University professor visits Nova Scotia as part of Berlin Wall quest

Harry Sullivan
Published on August 6, 2014

Ryerson University visual arts professor Vid Ingelevics is seen in this self photo during a recent trip to Truro, standing amid the six slabs of the former Berlin Wall that are housed on the grounds of the Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus. Ingelevics and a colleague are involved in a project aimed at documenting the fragmentation and travels of the wall since its collapse in 1989. Submitted

©Truro Daily News - TC Media


It once encircled an entire city, an ominous concrete barricade that wrapped around in haphazard fashion for 155 kilometres.

It stood 3.6 metres tall, divided families and separated a culture of democracy from communism. People died trying to escape its confines and after 28 years it finally fell, almost as quickly as it originally appeared.

Now, 25 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall that once separated East and West Germany, Toronto university professor Vid Ingelevics continues on a decade-long pursuit of trying to track down as many of the pieces as he can, of what he refers to in so many words, as a moving target of fragmented pieces.

"We call it the world's largest mobile ruin because it just keeps moving," said Ingelevics, of the countless number of pieces now scattered across the globe.

Ingelevics is a visual artist who also teaches in Image Arts at Ryerson University in Toronto and he recently made his second visit to Truro to check out the six slabs of the Berlin Wall that now are housed on the grounds of the Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus in Bible Hill.

His first visit came in 2010 when he came to Truro to view the slabs, which then stood in a vacant lot on Prince Street. The fact the slabs were moved (in 2012) to their present location is simply another twist of irony for Ingelevics, who began his quest, along with colleague Blake Fitzpatrick, approximately 10 years ago, during the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"At that time we were thinking about the fact that suddenly, every five years the Berlin Wall reappears as a kind of subject and then it disappears again for four more years and then pops up again in the media and in everyone's imagination," Ingelevics said.

At that point, he and Fitzpatrick began to wonder about where all the various pieces - from small fragments of concrete to full, graffiti-blemished sections - were ending up after being such a large part of Germany's history for so long.

Although the wall itself stood for 28 years from August 1961 until November 1989, its final version - the large concrete slabs - were constructed between 1975 and 1980.

But it wasn't the wall's "well-trod territory" of the overall tumultuous and bloody history that piqued he and his colleague's interest, Ingelevics said, so much as what had been happening since its ultimate collapse and destruction.

"It isn't polarized," as in being simply torn apart and divided, he said, "it's actually atomized and sent all over the world. We felt that there is no real acknowledgement that the Berlin Wall's history continues after 1989. But it continues in many different places because it's spread out," he said.

"It also carries a new history, which is, what has happened to it since 1989? And that's what we felt was missing from the discussion."

The pair's quest has embarked them on a journey that has so far taken them to numerous locations in North America as well as several trips to Berlin and the actual site of the wall itself.

At each site they shoot videos, take photos and conduct interviews to learn the ins and outs of how each piece - large or small - came to be where it is, from the logistics and determination involved of actually moving the large pieces to the sometimes moving tales that are connected to smaller fragments.

While the big slabs of concrete these days are more about aesthetics, he said, the smaller pieces, they found, are more attached to personal memories.

"When someone takes out the small piece and starts talking about it, they don't really talk about the victory of capitalism over Communism. They talk about where they were, who they were with, what friend gave it to them," he said. "It becomes a part of their personal memory actually. So we were really interested in this difference between memory and history that the big pieces and the small pieces represent."

As time goes on, there is both time and distance going on in respect to the Berlin Wall, which continues to keep moving farther away from Berlin.

"The Berlin Wall is not the same thing, really, to anyone as it was in 1989," Ingelevics said. "We want to point to the fact that this is happening, these pieces are significant still and there really is a value in thinking about what they mean now."

Ultimately, Ingelevics and Fitzpatrick plan to publish a book with their findings but they also plan to create an overall exhibition of their growing collection of information of photos, videos, sculptures of wall pieces, written documentation and so on.

"We're interested in how the wall keeps moving," he said, referring to the relocation of the Truro slabs as a prime example of the contrast between something that stood rooted in one spot for so long and the transformation that followed its collapse.

"Certainly it's a very different sense of how you would interpret the wall when it's sitting in the middle of Truro as opposed to in a butterfly meadow up at the agricultural college," he said.

"We want to point to the fact that this is happening. These pieces are significant still

The Berlin Wall

Initially constructed overnight on Aug. 13, 1961, as a fence consisting of concrete posts and barbed wire.

Served as both a physical division between West Berlin and East Germany and a symbolic boundary between democracy and Communism during the Cold War.

The wall underwent four transformations before its final version, which consisted of concrete slabs measuring 3.6 metres high by 1.2 metres wide, covering a total distance of 155 kms.

An estimated 100 to 200 East Berliners died while trying to escape over, under or through the wall.

Approximately 5,000 people did make it safely across the wall.

The wall finally "fell" on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, as the strength of Communism continued to weaken in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovaki.

As word spread of new exodus points opening up between East and West Berlin, people immediately began chipping away at the wall with hammers and chisels.

Less than a year after its collapse, on Oct. 3, 1990, East and West Germany were unified into a single state.