The saying “seeing is believing” is one that epitomized my experience with Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground). Being born in the post-Wall era and never being taught of the Berlin Wall and its impact left me with a blasé view of the Wall and its relevance. Seeing where the Wall was placed, crossing over it several times, and later heading to underground tunnels was a shock. Common acts, such as sleeping over at a friend’s or visiting one’s parents could mean that you were separated from your home, belongings, and loved ones in one night, for decades. Seeing the lengths that people went through to escape and help others escape made me pause and understand that the Wall was not merely a physical boundary. It was a boundary that quite literally separated neighbors, cut across metro lines, and was harshly enforced by the government. From the readings, I was still under the assumption that East Berlin wasn’t that bad and that the true horrors of the Soviet Union were outside the boundaries of Germany. Hearing of the reproductive control East Berlin women had over their bodies further influenced this impression, that while conservative people still chose to live in East Berlin. The tour and later research helped me round out the perspective. I learned that not all agents of the Berlin Wall were in agreement with their government. While there were good aspects of East Berlin, it was still a Soviet-run area with the further downside of people being physically separated from their family, their support network taken away. I learned that the Berlin Wall is a complex subject, one that was shaped by Germany’s past and that shaped Germany’s future. I also learned the ingenuity and grit of those who resisted is something to be admired and studied.
Elienne Deshommes is a queer rising junior who loves to learn. They are majoring in Organismal Biology, focusing on environmental stability and healing. However, their interests are broad and include African-based religions, queer history, evolutionary sciences, and Greco-Roman history. Born in Denver, CO to a Haitian immigrant father and a Coloradan mother, their dream would be to return the island of Hispaniola and its ecological past to increase the opportunities of LGBT citizens via STEM jobs and education.
Today our class had the opportunity to take a Berliner Unterwelten tour focused on resistance to and escapes under the Berlin Wall. What struck me most were the stories of people who had been separated from their loved ones and who were willing to do anything to reunite with them, even if it meant spending months digging a tunnel and putting themselves in danger. While I had studied the Berlin Wall in history courses before, I had never truly understood the intense impact it had on the people of Berlin, separating families and friends. The tour made me appreciate the value of studying people’s lived experiences, something that is often emphasized in feminist spaces, but not as often in many other disciplines. While theorizing and understanding the facts of an event are both valuable and important, theory and fact are incomplete without a grounding in material consequences and lived experience. Additionally, learning about the group of men who dug tunnels who still take the time to educate people on the Wall and its history reminded me of the importance of learning from past events and making connections between struggles. While there is no “Berlin Wall” today, the tour prompted me to consider where similar forms of subjugation are happening and where I can be “digging tunnels.” A key intervention of transnational feminism, which helps guide this course, is to see where forms of power are showing up similarly without erasing contexts. I feel so privileged to have been able to go on this tour and learn about the risks and successes of resistances in the past, and I am excited to take my learnings forward with me into the future.
Elliot Triplett is a Computer Science major and Feminist and Gender Studies minor from Longmont, Colorado. He is passionate about the mountains, disability justice, and his cats. In his free time, he can be found reading comics, making stuffed animals, and taking naps. This is his first study abroad course, and he is enjoying the chance to explore a new city.