Berlin Wall, 1989

          On a dissertation grant, I worked at the Berlinische Galerie’s Hannah Höch Archiv in the Martin Gropius Bau. The Bau neighbored the Berlin Wall, really two walls with a death strip in between. From certain windows, I could see the East German guards stationed in the watch towers. So young, they were pale, tended thin, and carried large automatic weapons. Selected young so as not to remember Berlin before the Wall, so as to make it easier for them to shoot wall jumpers to kill. And they did.
          Later, 1989, I’m invited back to Berlin to the Akademie der Künste to give a talk at the Hannah Höch symposium marking what would have been the artist’s 100th birthday. I arrive four days after the Wall had come down in a bloodless revolution. Everyone, almost, is still on the streets. We have the symposium. The auditorium is full of hundreds of people, mainly women. So many women have come over from East Berlin. The comments from the audience fascinate me. I remember not a word but the feeling. Ich war erstaunt.
          Sharply, I can see my friend Elfi and me wandering in the crowds the day after. On the West Berlin side, guards were still stationed there, still carried guns. Crowds were pushing and yelling. I’m from the United States and didn’t trust the guns to stay quiet. Elfi told me, look, the guards are having a good time. Take our picture, she asked one, offering him her camera. He did. We crossed and later came back, alongside East Berliners, none of us showing papers. 
          No more dying for a boundary. Not there.

Maud Lavin

3 Questions for Maud

What was your process for creating this work?

As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, I was thinking about how amazing it was to have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the erasure of the border between East and West Germany, and the relinquishing of guns—all without (at that moment) deaths. Longing for a cessation of war in Ukraine, and mass shootings here in the US, and violence around the globe, I wanted to convey that brief and significant time of jubilation—mixed with other complex emotions like wariness.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose?

I chose flash creative nonfiction veering toward a prose poem so I could capture, and I hope share, the feelings of being there.

What is the significance of the work to you?

It really is possible to put down guns, to stop violence, to erase borders. I long for more of this.

A professor emerita at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Maud Lavin’s work has appeared in Portable Gray, Chicago Artist Writers, the Nation, Artforum, and other venues. Her most recent book, Boys’ Love Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols, co-edited with Ling Yang and Jing Jamie Zhao on queer fan cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan was nominated for a Lambda. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA Design Projects grant. 

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