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social, health, political imagery through the lens of George J Huba PhD © 2012-2017

I was 10 years old when the Berlin Wall went up. 11 when JFK butchered the German language. 38 when the wall came down. 39 when they started selling the pieces. 62 when I finally saw some of the panels in person.

berlin wall time map

In person the panels proclaim desperation, depression, denial of freedom, hope, strength of the human spirit, persistence, creativity, and victory. Kind of puts most of my life in context. ACT UP.

The panels are part of the permanent collection at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Individual panels are 12 feet high and weigh several tons. The collection is the largest held by a public institution outside of Germany.

And, yes, the painted sides were on the western side. The backs are unpainted, blemished gray concrete.

Berlin Wall panels 355Berlin Wall panels 357Berlin Wall panels 358Berlin Wall panels 359Berlin Wall panels 361

When I was a child we used to have the drills you have seen in those odd videos where kids dove under their desks when the nuclear alarm sounded. The Berlin Wall made the fears of the time much worse. My elementary school also had a basement with a sign on the stairs that said fall-out shelter and had the big radioactive sign that led you to believe that the basement would protect you against direct radiation and fall-out. Good thing there were no nuclear attacks and the public at large never realized that a desk or basement was not going to protect you at all. [At the time, my own father was one of the first nuclear engineers in the USA and never told us or anyone else that it was a big government scam; it probably was a result of his high-level security clearance for reactor design.] And in case you wonder about profits from the fake bomb shelters, the US  government subsidized the peanut farmers and put hundreds of gallons of peanut butter in large cans inside of the bomb shelters. When they did tile ceiling tile repairs in my office at UCLA in the early 1980s, the maintenance crew used the peanut butter as glue, and apparently that was a common construction practice at the time! Who knows what else the owners of the buildings with the fake bomb shelters did with this stuff as it passed its expiration date. The 40-year “Cold” War was a pretty nasty one that scared me until the day the Wall came down. The end to the Cold War was a singular achievement of the Reagan Administration, the UK, and our European allies who proved to the Soviet Union that they could not keep up with the western coalition in sustained military spending without totally pissing off their citizens by making them accept sub-standard lifestyles.

And yes, later President Jimmy Carter benefited from both ends of the Cold War radiation industry serving in the navy as a very early nuclear officer [at the time my father was designing submarine reactors and training nuclear officers] on a submarine and later selling subsidized peanuts. Perhaps this has something to do with Carter’s ascendance as a peace advocate after his presidency.

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