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Culver City's Cold War museum remembers the Berlin Wall's fall

Culver City's Cold War museum remembers the Berlin Wall's fall
Wende Museum founder Justin Jampol and publisher Benedikt Taschen drove a vintage Trabant into the exhibition at the Culver City museum. (Dalmiro Quiroga)

As the rest of the world remembered the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend, the Wende Museum in Culver City broke ground for the renovation and expansion of the former National Guard Armory on Culver Boulevard, its new home.

The 1950s Modernist structure will be transformed into 15,000 feet of exhibition space and archive storage for the Wende, whose mission is to preserve the history and material culture of the Cold War-era and its present and future ramifications.

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Justin Jampol, founder and executive director of the Wende, started the collection 12 years ago, acquiring artifacts, art work, personal photos, menus and other memorabilia from East Germany, the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries.

"No one knew what to do with all the various paraphernalia they owned," said Jampol. "It was a reminder of a past they wanted to forget. They were embarrassed to keep it so they packed it in plastic and hid it in their attic or buried in the ground."

Former East German leader Erich Honecker's collection of personal papers are housed at Wende. He stated in his will that he wanted his personal papers to be housed in a non-German institution.

"Being so far away gives us a unique reference point and perspective," said Jampol.

A sculpture garden planned for the renovated facility will feature the museum's 11 Berlin Wall segments.

Nearly 400 guests  sipped on "Leninade" Saturday evening while video of the events leading up to the Berlin Wall's collapse and the days that followed were shown on an outdoor screen.

Also on display were a 10-foot bronze sculpture of Lenin by Russian artist Pavel Bondarenko, still in its original wooden crate, a guardhouse, half-unpacked busts of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin and Ernst Thälmann, along with everyday items such as decorative plates and film posters.

The event also observed the launch of the Taschen book "Beyond the Wall: Arts and Artifacts from the GDR,"  a 900-page volume featuring 2,500 Cold War artifacts drawn from the museum's 100,000 piece collection, the largest collection in the U.S.

One highlight of the evening came when Jampol and publisher Benedikt Taschen drove in (with some helpful pushing from staffers) in an authentic East German Trabant, a car notorious for spewing smoke and an engine capable of the speed of a scooter.

"It smells like all of East Germany," joked Taschen, who grew up in Cologne. This past spring, the publisher donated half a million dollars for the renovation of the museum.

While restorations are underway, the Wende Museum's archives and current exhibitions will remain open at its current location on Buckingham Parkway.

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