Kate Dollenmayer | BAVC

Kate Dollenmayer

Success Story
October 14, 2015
By 
General BAVC

Kate Dollenmayer
I began working at the Wende Museum in the fall of 2013, managing a collection of moving images and sound recordings from the former East Germany and the Soviet Union. They range from 16mm educational films to secret police tapes to home movies. Right away, one group of artifacts that struck me as particularly historically important, under-accessed, and at risk was the Bill Meyers Collection of original videotaped interviews with East German citizens, recorded during the mid- and late 1980s. Meyers was an American German teacher who got a Fulbright grant to interview a broad cross-section of people living in communist East Germany. He spoke with artists, writers, and craftspeople as well as government officials, youth group members, and people on the street. Meyers used the videos in his teaching, but they were never published or made widely available to researchers.

I applied to the BAVC Preservation Access Program to digitize 20 of the 121 Hi8 and VHS tapes, which has allowed us to begin transcribing and translating them from German into English. In the process, we’ve discovered that some of the tapes were actually recorded after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany was reunified in 1990. In a few cases, Meyers returned to speak to some of the same subjects he had interviewed before 1989, so we get a first-hand account of the enormous sociopolitical changes taking place at that time. Another exciting development occurred recently when I gave a presentation on the Wende Museum’s audiovisual collections at the East German Summer Film Institute held at Smith College this past July. An attendee of the institute came up to me afterwards and told me that she had accompanied Bill Meyers on some of his trips, helping with the camera work and taking still photographs of some of the places in which they conducted the interviews. She and I are now comparing our records and hopefully this will mean that we can supplement the digitized interviews with contextual images. The Wende will launch its online catalog this fall, and the Meyers Collection will be among of the first groups of records available. I think BAVC’s support for community media making and preservation exemplifies how video can be a tool for social change.

I’m so glad the Wende Museum has been able to participate in the Preservation Access Program, and we’re grateful to BAVC for making access to the amazing primary resource that is the Bill Meyers Collection possible.

Selected projects

Video still from the Bill Meyers Collection of interviews with East German citizens.
Video still from the Bill Meyers Collection of interviews with East German citizens.
Video still from the Bill Meyers Collection of interviews with East German citizens.

Video stills from the Bill Meyers Collection of interviews with East German citizens.