Five years ago, Jack Janes was in Germany looking for a piece of the Berlin Wall that he could secure for Johns Hopkins. The director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies stood in a park outside Berlin, examining large sections of the wall.
Finally, he found one that appealed to him. It was, like the rest, huge and lying on its side, partially obscured by another section of wall. But on this particular section, Janes noted the letters F and R.
Looking more closely, he noticed the letter E followed the first two letters. Although he couldn't read the rest of the word, Janes hoped it would be an I, which would make the word FREI, the German word for free.
He chose that section of the wall, and it would be several years later before he would see it again, erected in the courtyard of the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. But instead of FREI, the word scrawled on this relic from the Cold War was actually FRED.
Now, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, Janes laughs over the message from Fred. But while the graffiti on the wall is more personal than inspirational, the section of wall stands as a sober monument to an important part of United States and German history.
"We're teaching students here to understand how that happened, and how to prevent that from happening in the future," Janes said recently, standing next to the segment of the wall, which is 11 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs more than 3,000 pounds.
Originally, Janes had wanted a much smaller piece of the wall that could be placed in the institute's conference room, but when he asked the Berlin Senate--akin to the Baltimore City Council--for a section in 1995, only large sections were available, he remembered.
So Janes approached Paul Wolfowitz, dean of SAIS, about accepting the gift of the wall for the school's courtyard and Wolfowitz agreed, along with Ted Baker, associate dean for finance and administration at SAIS.
The deal was, the Berlin Senate would give Hopkins the section of the wall, but Janes would have to find a way to get it to Washington. He wrote a letter to the German minister of defense and didn't hear back for a long time.
When he did, it was in the form of a telephone call from a German military attache stationed in Virginia. Basically, the officer said, "We've got your wall. Where do you want it?" Janes remembered.
Delivered to the SAIS campus in September of 1997, it was erected on a concrete base and secured to the courtyard wall with a cable, Baker said.
"It's only got graffiti on the front part," Baker said. "And of course that is because the front part was exposed to the population of Western Germany. The back part was a no man's land."
Turid Nagel-Casebolt was a teenager living on the East German side of that wall on Nov. 9, 1989. That night, a state television broadcast gave a vague announcement about East Germans being allowed to go to West Germany the next day.
"We started calling up each other to find out if it was true," Nagel-Casebolt said. "It was supposed to be the next day, but everyone went to the wall that night. It was a big party."
Nagel-Casebolt, now 25 and married, will soon begin working at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, just a few blocks away from the Hopkins section of the wall. She plans to visit to remember how much her life has changed in the last decade.
Begun in 1984, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, an affiliate of the university, is a center for nonpartisan, advanced research, study and discussion of the Federal Republic of Germany--its politics, economy, culture and society. For more information about AICGS, see its Web site at http://www.aicgs.org.