This podcast—led and produced by Anabel Simotas— examines our tour on “The Spirit of 1968” with Nadav Gablinger of Gablinger Tours, which covers the students’ movement of 1968 in Berlin and various other similar movements throughout the world. According to the tour company, “The face of modern, post-unification is impacted by the Students’ Movement of 1968, and the different developments in German politics it has ignited. They brought ‘Green’ notions of human rights and environmental policy to the German discourse, but others have resorted to use force to reach their objectives. Berlin, the divided city, was at the centre of Germany’s political changes, and in your tour, you will see why it has attracted the rebels and the challengers, and what they have done there. In this tour, Gablinger will show you the crossroads that changed the face of modern Germany and the relics of the 1968 Revolution in contemporary Berlin.”
Photo Credit: Anabel Simotas
Anabel Simotas, New York City native, majors in History/Classics/Political Science and minors in German at Colorado College. In her free time, she enjoys knitting, cooking, at-home-Spa-treatments, period piece TV programs, and disco. Ultimately, she would like to pursue a Masters in Social Work.
Photo Credit: Anabel Simotas
Joining Anabel in her discussion are Dylan Compton—a Tulsa, OK native majoring in Religion and International Affairs with a Chinese language minor, and Britta Lam—a Hong Kong native who hopes to double major in German and Environmental Science.
NOTE: The featured image photo credit also belongs to Anabel Simotas.
As we filed into the classroom at the John F. Kennedy Institute, we chose our seats, and for the first time in a while, it felt like we were starting the beginning of a new block at CC. Soon, the JFK students came, and our convergence class began. The professor, Rebecca Brückmann, sat at the front of the classroom with Heidi and introduced her class, “The African American Civil Rights Movement,” telling us that today’s class would be focused on Freedom Summer, Selma, and federal Civil Rights legislation.
Next, we watched a clip from Eyes on the Prize that focused on Medgar Evers in order to better understand the social climate in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. We first discussed how Mississippi was referred to as a “closed society” that was not open to the reformed racial laws in the United States. As a result, we better understood Mississippi as a state where you could feel the racial tension and violence “all in the air.” Subsequently, we discussed the Freedom Summer in 1964. Relying on various articles Professor Brückmann’s students discussed various aspects of the Freedom Summer, from its origins to outcomes, such as Bob Moses, SNCC, voting rights, and volunteers. Reminiscent of Maisha Eggers’ description of “moving outward” in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” activists during Freedom Summer intended to “enter spaces of political articulation” in order to demand their rights.
Along these lines, one of the things that stood out to me was our discussion about Fannie Lou Hamer. Popular Civil Rights narratives in the United States often exclude women. So, it was great to see that Fannie Lou Hamer was worthy of a class discussion. Hamer, an African American woman born on a plantation in a rural town in Mississippi was one of the leading women of the Civil Rights movement. At that point, Lyric Jackson spoke about Fannie’s struggle in taking fellow African Americans to register to vote in Mississippi, being attacked in prison, and speaking on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. After this, Professor Brückmann turned to a video of Hamer speaking as a representative for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Before she began her speech, she stated her home address in order to show her lack of fear of the white attackers that she may face (and had already faced). This clip showed the utter disrespect of Fannie Lou Hamer and disregard for her words as a white male reporter cut her off and completely interrupted her speech. I really appreciated that the class took as much time as we did to talk about Hamer, as the erasure of HerStory is all too present in much of American History education.
When we began to talk about the expansion of voting rights in Alabama, specifically in Selma, Professor Brückmann gave us a warning that the clip that we would watch might be triggering. The clip specifically looked at what happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, infamously known as “Bloody Sunday.” The march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery was for voting rights, but was also in response to the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson during a peaceful march by a police officer. This reminded me of the killing of Benno Ohnesorg in Berlin in 1967. According to Michael A. Schmidtke in “Cultural Revolution of Culture Shock? Student Radicalism and 1968 in Germany,” when Ohnesorg was shot, there began an “uproar in the universities,” as well as countless marches and protests. In the United States, however, it seemed nothing would make people in power to listen. As the protestors came upon the Edmund Pettus Bridge, there were police officers waiting for them in gas masks, demanding that they retreat. Without giving the marchers any time to move, the police officers brutally attacked them with tear gas and police batons. Both protests shed light on the culture of violence of the police, but in Selma, there was no mercy. This violence in America continued, and still continues today throughout the country. Neither Germany nor America has created a safe environment for their citizens, especially their Black citizens. How many deaths do we need until this brutality is finally stopped? Germany and the United States must realize that racial violence is still prominent, and continues to remain “all in the air.”
To conclude our class, we began small group discussions (mixed with FemGeniuses and Professor Brückmann’s students) about the aspects of transnational Black civil and human rights struggles. As a class, we discussed “half-assed” activism, state-sanctioned violence, and the illusion that “we’ve come so far.” All of the transnational consistencies reminded me of ’s “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap.” Ickstadt highlights how Turkish Germans find strength and comfort in the paralleled struggles that they see between American hip-hop and the Turkish-German experience. They call upon Black protest in the United States to inform their own forms of protest. If we no longer live in a racist society, how do these struggles in both the United States and Germany parallel so clearly? Without racism, we wouldn’t need an outlet to express the feelings of oneself as the “other” within one’s society. This illusion that “we’ve come so far” must be eradicated, because we obviously have not come nearly far enough. Until those in power open their eyes to the real racism seen every day in the lives of people in both the United States and Germany, we will never be able to stop racism. By placing blame or talking about how bad racism is in a different country, we gain nothing. After looking outward towards Germany, we were also able to gain insight about how we can look further inward to truly understand how truly prevalent racism in our everyday lives.
