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Reconstructing The Berlin Wall, Virtually

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Reconstructing The Berlin Wall, Virtually

Reconstructing The Berlin Wall, Virtually

Reconstructing The Berlin Wall, Virtually

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/139580197/139647845" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

"Virtuelle Mauer/Reconstructing the Wall" will be on display at the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Kreuzberg until August 28th. T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter) hide caption

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T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter)

"Virtuelle Mauer/Reconstructing the Wall" will be on display at the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Kreuzberg until August 28th.

T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter)

During this month, the "Virtuelle Mauer" will be on display at the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Kreuzberg.

"Virtuelle Mauer" is an interactive exhibit that reconstructs a virtual kilometer of the Berlin Wall from Kreuzberg to Mitte. The projected image is 9 feet tall by 12 feet wide. Visitors can walk in this virtual space forward, backward, left and right, weaving in and out of East and West Berlin, all controlled by a joy stick.

Tamiko Thiel, one of the creators of the exhibit, says you can even travel in time.

"You go up to a pair of tourists, one West German punk lady and one American visitor, and if you go up to them standing at this bridge looking at the Wall, then that transforms you into the present, and it sucks you into the Death Strip, and all of a sudden you're in this part of the Death Strip that has been turned back into the park that it was before the Wall. Then you can just walk over into East Berlin," Thiel says.

Thiel grew up in the US and Japan, but she decided to move to Germany in 1985 to pursue a career as artist. She had finished a degree in mechanical engineering at MIT and wanted to work in a city with an active art scene.

Three years later in 1988, Thiel took her first trip to East Berlin with her friend, Theresa Reuter, who would later become her project partner.

"Ever since I saw the Berlin Wall in 1988, I thought this is such an amazing encounter with a built environment, and when the Wall disappeared and was dismantled, I started to realize that no one would be able to understand what it felt like to have to live with that, because as soon as the guards stop shooting to kill, those stones lost their meaning."

Following this experience, Thiel started working on art projects that used virtual realities to help people experience historical times and places. One particular project focused on the Japanese internment camps in the US during World War Two.

Visitors can walk up to virtual Grenzhaeuser, or border houses. T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter) hide caption

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T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter)

But in 1996, Thiel's attention again returned to the Berlin Wall. A friend of hers was visiting Berlin for the first time and wanted to see what was left of the Wall. Her friend, a Yale history graduate, had studied the Cold War, but her reaction to seeing the Wall in person got Thiel thinking about its legacy.

"We found some pieces of it still standing, and she stood there and said, 'You know, it's really not that tall.' And I realized that even she, with all the abstract knowledge that she had, if her first emotional reaction was, 'It really isn't that tall. What's the big deal here?' then what will young adults think that were born after the fall of the Wall?"

Over a decade, and much work later, Thiel and her project partner, Theresa Reuter, debuted their first version of the Virtuelle Mauer in Berlin in 2008 and then officially in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.

That same year, the Goethe Institut invited them to show the project in Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle and even New Delhi, Mumbai, and Sri Lanka.

The team, along with artist Sabe Wunsch, has received project grants to exhibit the virtual Wall in schools in Germany.

"Theresa [Reuter] and Sabe have really been able to show how the piece is not just entertainment, it's not just pretty art pieces,. It can be really used in schools to educate young people in a way that is very hard to do otherwise."