Some Final Thoughts on the 2015 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

By Breana Taylor

KwesiBerlin has surprised me. This is a city rich in history, and I do not only mean history specifically focused on World War II. The course has focused, in part, on problematizing the limited popular narratives about Berlin and Germany, and has exposed my classmates and I to the histories, herstories, cultures, and politics of marginalized groups, such as Black Germans, Jewish Germans, Turkish Germans, LBTQIA folks in Germany, and other groups and how their experiences and relationships with Berlin and Germany are often absent from general narratives. We have taken numerous tours learning about Berlin’s Queer history, Jewish History, African history (particularly along the streets of Wedding), and more. In addition to tours, we have met with multiple intellectual activists like Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo, Asoka Esuruoso, Sandrine Micossé-Aikins, Noah Sow, Noah Hofmann, Dr. Maisha Eggers, Sharon Dodua Otoo, and many others.

Like other countries across the globe, Germany wishes to distance itself from racists and oppressive actions committed within its own walls and by its own people. As Heinz Ickstadt points out in “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” Germany is a country with multiple cultural layers. It is a country in which Black Germans, Asian Germans, Latino Germans, and more do exist and not all in small numbers. Still, Ickstadt argues, “It will probably still take some time until Germans fully understand how much their own culture has been enriched by these developments.” He further questions, “Is it a transitional phenomenon bound to disappear with the next generation of fully integrated Germans with Turkish names? Or will it be kept in place by a global tendency toward a bicultural existence?” (21). This is an unavoidable transition that Germany is approaching. And while German as an identity is growing and evolving to include many of the aforementioned marginalized communities, it is still not an inclusive term, even for marginalized people who were born and reared in Germany. Along these lines, Jasmin Eding argues, “Today we have to deal with a dominantly white society that now calls itself multi-cultural although we are viewed strangely if we identify ourselves as Black. We are also still struggling for visibility as well as Black consciousness within our own ranks” (2). Similarly, listening to Noah Sow speak gave us incredible insight regarding the distinctions between Black German and Afro-Deutsche.

GraffitiAs we learned from Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz, Turkish-Germans have also resisted similar challenges through their relationship with Black American culture through hip hop as means of expressing themselves. Generationally for the Turkish community in Germany, one’s citizenship is affected by whether or not one is born in Germany and when one person’s parents came to the country. Hence, when coming of age, many feel they have to choose between two citizenships, two identities. Because many young Turkish Germans were born in Germany, they consider themselves German. Unfortunately, the German identity has restrictions and limitations on what is actually German, and Turkish-Germans are often not treated as German. The idea of being German and what it means is evolving, but German often still means White German.

As the class came to an end, we concluded with a dinner at Maredo Steakhouse, enjoying a full course meal and good company. We laughed and spoke about what it has meant to be abroad and experience new things with all the phenomenal people on the trip. Though it may have seemed overplayed, it was still greatly appreciated. This was an amazing class thanks to the vision for the class provided by Professor Heidi Lewis, including the help of her colleague Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and our interactions with the rich herstories/histories of Berlin.

Group Photo2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.

Introducing the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Finding Their Presence: A Women’s Perspective Tour of Berlin” by Nia Abram
I’m My Own Flower: Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo on Intersectionality, Resistance, and Belonging” by Jazlyn Andrews
Understanding Black Studies in Germany (w/ Dr. Maisha Eggers)” by Meredith Bower
Beware of the Green Spaces: A Jewish History Tour (w/ Carolyn Gammon)” by DeAira Cooper
The Jewish Museum: Forced into Exile Workshop” by Jesse Crane
#BlackLivesMatter All over the World: Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh” by Samantha Gilbert
What is Racism?: A Discussion with Sandrine Micossé-Aikins” by Jade Frost
Student Resistance: Germany in the 1960s” by Mackenzie Murphy
Where You Reside?: Postcolonial Performance in Berlin w/ Salma Arzouni” by Lyric Jackson
I Am not Your Idea of Me (w/ Sharon Dodua Otoo)” by Thabiso Ratalane
‘Not So Tangible but Still Real!’: LesMigraS and Intersectional Anti-Violence Work in Berlin” by Spencer Spotts
Jasmin Eding and ADEFRA: On Self-Definition and Empowerment” by Willa Rentel
Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann” by Breana Taylor
Dismantling Structural Racism: Kwesi Aikins on Politics in a Postcolonial Society” by Nia Abram
Consumption of Culture: A Trip to the KENAKO Afrika Festival” by Jazlyn Andrews
Ignorance Is Never Bliss: Our Turkish Tour Experience” by Meredith Bower
Freedom Summer, Selma, & Federal Civil Rights Legislation: Black History in Berlin w/ Rebecca Brückmann” by Jesse Crane
‘I Want You to Listen to My Story!’: An Afternoon with Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz” by Jade Frost
Misrepresenting a Colonial Past: The Africa in Wedding Tour with Josephine Apraku” by Samantha Gilbert
What It Is and What It Ain’t: Tour of the Neues Museum” by Lyric Jackson
Breaking Down Barriers: A Discussion with Noah Sow” by Mackenzie Murphy
A Visit to Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand” by Thabiso Ratalane
Resistance through Art: The FemGenuises Do Graffiti with Berlin Massive” by DeAira Cooper
‘Hier ist’s richtig!’: Creating and Dominating Queerness in Berlin” by Spencer Spotts
Site Seeing (and Thinking, Analyzing, Understanding, etc.)” by Willa Rentel

