University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame

America - Europe

A Transatlantic Diary 1961 - 1989

Klaus Lanzinger

[Beginning of December], 1989

The Relief

For those among us who have lived through the second half of the 20th century, gradually realizing that the Iron Curtain has fallen and that the Cold War ended without military confrontation is a liberating relief, how later generations will hardly be able to imagine.

[Beginning of December], 1989

The Berlin Wall as Souvenir

In shopping malls across America, pieces of the Berlin Wall are sold as souvenirs. The price runs $10.00 a piece. They are handed out wrapped and with a warranty to make sure that these pieces of concrete and plaster are genuine. They sell well. Why are people buying them? They buy them in part out of a craving for sensation, but also because they desire to have a token in their hands of an extraordinary historical event.

A Piece of the Berlin Wall in the Middle of America

[A big chunk of the Berlin Wall stands on the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, about 100 miles west of St Louis. How this large piece of the Berlin Wall has come to Fulton, is preceded by a long story. Westminster College established in 1937 the John Findley Green Foundation Lectures, which invite annually a prominent speaker to address a topic of international interest.

Berlin Wall Memorial, Westminster College

The Berlin Wall Memorial
on the Campus of Westminster College
in Fulton, Missouri.

(Picture taken by the author in August 1999)

Winston Churchill was invited for the year 1946. As the renowned College was located in his home state, President Harry S. Truman supported the invitation and promised Churchill that he would accompany him to Fulton and introduce him for the lecture. The speech, which Winston Churchill delivered at Westminster College on March 5, 1946, titled “The Sinews of Peace,” entered post-war history as the “Iron Curtain Speech.” Churchill was addressing audiences in America and in Europe. He called attention to the great danger that was threatening peace. His speech culminated in the sentence: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” And he pointed out that the historic capitals of Central and Eastern Europe lay behind that line. Churchill’s speech was covered by the news media on both sides of the Atlantic. From then on, the expression “Iron Curtain” has become common usage, synonymous for the Cold War. In memory of that historic speech, Westminster College established at the beginning of the 1960s the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library.

The sculptress Edwina Sandys, a granddaughter of Winston Churchill who lived in New York, had decided immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall to erect a monument in honor of her grandfather on the campus of Westminster College. She obtained permission to select from the remains of the Wall eight graffiti-sprayed sections that were near the Brandeburg Gate. Those eight concrete slabs, weighing 16 tons, were shipped to her studio in Long Island City in Queens, New York. The silhouettes of a male and female figure were cut out of the “11-foot-high by 32-foot-long” and “8-inch-thick” slabs. Edwin Sandys called her monumental sculpture “Breakthrough,” symbolizing how the Wall was overcome. “Breakthrough” was installed on the campus of Westminster College next to the statue of Winston Churchill. It was dedicated and made accessible to the public in a ceremony on November 9, 1990, the first anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This large piece of the Berlin Wall now stands in the middle of America, almost ghostlike in sharp contrast to its idyllic surroundings, as a haunting testimony of a dark past.]


[I am indebted to Mr. John Hensley, Curator-Archivist of the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library for the information on how the Churchill speech of March 5, 1946 at Westminster College came about, and on how “Breakthrough,” the section of the Berlin Wall sculpted by Edwina Sandys was installed.]

South Bend, December 10, 1989


Today, on the Human Rights Day of the United Nations, Czechoslovakia achieved, for the first time in 40 years, a government, in which the Communists are in the minority. This strengthens the awareness that the days of repression, of flagrant disregard of human rights by a police state based on Marxist doctrine are finally over.

South Bend, December 18, 1989


The Ceausescu regime in Romania stubbornly refuses to give up its Stalinist course. Using brutal force, over the weekend demonstrators were indiscriminately shot at. The number of fatalities could go into the hundreds if not thousands. In spite of it, also in Romania the movement for democracy cannot be stopped any more.

December 22, 1989

Nicolae Ceausescu Resigns

Following the bloody conflicts in Timisoara and Bucharest, Nicolae Ceausescu resigned. Ceausescu and his wife Elena fled in haste from the government palace. Although Ceausescu had gone his own willful way within the East Bloc, as Stalinist he has ruled Romania with a tight grip since 1965. How brutal and dictatorial his regime has been, has still to be uncovered. At this time, the supporters of Ceausescu and the liberation army in Bucharest are confronting each other in bloody street battles. The events in Romania serve as a warning example for what could have happened in the other East Bloc countries. The more surprising is the “velvet revolution,” which, in recent months, has spread all over Eastern Europe and moved without bloodshed in the direction of democracy.

December 23, 1989

The world community has learned with horror that at the massacre in Timisoara about 4,500 people lost their lives. Outside the city, the bodies, among them women and children, were found in open mass graves. They were mercilessly shot down by rounds of machine gun fire. [The New York Times, front page, December 23, 1989.]

December 25, 1989

Christmas in Romania

Despite the civil war and the confusion throughout the country, Christmas trees were lit in Romania. Christmas was celebrated in public, which, for decades, had only been possible to do in secret.

Washington, D.C., December 30, 1989

The MLA Annual Convention

[The Modern Language Association of America (MLA), founded in 1883, is the most important professional association for the modern languages in America. The MLA Annual Convention takes place each year from December 27-30. With 8,000 to 10,000 participants, it is the largest convention for the modern languages in the world. I attended several MLA Annual Conventions and occasionally wrote reports on them in the Neueren Sprachen (Frankfurt, Diesterweg). The MLA Annual Convention is not an international congress. It is primarily dealing with problems of teaching modern languages and literatures in North America. The numerous lectures and short 20 minute presentations address any conceivable theme of modern language teaching and research. The MLA Annual Convention operates a Job Information Center for scheduled interviews; it also gives room to large exhibits of newly published books in the field of modern languages and literatures. In teaching foreign languages in the United States, Spanish has by far the highest enrollment, followed by French and German. Italian, Russian, Japanese and Chinese come thereafter. My wife and I participated in the MLA Annual Convention 1989, which took place in Washington, D.C., December 27-30. My book, Jason’s Voyage: The Search for the Old World in American Literature, which had appeared in the fall of 1989 at Peter Lang in New York, was put on display by the publisher.]

Washington is giving more and more the impression of a real capital, although its character of being strictly a government administration center has been maintained. The city renewal of the past ten years has given Washington a refreshing face-lift. The old and the new museums attract millions of visitors every year from all over the world. Also, the impression has increased that one is in the center of a world power.

December 31, 1989

The Year of Liberation 1989

The liberation of Eastern Europe from Communist dictatorship was like opening a big prison. It should never be forgotten that gaining freedom was the highest aspiration and greatest good to achieve in the extensive democracy movement of this eventful year.

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