UO Conference to Highlight History's Walls

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Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

If the wall had never fallen, "I wouldn't be here," Marina Wrensch of Eugene said Wednesday.

Born and raised in the small East German town of Lbz, about a two-hour drive north of Berlin, Wrensch was 12 when the Berlin Wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989. She remembers watching the news on TV at her grandmother's home.

"I remember we were all excited," said Wrensch, who obtained a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Oregon in 2002 and received her masters degree in landscape architecture in 2005. "We didn't know what was going to happen, but we were all excited to see the people running through. Until the wall fell, she had never been outside of East Germany. But a week later, she got to see West Germany for the first time as parents were allowed to take their children out of school for the day. In the coming years, there were family trips to Italy and Greece and Tunisia, Wrensch said, and finally, for her, to the United States in 1999.

Now married to an American who grew up in Oregon, Wrensch's life, like those of millions of others, changed forever two decades ago.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the wall's fall, the German Studies Committee at the UO will hold a two-day conference today and Friday titled "Up Against the Wall." The conference will examine not just the fall of the Berlin Wall - the concrete barrier erected in 1961 that came to symbolize the Iron Curtain and the Cold War - but other walls and barriers throughout history, both physical and psychological, including the Great Wall of China, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.-Mexican border, said co-organizer Jeffrey Librett, a UO professor of German and Scandinavian.

"So (the conference) has a global reach in a sort of a way," said Librett, who lived in Berlin from 1983 to 1987, studying, teaching and writing his doctoral dissertation at the Free University of Berlin in what was then West Berlin. He was able to travel back in the summer of 1990 and see the other side of Germany's capital city for the first time. "It was very much still the old East Germany," Librett said.

What's changed since then, he said, was possibility. "The whole Cold War world view has, to some extent, disappeared. East Germany essentially got assimilated into West Germany."

This did not come without problems, such as the rise of extreme right-wing activity, unemployment and the resurgence of extreme ideologies that had long been suppressed, Librett said.

For Wrensch, it was her dream as a child to see the world, but she never thought it would happen. …