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here


IMG_9349While studying at Colorado College, Breana Taylor realized that feminism is a passion of hers, which is convenient, because she recently decided to declare her major in Feminist & Gender Studies. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Breana is no stranger to traveling or to being around lots people. Having grown up in a large family and with a father in the military, she enjoys being exposed to new environments and the experiences that come with being in new places. During her down time, she enjoys reading, stand-up comedy, and listening to movie soundtracks. Feminism has brought nothing but good things to her life, such as new perspectives on women, race, and gender, and how to think critically about these things and more. Being a member of the FemGeniuses is such an honor, and she cannot wait for the opportunity to grow in her knowledge on feminism across the globe!

Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann

By Breana Taylor

IMG_8973Often when we think of storytelling, images of bedtime stories or campfire stories come to mind. However, for Asoka Esuruoso, storytelling is how we relay the accounts of our lives and connect with people around us. For this reason, Esuruoso prefers not to refer to herself as an artist, though she performs spoken word, makes film, and is a writer. Instead, she calls herself a storyteller. Through her work—ranging from books she’s written and co-edited, her spoken word and films—Esuruoso shares the stories of those that are often silenced. Born in Boston, Esuruoso grew up in the U.S., and attended Columbia University for her undergraduate years. While living in the U.S., she noticed that racism was different from the racism she experienced in Berlin. Since she wanted to be an activist and use her degrees to help with her activism, she decided to move back to Berlin. In Berlin, she earned a Master’s of English from Freie Universität with an emphasis on Post-Colonial Literature and Post-Colonial Political Theatre. Her studies were not the only things keeping her busy; in addition to attending class, Esuruoso found Berlin’s social setting to be a second home. Activism, specifically, was something she knew would be a part of her life, having participated in activist works while in the U.S. In response to questions about how racism and activism are different in the U.S. and Berlin, Esuruoso spoke the more expensive cost-of-living in the U.S., and how as an African American Woman whose mother is African American and whose father is Nigerian, the activism she partook in too often privileged the experience of African Americans and was lacking in a Pan-Africanist approach.

Additionally, while in Berlin, Esuroso claims racism was much more blatant and obvious—people approach her for drug and hyper-sexualize her body with their gazes and questions, like what is your price? Having read some of Esuruoso’s work, especially Arriving in the Future: Stories of Home and Exile (a collection she co-edited with Philipp Khabo Köpsell), prior to meeting her, I was particularly struck by the moment in her short story, “Chasing Stars,” in which she writes about her grandmother, “I had asked her about blackness and happiness…Was it possible to have both? I wanted, no, needed to know. Was it possible to be both?” (2). This passage resonates with me, because through Esuruoso’s work, she exposes and gives a voice to silenced communities, promoting the culture of Afro-Germans. As a result, she proves that the relationship between happiness and Blackness do exist.

IMG_8974Germany is a country like many others in that many of its citizens refuse to accept the structural racism that is perpetuated on an institutional level against marginalized people. Along these lines, Esuruoso spoke about how racism is embedded into the structure of the country on a legal level. For example, a landlord can legally refuse to rent property to a Black person and other people of color on the grounds of not being comfortable or wanting to keep peace amongst their tenants. Another way Berlin specifically refuses to come to face with their racist society can be seen in some of their museum exhibits. Along these lines, Noah Hofmann, who also joined our session, spoke about Black people in Germany and how their narratives have been absent from mainstream Germany history. Hofmann identifies as a Black German, and is a writer and activist. His work addresses Blackness in Berlin and exposes the history and issues of the Black community in this country. Fortunately, we had Hofmann correctly inform us that the history of Black people in Germany actually dates all the way back to 450 AD, despite the common conception that Black Germans did not have a presence until much later. Moreover, Black German history can also be traced to the Holocaust, during which they also spent time in concentration camps. Black people also migrated to Germany post WWII, during which Black soldiers (from France, the U.S., and other countries) were assigned to come to Germany. Subsequently, many of them had relationships with White German women from which children came about as a consequence. Hence, we know now that Black people have been in Berlin and were never not present.

Present in both Esuruoso and Hofmann’s discussion was the use of the word “Afro-German” and how important it is to the Black German community, because it created “a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness” (Eggers 3). As a result of the coining of the term, various movement began in order to contest “dominant myths such as the claim that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers 3). Both Esuruoso and Hofmann spoke about the power of this term and how it was monumental to the Black German community finding a voice in a country where they were isolated and lacked a sense of community amongst themselves. Still as Hofmann heavily emphasized throughout his discussion, White Germans still feel all too comfortable with eradicating Black history from German history, hoping to also eradicate racism from German history. As Jasmin Eding claims in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want to,” “Self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives” (131). Through all of this very important work, I see that Afro-Germans are alive, as is their history.


Breana Kathleen Taylor

While studying at Colorado College, Breana Taylor realized that feminism is a passion of hers, which is convenient, because she recently decided to declare her major in Feminist & Gender Studies. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Breana is no stranger to traveling or to being around lots people. Having grown up in a large family and with a father in the military, she enjoys being exposed to new environments and the experiences that come with being in new places. During her down time, she enjoys reading, stand-up comedy, and listening to movie soundtracks. Feminism has brought nothing but good things to her life, such as new perspectives on women, race, and gender, and how to think critically about these things and more. Being a member of the FemGeniuses is such an honor, and she cannot wait for the opportunity to grow in her knowledge on feminism across the globe!

I am not Your Idea of Me

By Thabiso Ratalane

IMG_8925While reading Sharon Dodua Otoo’s the things I am thinking while smiling politely, I was intrigued by both the narrative and the style in which the author chose to write her unnamed African main character. First of all, my preconception of Germany as a mono-ethnic white absolute majority country was challenged. Here was a middle-class black woman in Berlin dealing with “middle-class problems” like her emotions about a broken marriage. This is an atypical written narrative about African migrants, who are often written into Western history as perpetual victims.

IMG_8927The narratives we often hear or read about regarding immigration and migrants in Western literature are ones about suffering and struggling to adjust to a new country that alienates them. Often, the immigration is either illegal or even involuntary, like in the cases of asylum-seekers. For instance, in “Voices in Exile” Asoka Esuruoso writes, “The old asylum seeker from Sierra Leon looked at me. Her face was wrinkled. Her jet-black wig perched precariously above her head was in the slow process of falling, ‘It’s the stress,’ she said” (165). A hyper-focus on narratives like Esuruoso’s, whilst true, have the potential to perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes that black people do not belong in Germany—that they are outsiders, encroaching in spaces that were not meant for them. Sharon’s narrative, then, challenges this kind of thinking in Germany. It reclaims the black narrative as its own, and portrays it as normal, human. It also echoes Phillipp Khabo Koepsell’s poem, “A Fanfare of the Colonized,” when he writes, “We [black people] can write this history…rewrite this damn story from the bottom to the top… reclaim what is mine and sound a fanfare for the colonized” (213).

As Sandrine Micossé-Aikins and Sharon point out, “black people are repeatedly reminded of, confronted with, and challenged by fantasies of white supremacy right up until the present day” (Micossé-Atkins and Otoo 9). In this way, Sharon’s work plays an important role in challenging this fantasy. It is, after all, what she describes as the literature she would have wanted to read growing up, and is now accessible to millions of black German women who now feel represented and situated firmly in German society. It is also the reason why her main character lacks a name. Sharon wanted every woman to be able to see herself in the main character, to relate to her problems, because they are truly universal and human.

We were all eager to meet Sharon and ask her our questions about her book. The anticipation leading to this moment could be seen in the excitement everyone showed when we learned that we all got to ask a question along with our introductions. Sharon briefed us on how her love for the German language led her to study the language, as well as her decision to move to Berlin from her childhood home in London. Her life’s story until this point resonated with the main character in her novella. Everyone was anxious to hear about how and if Sharon’s characters were informed by real life experiences, even possibly her own. But this led to us to a discussion on imagination and how authors of color are always expected to have recounted their lives in their produced works of literature, almost as if they are not allowed to have an imagination, like their white counter parts. It is the double standard that we, as students of intersectionality, found ourselves upholding and having to challenge.

IMG_8928I found it interesting to point out that using People of Color (POC) to refer to people of the African diaspora is highly contentious in Germany, as it does not carry the same cultural and political history as it does in the United States. Sharon, through her work in activism, finds the term very broad and highly inclusive, making it unable to pinpoint and encompass the specific racial problems facing particular groups included under the umbrella term. For instance, we established that there were different racisms in Germany and that the lived experience of racism for one racial group might not necessarily be true for the other group.

IMG_8926We concluded by picking Sharon’s brain on her thoughts about racism in both London and Berlin. She smiled and said that English people are sometimes too concerned with being polite so that their racism is often passive. She prefers Berlin where everyone is blatant about their racism, because then she is more comfortable with honesty.


Thabiso Ratalane

Thabiso Ratalane is a rising senior from the city of Maseru in the Southern African enclave of Lesotho. She dabbles in French and International Political Economy major divisions at Colorado College. Thabiso is passionate about fashion, linguistics, politics, writing, and social justice for minority groups around the world. Thabiso idolizes Anna Wintour; she finds her strong will, tenacity, efficiency, and passion for what she does admirable, and regards Wintour as a champion for female empowerment. Thabiso’s passion for minority groups and how they navigate social spaces that alienate them made this course and Berlin a perfect fit to spend her first month of the Summer.