Rededication Ceremony of Chicago’s Berlin Wall Monument
by Peter von Buol
The Gene and Rosemary Schulter Foundation, DANK Haus, the German-American Cultural Center and the Cold War Museum-Midwest will host a rededication ceremony of Chicago’s own Berlin Wall Monument at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 5.
Located inside the CTA’s Brown Line station at 4648 N. Western Ave., the monument consists of a slab of concrete that had once been a portion of the feared barrier that separated free West Berlin from the Soviet Bloc’s East Berlin.
At the rededication ceremony, a newly-restored dedication plaque will be unveiled. Funding for the plaques was provided by the Gene and Rosemary Schulter Foundation and its partners. Despite having been located inside the CTA station, the monument’s plaque had suffered considerable damage due to the weathering and had become difficult to read.
In attendance at the ceremony will be Francis Gary Powers, Jr., the founder of the Cold War Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate based in Warrenton, Virginia. Powers has a very personal connection to the Cold War. His father was the late Gary Powers, a CIA spy plane pilot who had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The elder Powers was captured and later sentenced by the Soviet regime to 10 years of harsh imprisonment. Powers served less than two years and was able to return home after having been been exchanged in February 1962 for Rudolf Abel, a notorious Soviet spy captured in the United States.
At 2:00 p.m., the younger Powers will give a multi-media presentation at DANK Haus, 4740 N. Western Ave. showcasing his new book “Letters from a Soviet Prison: The Personal Journal and Correspondence of CIA U-2 Pilot Francis Gary Powers, Sr.”
Throughout his book, the younger Powers uses his father’s prison-letters and private journal to provide a first-hand account of life as a high-profile prisoner in the grim Soviet prison system.
Powers’ book was published in a very limited edition of 500 copies. His presentation will be followed by a question and answer segment with the audience, after which, there will also be a book-signing and reception.
To attend the book-signing and reception, DANK is requesting a donation of 10 dollars. Snacks and beverages will be available for purchase. After 1:00 p.m., parking will be available in the parking lot of MB Financial Bank at Western and Gunnison. Metered parking on Western Ave. will also be available. To attend the book-signing and reception at DANK, please RSVP at https://dankhaus.com/event-2598794 or call (773) 561-9181.
The imprisonment of the senior Powers, and his eventual release, were dramatized in 2015 by Steven Spielberg’s movie “Bridge of Spies.” Throughout his presentation, the younger Powers will show short clips from the movie and discuss the parallels and the differences between his father’s real-life experiences and those portrayed in the movie.
For Schulter, who represented the 47th Ward as alderman from 1975 through 2011, the rededication ceremony will bring back a lot of memories. Schulter, who is German-American, said it was not an accident Chicago’s Berlin Wall Monument ended up in Lincoln Square’s Brown Line station. Offered to the City of Chicago in 2008, Schulter said leaders in Chicago’s German-American community were instrumental in helping bring a very real piece of history to Lincoln Square. Back then, after the wall piece was accepted, it was Chicago’s responsibility to bring the still-imposing concrete slab to Chicago. Fortunately, says Schulter, the German airline Lufthansa was kind enough to do the heavy-lifting and to fly the heavy piece of concrete to Chicago. Upon arrival in Chicago and prior to its installation, the slab had to be transported and stored in the neighborhood.
According to Schulter, the can-do spirit of the neighborhood had also occurred in 1979 after the German city of Hamburg had offered Chicago one of the 19th century lampposts from that city’s Lombard Bridge.
“Back then, the lamp was offered by Hamburg to the city of Chicago. I quickly mentioned it would be more appropriate to have it located in Lincoln Square and was able to get the support from local businesses who helped bring the Lombard Lamp to Chicago. Many people believe it is a replica. It is not. It is an actual lamp from the bridge,” Schulter said.
“Today, it may seem obvious Hamburg donated one of its historic lamps but the lamp pre-dates Chicago’s sister-city relationship with Hamburg. That came much later,” said Schulter.
For Schulter, installing the lamp in Lincoln Square (which has traditionally had a strong German-American community), was one of the contributing factors in establishing the sister-city relationship between Chicago and Hamburg in 1994.
For more than 40 years, Germany had been divided into two states, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the Democratic German Republic (East Germany). West Germany had been American ally and the communist East Germany had been an ally of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the nation’s capital, Berlin, had been divided into two sectors.
By the fall of 1989, while the communist regime of East Germany was celebrating the 40th anniversary of its iron-fisted rule, cracks had begun to appear in its Eastern bloc neighbors. Earlier that year, many East Germans had escaped to the west through eastern bloc neighbors that had already relaxed travel restrictions. The lack of freedom of travel was a contributing factor to East Germans fleeing their home. Many had long expressed their wish to travel. Many said all they wished to do was to “travel all the way to Hawaii” as many West Germans had done.
German reunification became inevitable when a high-ranking communist official inadvertently answered a reporter’s question. The official, Günter Schabowski, said all travel restrictions were to be removed immediately on November 9, 1989 (just one month after East Germany’s elaborate 40th Anniversary celebration). That night, the Berlin Wall (where 138 had died) ceased to be an obstacle. By October 3, 1990, West Germany and East Germany officially reunited as one nation.
Unlike most boundary walls, the Berlin Wall was not to prevent an invasion. Its primary purpose had been to prevent its own citizens from leaving. Erected suddenly, and without warning, its first version was erected on August 13, 1961. Throughout its decades of use, continuous improvements were made to the wall. It is believed the concrete slab in Lincoln Square is from the last version. Prior to its installation, people on both sides of the border had been able to go back and forth between East Berlin and West Berlin.
DANK Haus German American Cultural Center is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. It is committed to preserving and promoting German and German-American culture, heritage, and language. It maintains a German-language school, a museum, a library, an art gallery, and also produces educational and social-programming.