“Tearing Down Walls” examines relevant and current issues facing young people in the United States and Germany, striving to connect and foster understanding. The episodes have already featured several Chargers, who have shared their own ideas, experiences and thoughts.

December 10, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Sylvia Cunningham in her home studio. (Photo credit: Philipp Maskos)

Savannah Papuga ’21 AS, ’22 has a firsthand understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. She even co-wrote a journal article with three of her colleagues at the University’s School of Health Sciences, reflecting on what they learned as they navigated the effects of the pandemic. She recently had the opportunity to engage with German citizens and learn more about the impact of COVID across the Atlantic.

Papuga was the guest on an episode of “Tearing Down Walls,” a program that aims to connect and foster understanding between young people in the United States and Germany. She discussed the post and the lessons she and her fellow Chargers learned from living and learning amid the pandemic.

“It was an honor to have had the opportunity to participate in the program,” said Papuga, a dental hygiene major. “Being able to contribute to the discussion on behalf of the publication made me realize how far reaching information in literature can be. During our conversation, I learned that universities in Germany have responded to the pandemic in a manner quite similar to those in the United States. Over the past year, we’ve both gone from learning in person to seeing each other only through Zoom and other virtual platforms. ”

Image of Sylvia Cunningham reporting on a climate strike.
Sylvia Cunningham covering a climate strike. (Photo credit: Gertrud Graf).
“I was inundated with ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions”

Last summer, WNHU, the University’s award-winning radio station, formed a partnership with Sunshine Live, a Berlin-based electronic dance music online station. Sunshine Live created “Tearing Down Walls” to examine the issues facing young people in both countries.

The monthly program is hosted by Sylvia Cunningham, an American journalist and audio producer who traveled to Germany on a Fulbright grant – the Young Professional Journalist Program – four years ago. Cunningham, who had always dreamed of working for radio in Berlin, said Sunshine Live hoped to carry on the legacy of English-speaking radio while exploring modern transatlantic relations. Specifically, she says Sunshine Live hoped to investigate tensions between the United States and Germany while exploring what unites the two countries.

“One of the aspects that caused the sun to develop ‘Tearing Down Walls’ was the visible fractures in US-German relations,” she explains. “The United States ‘perception of the Germans plunged in the years following the 2016 election. As a journalist who arrived in Berlin in 2017, I also felt these fractures and was inundated with’ why And “how” on the state of American politics. ”

“It was an exciting and unique opportunity”

Cunningham took the initiative to develop the format of the first show. Through her reporting, she had learned about the importance of US-German relations from older Germans who lived through WWII and the Cold War.

After covering events in which Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the democratic values ​​shared between the two countries and their history, Cunningham was eager to learn more about the relevance of the US-Germany relationship to young people. A Connecticut native who recently obtained dual citizenship, Cunningham brings his own in-depth knowledge of both countries to each episode.

Image from Savannah Papuga '21 AS, '22.
Savannah Papuga ’21 AS, ’22.

“I like my take on a place between the two countries,” said Cunningham, who is also a freelance writer who produces, narrates and translates documentary films and magazine programs for Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster. “Still, I feel the slight pull of any place I’m not, and ‘Tearing Down Walls’ is a way to keep me connected to both countries. It was a big moment when I found out that the partner station of this transatlantic show was in Connecticut. I was very excited to have that connection with the Home State and to go back to my roots, in a way. ”

Cunningham says the relationship with WNHU is a key consideration when preparing for each episode. She and the show’s producer, Monika Müller-Kroll, have included New Haven University students and faculty such as Chris Haynes, Ph.D., professor of political science and national security, and Mike Lawlor, JD, professor of criminal justice. They also collaborate with Bruce Barber, Managing Director of WNHU.

“I can’t tell you how excited I was when the Sunshine Live management team contacted us about a partnership last summer,” said Barber. “The collaboration was facilitated by President Kaplan’s son, who currently lives in Germany, who introduced us to Petra Lemke, the CEO. I am always looking for ways to engage our students, faculty, and community members in meaningful conversations, and it quickly became apparent that this was an exciting and unique opportunity.

“I was able to integrate all the recording skills that I learned”

The show has already fostered engagement with members of the college community, as alumni such as Khaaliq Crowder ’21 and students such as Papuga and Nico Zachman ’22 have been featured in episodes. Zachman, a major in music and sound recording, arranged the music for the first show and he discussed his work during his appearance.

“I tried to choose music that I knew and liked that also matched the vibe of the Live Sun playlist,” he explains. “I learned that across the Atlantic, German audiences have very particular tastes in music, yet it is similar to American tastes in many ways. Even though I focused more on the audiovisual and journalistic aspects of music during my time in college, I was able to incorporate all the recording skills I learned in my classes and apply them to “Tearing Down”. Walls ”. “

Image by Nico Zachman '22.
Nico Zachman ’22.

Crowder was featured in the show’s second episode, which explored LGBTQ + rights in Germany and the United States, bringing together guests from both countries to discuss activism and acceptance. Passionate about giving back to the black and brunette LGBTQ + community in his home state of New York, Crowder says it was a fascinating conversation that taught him about German laws and the challenges the German LGBTQ + community faces.

“I loved hearing more about what’s going on in another country regarding issues of social inequality,” said Crowder, associate social media producer for Entertainment Tonight. “As an American, I find it so easy to get caught up in what’s going on here, especially during COVID, and we can forget about global issues that affect the marginalized. The spectacle is so vital because cultural understanding, discussion, empathy and the means to strategize for policy changes are necessary for progression, solidarity and alliance between our countries.

“It offers a different perspective”

The show’s themes relate to current events, including the German elections, climate change and cannabis policy. Discussions focused on how the United States and Germany handled travel, cultural offerings and college life during the pandemic, as well as the gradual change in each country.

Image from Khaaliq Crowder '21.
Khaaliq Crowder ’21.

Cunningham says the program focuses more on what people in each country can learn from each other, rather than their differences.

“My favorite thing about organizing ‘Tearing Down Walls’ is bringing together guests from both sides of the Atlantic,” she said. “The best are those startling moments where someone says, ‘eh, I didn’t know’ or ‘I didn’t think of it that way. I also like it when there are laughs and little moments of connection. We can learn a lot by listening.

Papuga, the dental hygiene major who discussed her experiences during the pandemic on the program, says being on the show was a wonderful learning opportunity. She hopes it will also offer classes to students and educators in the United States and Germany.

“This show is important because it offers a different perspective on how we have each handled COVID-19,” she said. “Using other countries to guide our in-person return-to-learning practices helps ensure that we provide the best opportunities for students and faculty. By exchanging lessons with Germany, we can better equip universities with the resources to educate the next generation with or without a pandemic. “