Freedom Monument: From West Berlin to Honolulu
Fifty years ago, when Rick Ziegler (Allegheny College, 1968) lived near the Berlin Wall he never imagined moving a piece of the Wall to Hawaii. Ziegler was living with a family in West Berlin in the summer of 1967 while he worked for IBM Deutschland. He often walked along great stretches of the Wall. “At that time, the Wall could not be approached on either side, and there was no graffiti on the wall,” said Ziegler. “On the Eastern, communist side, you would be shot. On the Western side, chased away or arrested.”
After graduation, Ziegler joined the Peace Corps and served two years in Micronesia. He went on to graduate school at the University of Hawaii and then became a professor of history at Honolulu Community College (HCC) where he worked for the next 35 years.
At some point, after the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, a student suggested acquiring a piece for the campus and Ziegler took note. He felt a special connection after seeing the Berlin Wall when it was nearly 100 miles dividing East and West Berlin.
So, in 1991 Ziegler spearheaded a college-wide effort to acquire a three-ton section of the Wall to turn it into Freedom Monument. His committee submitted a request and after a few months’ deliberation, the Berlin Senate gave HCC a three-ton piece of the Wall. The section made the 12,000-mile journey from Berlin to Honolulu first by barge down the Rhine River and then by ship across the Atlantic and Pacific in a container.
“We had a big involvement of students and faculty and the community and businesses in bringing the Wall and turning this into a freedom monument,” Ziegler said. “A year's worth of work got us a gift of a three-ton section and we erected the Freedom Monument at HCC, dedicated in February 1992.”
The actual Berlin Wall piece is about four feet wide and 11 feet high. The poured sections on either side give a sense of the Wall itself. It’s oriented in an east-west direction as it stood for three decades in Berlin. According to HCC, “The ‘free’ Western side is a rainbow of colors and is in stark contrast to the dull gray side of communist East Berlin. The round base symbolizes the reunification of Germany in 1990. The flagstones represent the ‘fallen wall’ and the cobblestones on the eastern side represent the difficulty approaching the Wall on that side.” The monument serves as a symbol of democracy and freedom and the downfall of communism.
The Berlin Wall Freedom Monument has been joined on the Honolulu Community College campus by the World Trade Center Memorial. “We put together a September 11 memorial which includes two twin towers supporting an American flag. Included in the reverse section of the monument is an actual piece of the World Trade Center, a piece of the Pentagon and some soil from the crash site in Pennsylvania,” said Ziegler. “We have these two monuments. The Wall came down on 11/9 and the attack on the World Trade Center was 9/11 so there’s a certain symmetry to that.”