Laser light shows and musical performances from Britain's Peter Gabriel, and the German rock band Silly filled the air at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on the evening of November 9, 2014. More than 50,000 people gathered at the historic landmark to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Six jumbotrons surrounded the crowd, showing pictures of the 136 refugees killed attempting to escape the infamous Berlin Wall.

Jim Willis, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Communication Studies, witnessed and reported on this memorable night firsthand as he had done with the 20th and 10th anniversaries. As a journalist with over four decades of experience, Willis has traveled regularly to Germany since 1995— six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Some of those trips have been to lecture on U.S. State Department circuits, but some trips were commissioned to report on these important anniversaries, as Willis had for other major events such as the Oklahoma City bombing. Fascinated by the fall of communism and the Germans’ desire for freedom, Willis reports on these momentous anniversaries as a special correspondent for The Oklahoman and As an Oklahoma City native, Willis began his journalistic career with The Oklahoman after graduating college and has reported and blogged for them ever since.

“I’ve been inspired by how deeply people value freedom, and I am reminded of this each time I return,” said Willis.

He noted that the 25th anniversary focused on the everyday people who brought down the wall. “As they flashed images of these courageous Germans who broke through barriers and died trying to do it, they also flashed images on the screens of the crowd itself—it was a statement that they all had made it happen,” said Willis.

His interest in the Berlin Wall originated in 1995 in conversations with university students in the East German city of Dresden while there lecturing on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Since then, Willis’ curiosity has grown as the Germans continue to find their identity after being denied freedom for three decades. In Daily Life Behind the Iron Curtain (ABC-CLIO, 2013), Willis focuses on the people that lived during this era, recounting their experiences and how they managed to survive behind the wall.

Though Germans saw this anniversary as a celebration of freedom, the event caused them to think about current political issues, particularly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Willis, some Germans see Russia’s move as an attempt to rebuild an empire and worry about Putin’s motives. Willis said the fall of the Berlin Wall serves as a reminder that communism did not work in Europe, and is not likely to work anywhere else.

“Since the end of World War II, the fall of the Berlin Wall is the most significant event for Germany, marking a desire for freedom that transcends borders and is universal,” said Willis.

Listing of Willis’ Books:

From Twitter to Tahrir Square: Ethics of Social and New Media Communication (with Bala Musa, Ph.D.) (Santa Barbara: Praeger), June, 2014.

Daily Life Behind the Iron Curtain (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO), January, 2013.

100 Media Moments That Changed America (Westport: Greenwood, 2009)

The Mind of a Journalist: How Reporters View Themselves, Their Craft, and Their World, (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2009).

The Media Effect: How the News Influences Politics and Government, (Westport: Praeger, 2007).

The Human Journalist: Reporters, Perspectives and Emotions, (Westport: Praeger, 2003).

Prelude to Greatness: Sooner Football in the 1990s, with Jay Smith, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003).

Images of Germany in the American Media, (Westport: Praeger, 1997).

Reporting on Risks: The Practice and Ethics of Health Reporting, with Albert Okunade, (Westport: Praeger, 1996).

The Age of Multimedia and Turbonews, (Westport: Praeger, 1993).

New Directions in Media Management, with Diane Willis, (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1992).

The Shadow World: Life Between the News Media and Reality, (Westport: Praeger, 1991).

Journalism: State of the Art, (Westport: Praeger, 1990).

Surviving in the Newspaper Business: Newspaper Management in Turbulent Times, (Westport: Praeger, 1988).