October 5, 2012

Idea for Simulating the Berlin Wall and Reunification in Class

Here is a great idea from a teacher on the American Association of Teachers of German listserv:

I have this idea for an activity to do with students to help them understand why the fall of the Berlin wall and German unity was such a big deal. I adapted it from a history lesson I read about.

Begin one day by erecting a cardboard wall, or just putting tape on the floor, separating the class into two sections. One section will have access to materials and the other section will be largely deprived. Rearrange student seating randomly so that some students are "behind the wall" and some are "free.” The "wall" will remain up for the duration of the experiment (a week or two), and students will not be allowed to cross from one section of the class to another. If they need materials, they must ask someone to pass it to them, as they may not cross the border. This should get very frustrating and is the whole point. I will allow students to graffiti the wall for as long as it is up, as long as the graffiti is clean and auf Deutsch.

Assign each student an identity of someone living in Germany at a particular time during the wall's existence, e.g. a worker in eastern Germany in the 60s, a mother in western Germany in the 80s, a schoolchild in eastern Germany in the 70s, a father in western Germany in the 50s, etc.

Over the course of a week or two, have students research the individual, to provide accurate, interesting, and detailed information about what his or her daily schedule would be like, what he or she would eat and wear, where he or she would live, what sort of job prospects the he or she has, what sort of education he or she would receive, how he or she would be treated by the law, what sorts of problems or challenges he or she would face, the current events of the time, and so on.

Work with both the whole class and in small groups on evaluating the availability and appropriate use of data sources, and to blend information from several sources into a coherent whole. Students will create personal data sheets for their character, which will be available to all students to use in the second part. Students will present about their character in small groups.

In the second part, students will compare and contrast their own lives with the lives of teenagers in both East and West Germany during the reign of the wall. How will Germany change during your lifetime? How will those changes affect your life? Have students present their findings as journal entries, oral monologues, videotape presentations, class presentations, etc. Students may choose the means of presentation so long as they demonstrate that they fulfilled all the requirements.

In the third part, add a specific investigation to each student, whose degree of difficulty is based on the student’s knowledge, facility with research, and thinking about history. For example, a more challenging question is "how will your life differ from that of previous generations in your family, and how will your children's life compare with yours?" A less complex, but still challenging question is "how will language change from the generation before you to the generation after you?" Have students present their findings to the class.

On November 9, watch Kennedy's speech, a video about the fall of the Berlin wall, recap the Tag der Deutschen Einheit, raise the German flag, then "tear down" our own classroom wall. Have students discuss how the "wall" dividing their classroom made them feel, and if they now better understand the joy of Germans in tearing down the real wall.

For movie club this month, watch "Good Bye Lenin."

Cook, H. [AATG-L] Berlin wall and German unity extension activity. AATG-L listserv (aatg@list.iupui.edu, 2 Oct 2012).

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