In 1992, Molly Andrews conducted interviews with 40 East Germans, most of whom had been leading critics of the East German government, and had played an important role in contributing to the bloodless revolution of 1989. They included artists, actors, religious leaders, scientists, and politicians, but also official employees and informal informants of the Stasi, as well as academics, writers and politicians who were members of the Communist Party up until 1989. Twenty years later, she conducted a follow-up study with fifteen of the original forty participants, predominantly with those who had been dissidents in 1989.
Based on this longitudinal study, there were two exhibitions which were organized, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall: the first was in London, at the German Historical Institute (31 October 2014 – 31 January 2015), and the second in Berlin at the Wissenschaftzentrum (12 November 2014 – 31 March 2015). When looking back on East Germany’s peaceful revolution of 1989 many recall the great speed of events – the rigged election, the 40th anniversary of the birth of the country, the Monday night vigils, the huge demonstrations, the exodus across the borders, the opening of the wall, and less than 12 months later, the formal reunification of Germany – days and weeks which altered the face of the political world forever. The focus of this project has been to explore the meaning of living through these momentous changes, in conversations carried out over two decades.
The exhibitions were organized around four themes which featured in the interviews:
- the intersection of biographical and historical change (“Generations”);
- the role of the past in the present (“Representation of East German History”);
- the meaning of being from East Germany (“East German Identity”); and finally
- memories of the night the Berlin Wall was opened, and subsequent anniversaries of that event (“November 9th”).
The exhibition at the German Historical Institute London (GHIL) was preceded by a half-day symposium focused on the personal testimonies of three people who had been key activists in the events leading up to the opening of the wall: nuclear physicist Sebastian Plugbeil, architect and green activist Reinhard Weisshuhn, and psychoanalyst and writer Annette Simon. There were two panels organised around the themes of the representation of East German history (chaired by historian Dorothee Wierling) and cultural memory (chaired by psychologist Jens Brockmeier). The website includes recordings from the two panels.
The exhibition at the Wissenschaftzentrum Berlin (WZB) was organized around portraits of the fifteen project participants which Molly Andrews commissioned from photographer Vaughan Melzer, which were displayed along with photographs of the individuals taken twenty+ years earlier – some by the Stasi – sourced along with original sound recordings from the Robert Havemann Gesellschaft, the archives of the East German citizens’ movement.