Jesse Crane is a pending Colorado College graduate from Bethesda, MD. Jesse graduated in May, but as a transfer student, she was required to do one more credit in order to fulfill her Sociology degree requirements. She saw Berlin as the perfect opportunity to take an amazing final college course and study abroad. Like many CC students, Jesse loves being outdoors—whether it may be skiing, hiking, or taking her dog for a walk. On the weekends, she spends her time practicing yoga and cuddling with her dog Lily. While Jesse loves things like reading, chai tea, and playing cards, waking up early and jogging are things that you will probably not see Jesse doing often. Jesse is grateful and excited to have the opportunity to take one final class abroad at Colorado College and can’t wait to share her experiences with everyone.
On Monday morning, after having coffee at Heidi’s apartment and catching up after a fun weekend, we went to meet our tour guide Nadav Gablinger. On the first stop of the tour, Naday lead us through the doors of a German university and out into a courtyard. We all sat down and listened as he explained to us that we were sitting at the location that was home to the Student Movement of 1968. This was a movement that was headed by the Baby Boomer generation. Nadav explained that in 1960, the media began to cover the trials accusing Nazis of war crimes in relation to their involvement at Auschwitz. This was the first time that many of the students attending the university had heard of the types of atrocities that occurred under the Nazi rule during WWII. They responded with outrage—why was this history, which was so recent, never taught to them? The students began to push back against the school system, demanding that the entire history of Germany be taught. Students also began to push against the ideology of the school, which at this point seemed less like a place that encouraged learning and more like a well-oiled machine meant to get students in and out of the system as quickly as possible, as to generate the most profit. Many members of the school’s administration were former Nazis themselves, so this just furthered the wary nature of the students. As a result, the students were stripped of their ability to communicate with professors and those in charge. It became increasingly apparent to the students that they were functioning under an authoritarian rule, with only the illusion of democratic freedom.
As Michael A. Schmidtke points out in “Cultural Revolution or Cultural Shock? Student Radicalism and 1968 in Germany,” a larger picture began to form revealing that “a gap existed between [Germany’s] democratic ideals and the undemocratic culture” (79). Hence, there was a growing tension between the students and the authorities. Students became more at-risk living in West Berlin during this time of conflict, and could be arrested for things as simple as wearing ripped jeans and having long hair. Eventually, this growing tension lead to the formation of the Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund (SDS), an opposition group outside of the German Parliament. According to Schmidtke, the SDS was “one of the most important groups in the protest movement” (80), as their goal was to not resist the authoritarian institution but go “through it and change it.”
We continued the tour by walking to spots where the students had performed sit-ins and other forms of protest. We eventually found ourselves standing in front of Deutsche Oper, West Berlin’s opera house. This was the point when the movement came to its height. A demonstration was held in protest of the visit of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Benno Ohnesorg, a German student, was present at the demonstration with his pregnant wife. When the protest turned violent, Benno and his wife fled the scene to seek protection. They ran down the block as a police officer followed them. They cut a corner and continued down an ally way and into a courtyard where Benno was then shot in the back of the head by the police officer. Bennos’ death sparked debate within the student community and across the world. Today, there is a statue (Relief Der Tod des Demonstranten [The Death of the Demonstrator] by Alfred Hrdlicka) outside of the Opera house commemorating the police brutality that was occurring during the time of the movement and the death of Ohnesorg.
The students in Berlin also decided to attack the Bild newspaper headquarters in response to the police brutality. Bild, a very large publishing company, had been printing papers throughout the Student Movement portraying the members of SDS and the movement leaders as terrorists. Bild’s mass media influence had large effects on the way the public constructed a narrative of the movement. As Jin Haritaworn points out in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” the misrepresentation of the group as terrorists “converted police into the main patron” in the public’s eyes (73). This allowed for Ohnesorg’s perpetrator, Karl-Heinz Kurras, to escape any type of punishment. Instead of appearing in the media as oppressors of people fighting for freedom, police were seen as heroes protecting Germany from the student terrorists.
The next and last stop on our journey was to Rudi-Dutschke-Straße, named after one of the most prominent leaders of the movement. This is also the street where Bild publishing headquarters is located and the sight of the movement’s response to Ohnesorg’s death. This is where the members of the student movement burned down the headquarters of Bild and held daily riots in the following days. The Student Movement opened doors for resistance groups around the globe, and it allowed for groups whose history had previously been silenced to have a space to begin to tell their stories. For example, Erik N. Jensen notes the “shared memory of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals (which) emerged in the 1970s” in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution” (321). If it were not for the actions of the members and leaders of the Student Movement, this community’s stories may have been left hidden in Germany’s past forever.
Mackenzie Murphy grew up in New Jersey, and although she loves living in Colorado, the east coast still has a strong hold on her heart. She has been fortunate enough to have traveled within the United States, as well as to some parts of Europe and most recently to Costa Rica. This is her first time in Germany, and she’s most excited about the opportunity to travel and learn about this wonderful place with her peers. She will be a senior this coming fall, and she studies Film & New Media Studies. She also holds strong interests in Philosophy and Feminist & Gender Studies. She is currently watching the TV series The Sopranos, and her favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche.