Queer Berlin Walking Tour with Mal Pool by Elliot Triplett and Cecelia Russell

Elliot Triplett

On the last Tuesday of class, we were lucky enough to go on a Queer Berlin walking tour led by Mal Pool. On the tour, we explored Schöneberg, the so-called “Gayborhood” of Berlin and talked about the history of the area and queer persecution and resistance. Mal told us many stories of how queer people throughout the past resisted persecution. These narratives made me think about the discussions we’ve been having throughout the class about what it means to resist. While we may think of resistance as protesting in the street or creating change, and it often is, this course has pushed me to broaden my understanding of resistance and to critically consider why I understand some actions as resistive and some not. In what situations is survival and hiding a form of resistance? Do you have to create concrete change to have done worthwhile resistance? How can we complicate our understanding of resistance to include less binaries and more complexity? Another aspect of the tour I appreciated was learning how communities and organizations evolved over time to become more inclusive and intersectional. One example of this phenomenon was Mann-O-Meter, a queer organization in Berlin. When it started, it only existed to serve cisgender, gay men, but it quickly expanded to serve people of all identities within the queer community, providing them with thoughtful and holistic care. Hearing about these organizations doing such good work was incredibly inspiring tome—in a world where so much is going wrong for queer people, it was nice to hear about people working to care for their communities. It was also inspiring to hear about how many organizations had improved themselves after they realized they weren’t inclusive enough. So often the narrative in activist spaces is that if you mess up, you’re done forever. So, it was helpful to have a more realistic model to look to.

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.

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Cecelia Russell

We spent the morning situated in a “gayborhood” of Berlin around the Nollendorfplatz subway station, which soon became apparent as many pride flags came into view. Mal Pool, a queer person from Indiana who has lived in Berlin for the past 17 years, gave us a walking tour of the area. This location was the Sapphic Capital of the world (the whole world!) a century ago, and today you might never be able to tell. The streets and local businesses are filled with gay men. After World War I, many of the men never came back so the population was predominantly women; and in this area, these women loved women. After World War II, there was a drive for the nullification of property ownership under Nazi occupation. Queer ownership existed, but not legacy. Men had more property rights than women at the time, so this neighborhood became less sapphic-dominant. There was a central thread in our reading this week that resonated in our tour too: the creativity and resilience of the queer community here. For example, Mal brought us in front of a gay club, Metropol, that resembles a church. They pointed out that in times of hardship, such as the Covid pandemic, many people have places of community, such as church. But for many queer people, churches are not safe spaces. Instead, they have clubs and nightlife. During the pandemic, Covid cases were higher in churches than in the clubs. This community has lived through the AIDS epidemic. Queer people know how to be safe, get tested, prioritize health, and have fun while doing it. Mal pointed out that “the way that minorities like to have fun is the way they are criticized.” I aim to keep this in mind when considering different narratives told about marginalized communities, and who they are coming from.

Cecelia Russell is a rising senior from the north shore of Massachusetts, and her passions have in part been shaped by her upbringing on a fruit farm. Much of her time is spent organizing with other young people for environmental legislation, food security, and climate justice—with a recent focus on the college’s divestment campaign. Academically, she has so many interests that she has yet to declare a major, but she has spent most of her time studying environmental science.

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