German Department Hosts Consul General David Gill

The Stuyvesant German language department hosted German Consul General David Gill’s presentation of “30 years of the Peaceful Revolution and the Fall of the Berlin...

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Stuyvesant commemorated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a presentation titled, “30 years of the Peaceful Revolution and the Fall of the Berlin Wall—The Path to Freedom and German Unity,” from German Consul General David Gill on November 21. The presentation was a part of Stuyvesant’s ongoing partnership with the Goethe Institute, a nonprofit German cultural association that aims to encourage the study of the German language. Stuyvesant is a part of the Institute’s Schools: Partners for the Future program, which has helped Stuyvesant host past events like Germany Day and the Wincent Weiss concert.

During his presentation, Gill first talked about his childhood growing up in East Germany, giving a first-hand account of what the history and culture were like. Gill was the son of a religious figure, which meant that he was not allowed to attend many schools because all religions were rejected in the Soviet Union. He studied theology when he was younger and after the fall of the Soviet Union, he worked for the government, dealing with Stasi (secret police) records. He later pursued higher education and became further involved in the German government. Today, in his current role as Consul General, he is an official representative of the German government and works to assist German citizens living in the United States.

During the second half of the event, students were able to ask questions about both Gill’s life and East Germany. To prepare for the event, German language classes watched videos of past interviews with Gill on YouTube that were produced by the Goethe Institute and prepared questions. Students were given booklets from the Goethe Institute with resources they could use to learn more about the history of the Berlin Wall online.

The question segment was one of the most rewarding elements of the event. “I think the highlight was the questions. The fact that students were able to ask questions about the history was really nice, and they got to learn a lot from it,” German and French teacher Rebecca Lindemulder said. She looks forward to future events in partnership with the Goethe Institute but said that there are no specific events scheduled as of now.

Assistant Principal of World Languages Francesca McAuliffe was pleased with the number of students at the event. “I was very happy with the turnout. I hope more interested students can participate in another event,” she said. The turnout mainly consisted of students who are taking German III or AP German classes, and she noted that all of the students were attentive and well-informed.

Student responses to the event were very positive; many were especially grateful for the opportunity to learn more about both German history and culture. “The David Gill event was an interesting and eye-opening experience in modern German history. When studying history, it is always great to hear a first-person account, but to be able to interact and converse with someone who lived through the experience brings another level of connection and emotion to the topic,” junior Alex Porlein said.

Students were also inspired by Gill’s story and his family struggles. “The visit deepened my understanding of the separation of Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall. When we’re taught about this historical event, we often don’t learn about the experiences of those living in East Germany during that time period, especially people like David Gill, whose families were persecuted and publicly humiliated for their beliefs,” junior Luca Bielski said. “The fact that someone who, while in East Germany, wasn't even allowed to attend college became an ambassador for his country is awe-inspiring.”

The students hope for similar events in the future, as Gill’s presentation provided another facet to learning the language. “In language classes, history and culture of the language are often neglected. It is great that in German we have the ability to study recent German history and culture; for example, we are now covering German Christmas songs and traditions in class,” Porlein said. “Getting somebody who actually experienced what we're talking about in class is also a great way of getting students like me interested and engaged in history, as it provides a real story that I can connect and relate to on a human level.”