While Jeff Packer remembers exactly where he was when he heard that the Berlin Wall had fallen, he knows that to his students, it may as well be ancient history.
“I’m dreading the time a student comes to my classroom and doesn’t know there used to be two Germanys,” he said.
It’s why Packer, an associate professor of German studies at Utah Valley University in Orem, decided to help the newest generation of students learn about the event that helped shape his own transition to adulthood.
More than 500 junior high and high school students were at UVU in Orem Friday morning to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, create their own graffiti on a replica and learn about life in East and West Germany. The event also included East German disco music, a replica of a Checkpoint Charlie crossing, bratwurst, a piece of the real wall and a Trabant, an East German car.
Students were encouraged to write what they’d want to tear down on one section of the replica wall, and decorated other pieces to mimic a section of the wall that is still standing.
Packer served an ecclesiastical mission in East Germany shortly after the wall fell.
“It was still very much East Germany,” he said.
He first put on the event 10 years ago for the 20th anniversary of when the wall fell. Packer said that students forget that walls are constantly being built to divide groups.
“They need to learn a little bit that walls are not necessarily a good thing,” he said.
Lily Watts, a 15-year-old student who attends Lone Peak High School in Highland, was unaware of the history.
“I didn’t know the story until I took German,” Watts said. “I had no clue.”
Even in Germany today, the wall isn’t discussed.
“People talked about the war, but not the wall itself,” said Tanner Klein, a UVU student taking German classes who did an ecclesiastical mission to Germany.
Daxton Rothwell, a UVU student who also went on a mission to Germany, said people talk about the freedom that came after the wall fell, but not about when it was standing.
The event, which drew students from as far as Delta and Ogden, was also about getting students involved in German language classes.
Rothwell said he continues to take German courses because the country is at the forefront of Europe.
“Everyone looks to Germany,” he said.
Packer said Germany has connections with many fields, from technology, to music, and can help students connect with their own cultures.
“No matter what you’re studying, German can make you better,” he said.