Tear Down That (Replica) Wall!


A Missouri college with special ties to the start of the Cold War are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today. Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., was the site of Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech, which historians say marked the start of the Cold War. Westminster also has the largest complete piece of the Berlin Wall in the United States. Westminster students are creating a replica of the wall in the shadow of the actual wall. To commemorate the anniversary, they will tear down the replica wall.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

Tonight, a small college in Missouri is carrying out an unusual celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Westminster College happens to have a large section of the wall, and the college played a role in Cold War history.

As Missy Shelton of member station KSMU reports, students are attempting to recreate history for a new generation.

MISSY SHELTON: For many of us, 20 years doesn't seem like that long ago, right? But for most of today's college students, 20 years is literally a lifetime.

Mr. PHILLIP MOORE(ph): I was born about a year before the wall came down, and I think it's important that people my age and younger understand that the wall did exist, because we did not grow up in the Cold War era.

SHELTON: Phillip Moore is a senior at Westminster College, a small liberal arts school tucked away in the mid-Missouri town of Fulton. He and other members of the history club helped planned tonight's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.

The anniversary resonates with many here because it was in a speech at Westminster that Winston Churchill declared that an iron curtain had descended across much of Europe. The college also is home to the largest complete section of the Berlin Wall in the U.S. It arrived here in 1990, thanks to Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.

Ms. EDWINA SANDYS: It sort of ties up history. What was the symbol of oppression and fear? Now it can be considered a symbol of freedom.

SHELTON: In preparing for the anniversary celebration, members of the college history club spent a day building replicas of the eight Berlin Wall panels that stand on their campus. At 11-feet-tall, each panel towers over your head. Christopher Arnold says in building the replica, he wanted to show other students how imposing the wall was both in person and in politics.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER ARNOLD: It's a great idea to try to emphasize to today's generation how big of a deal it was. Projects like this where we can emphasize what the role was with worldwide politics is pretty intense.

SHELTON: If you've ever seen sections of the Berlin Wall, you know that many of the panels were covered in graffiti. So, to give the replica panels a more authentic look, the students set them up around town so people could cover them in graffiti. On a recent crisp morning, Bush Elementary School students are using paint markers to add graffiti to a panel.

Unidentified Man: All right. Your guys' turn.

Unidentified Boy: Yeah.

Unidentified Man: There you go. Careful it doesn't come out of your clothes.

SHELTON: Among the students are fifth graders Jared Elick(ph) and Audrey Brandon(ph).

Mr. JARROD ELICK: I want my name, my grade and my age. I drew a smiley face.

Ms. AUDREY BRANDON: I drew, like, what I thought the Berlin Wall might have looked like.

SHELTON: With the panel covered in graffiti, Philip Moore says they're now ready for this evening's big event.

Mr. MOORE: At the same time 20 years ago that the original wall was allowed to be torn down, we will push over our sections of the wall, making our own breakthrough, as it were.

SHELTON: Westminster College President Barney Forsythe says knocking down a replica of the wall in the shadow of the actual Berlin Wall is a fitting way to mark the 20th anniversary. He hopes it will make the meaning of the event as real for the students as it is for him.

Mr. BARNEY FORSYTHE (President, Westminster College): My wife and I had the chance to go to Berlin in 2002. We stood at Checkpoint Charlie and hugged each other and weeped with joy that we could walk back and forth what used to be no man's land.

SHELTON: Forsythe sees tonight's celebration as a sort of bookend to Winston Churchill's famous speech on this campus 63 years ago.

For NPR News, I'm Missy Shelton.

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