University about the changes after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Germany. Apparently, this story left an impression on Keith Aufderheide who immediately suggested that Tamás should share it with our students. A couple of days later the idea emerged to hold the event on the anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9. “Once in a Lifetime” was born.

Once in a Lifetime Flyer.

The event took place at the Skylight Gallery at the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art. We divided the evening into three parts. After my opening remarks, Tamás gave a short  overview over the main political events leading up to the revolution. Then, we showed the movie Goodbye, Lenin! because it depicts the changes in Eastern Germany in a humorous, sometimes even quite grotesque way. The film screening was followed by a q&a session with the students and us about our experiences of both before and after the reunification.

My main responsibility was the organization, promotion, and coordination of the logistics which was a lot of work. However, compared to Germany the circumstances were much better. We received generous funding by The Halle Foundation without larger bureaucratic hassle and Oglethorpe has the necessary staff to support such events. Instead of preparing the food ourselves, we had delicious German catering and instead of having to move chairs and technology, we found everything in place and ready to use. The Halle Foundation also recommended Superlicious Catering run by the very friendly German expat Andrea. She came up with a great buffet consisting of traditional and new German cuisine, which everyone raved about.

Feature in the OU Blog.

All in all the event was very well received. In addition to my GER 101, 201, and 400 students, colleagues and professors from other departments attended as well as two East German women who live in the area. The discussion covered a wide range of topics. Some students asked about the immediate changes after November 9 while others inquired about our responses to the movie. During the discussion we pointed out the role of the church in the protests. I told my students that I was retrospectively envious about Tamás’ Hungarian background which allowed him to taste the West. We also explained the conept of Ostalgie and the significance of Sigmund Jähn. Ironically, Tamás forgot to mention the story that sparked Keith Aufderheide’s initial interest: How the grey veil was lifted from the buildings in the Art Nouveau quarter Kaßberg where he grew up in the 1990s.

The event resonated with everyone. The students responded very positively. A GER 201 student made analogies between the North and the South after the Civil War, a GER 101 student mentioned that this event deconstructed the notion of Western superiority. Another GER 101 student remarked that this had been one of the better events this semester at Oglethorpe University because it presented a critical view. At one point we were even a bit afraid that we might have brainwashed our audience with a leftist, Socialist world view.

We also had discussions afterwards with some of my colleagues. Tamás had a long conversation with a history professor, who has roots in Annaberg-Buchholz, immediately after the official part was over. The next day we continued our discussion with my Division Chair during dinner before a jazz concert. But that is another story.

Last but not least, we had to think about how the Fall of the Berlin Wall influenced our coming of age and what we had accomplished over the past 20 years. I started to recognize that being East German is becoming less of a stigma, but rather an asset that allows you to share your story among a greater audience.

This post is dedicated to Keith Aufderheide and Marnite Calder.


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