Fr. William Fulco was a young Jesuit working on his German language skills when he lived in that divided nation in 1967.
He recalls the Berlin Wall — that notorious symbol of oppression that came to define the Cold War era — as an omnipresent and “diabolical” part of everyday life.
As an American with a U.S. passport, Fulco — now a professor of Classics and Archaeology — was free to travel from West Berlin to East Berlin and back. But he wasn’t able to have any meaningful discussions with the residents of the Soviet-controlled city.
“When I was in East Berlin, I tried to talk to people, and they didn’t want to talk, because they knew I was American,” Fulco said. “If people were observed in that time speaking to American or British (visitors), then later on they’d very likely be pulled for questioning and harassment. So, they kind of scattered when I came near them.”
Photography Professor Diane Meyer went to Berlin on a fellowship in 2012, and found herself entranced by where the wall had once been, and the way that it was still a noticeable presence in some parts of the city, while in others the division had been almost entirely erased.
She undertook a project to traverse the entire length of where the wall had been, all 96 miles of it, and take pictures of locations where it had once stood. Then on portions of those printed photographs, she embroidered with different colored threads, creating a look similar to a pixelated image on a computer screen.
“I wanted to make a trace in the landscape where the wall had been, in a way that you can sort of see what it looks like on the other side,” said Meyer, whose images are part of the current exhibit at LMU’s Laband Gallery. “It’s kind of a ghost or a tracing of the wall in the landscape.”
Meanwhile, LMU has its own piece of the wall, which has stood between the Foley Building and Malone Student Center since 1997. Former political science Professor Dirk Verheyen, who now teaches in Berlin, arranged the gift.
For today’s students, virtually none of whom were even born when the wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989, the piece of history has varying significance. Several students interviewed for this story said the part of history represented by the wall was so far behind them that they did not see any meaning to its presence on campus.
That dovetailed with what Meyer observed in Berlin: that the wall’s ghostly presence meant different things to different people. The memory is stronger for older residents of the city, but in the intervening 25 years, so much has changed that for many the dark era of the Berlin Wall is not even that.
“For some people, it’s just a thing that when it came down, people adapted to it not being there, and it’s not something that is thought about that much, which is surprising to us,” she said.