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Breaking down the wall

To reflect upon aspects of political and personal freedom and to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

by The Revd Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Key Stage 2

Aims

To reflect upon aspects of political and personal freedom and to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Preparation and materials

  • Some bed-sheets for older children to hold taut in order to form a ‘wall’.
  • Images of the Berlin Wall (from the Internet, subject to copyright).
  • The co-operation of colleagues.
  • The song ‘Something Inside So Strong’, by Labi Siffre, could be played while classes gather and leave this assembly. Alternatively, ‘Pressure points’ or ‘West Berlin’ from the (1970s) album Stationary Traveller by Camel could be downloaded and played.

Assembly

  1. Explain that this assembly explores the theme of freedom. It marks a time, 20 years ago, when the people of Berlin, the capital of Germany, regained freedoms denied to them by the building of a wall.
  2. State that, to help everyone understand some of the problems of that time, you have decided to divide the school.

    Direct that a gap is formed down the centre of the assembly, separating classes in half.

    Enlist the help of teachers and older pupils to ‘build a wall’ using the sheets. Screen the two halves from each other and place a colleague in charge of each.

    How does the division feel? Explore the feelings of uncertainty and discomfort that may arise. What is going on? Who is on the other side of the wall?
  3. Explain that, after the Second World War, Germany was divided into two parts and the city of Berlin was also split into East and West Sections. East and West had very different systems of government, and there was deep mistrust and suspicion between them. In August 1961, the citizens woke to street crossing points blocked by barriers and barbed wire. The authorities in the East had decided to stop people crossing to other parts of the city. Later, a high concrete wall was built. It was protected with barbed wire and watched by armed guards. Invite everyone to imagine how the citizens of Berlin must have felt.
  4. Designate one half of the assembly as ‘East’ and the other as ‘West’. Invite the children to enter into further role-play. State that those in the ‘East’ will not be allowed to use the playground. New classes will have to be formed. Those in the East will not be permitted to join after-school or lunchtime clubs and they will not be allowed representatives on the School Council. Those in the West will also be grouped into new classes. Otherwise, for them, school will carry on as normal. They are free to use the playground and to take part in clubs and to elect members of the School Council. Sometimes they might ask permission to visit a classroom belonging to a group from the East – but under no circumstances will anyone from the East be allowed to visit the West. Neither is a visit from East to West guaranteed – you will have to apply and may be refused permission. Any person who breaks this rule will be punished!
  5. Reassure the children that this is ‘make-believe’, but invite them to reflect on how they would feel should such directions be given. How would each group respond? Explore how a dividing wall would affect friendships, family relationships and day-to-day life.
  6. Reflect that the Berlin Wall separated friends and families. Some were unable to travel to their usual places of work. Those living in East Berlin were not allowed the choices and freedoms enjoyed by those in the West. Protest was not permitted, and anyone who tried to escape across the wall was shot. Above all, those in the East were not allowed to elect (choose) their leaders or to express their views freely and openly.
  7. For years, the wall divided the city. No one was sure whether, or how, anything could change. But eventually it became possible for a few in the East to say: ‘Down with the wall!’ (Invite individuals to repeat the phrase . . .) And soon other voices joined in the protest. Eventually, large crowds gathered in the streets, all shouting: ‘Down with the wall!’ (Invite a growing number in the East to participate.) It was a dangerous thing to do. No one knew how the authorities would react – perhaps with anger and violence. People climbed upon the wall and hammered at it with sledgehammers and chisels – the crowds cheered. Then, on 9 November 1989, the wall ‘fell’. (Instruct helpers to drop the dividing screen.) Checkpoints in the wall were opened for those in the East to go through to the West! Thousands of people celebrated late into the night. They danced, joined hands, and hugged each other with joy! After almost 30 years, East and West were reunited. Bulldozers were soon continuing the demolition work that had been started with hammers and chisels! A new chapter of history had begun!
  8. How does everyone feel now that they are reunited? Reflect that the story of the Berlin Wall helps us to think about some of the freedoms that we take for granted. As Remembrance Day approaches, it reminds us of the importance of working together for peace and unity.

Time for reflection

From the Christian tradition, a letter of St Paul says:

‘He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance.’

(Ephesians 2.14, The Message – Eugene H. Peterson)

Give the children time to reflect on their feelings during this assembly. Remind them that the wall was in place for 27 years – that’s longer than some of the teachers have been alive. Since the wall came down, life in Germany has changed for everyone, both from the East and the West. Reflect for a few moments that the cost of freedom is sometimes not anticipated or fully understood.

Prayer

God of all humanity,
often people are separated
by ambition and greed,
     anger and fear,
     arrogance and pride.

Help us to break down walls
of division and misunderstanding
and to celebrate that we belong together,
citizens of one world.  

Amen.

Song/music

‘Let the world rejoice together’ (Come and Praise, 148)

Publication date: November 2009   (Vol.11 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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