Memorialization: The Past in the Present and Why it is Important Today

 

By Liza Bering

As our time in Berlin nears an end, I am noticing more and more the relationship between capitalism and sites, memorials, tours, and museums—especially how the importance of these places sometimes gets lost in a whirlwind of ignorance. This ignorance is one that allows for little discussion or critical remembrance and instead creates space for an insensitivity that masks the problems that “remembered” people face today. Before snapping a selfie or indulging in the appropriated souvenirs, a visitor should think about or ask themselves: What is the significance of this site? Who is it for? Why is this important? The truth is that most don’t bother to ask these questions. Instead, they settle for a cool key chain, an Instagram post, or even just to say they’ve been there. With this, I wonder how these places, museums, sites, may function as memorials for the people they “remember” or as a Band-Aid for historical traumas and the erasure of groups or if they are simply there to eagerly take money from seemingly clueless tourists, because the reality is that monuments and memorials prescribe history.

This past weekend, I traveled to Teufelsberg. Located just outside of the city of Berlin, near West Berlin’s Grunewald Forest, lies a large hill made up of 12 million cubic meters of war rubble pushed together and created what is now Teufelsberg, which literally translates to “Devil’s Mountain.” I arrived, payed the entrance fee, and set off on my way to explore. I had fallen into the vicious cycle that allows tourists to visit a place they know absolutely nothing about, take some pictures, and then leave—still knowing nothing. After leaving the site, I asked myself, “What is this place?” I still knew absolutely nothing about Teufelsberg, except that it had beautiful street art covering the walls of the abandoned spy tower. I later searched Google, and found what I was looking for: tangible information that would allow me to appreciate the site and understand its importance and how it functions today as a place of artistic expression. The tower was built on a former Nazi training school that was utterly invincible as it had survived multiple demolition attempts. Instead, truckloads of war rubble from World War II were dumped on the center, and the U.S. built a spy tower to use with Great Britain to spy on communist East Germany during the era of the Berlin Wall. After the fall of the Wall, the site became a place that was going house an air traffic control center, apartments, or a school, but it ultimately became a site open to the paying public and a haven for graffiti artists.

Bering III

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

Spending a relaxing Sunday strolling around the spy towers had me thinking about a prevalent theme that we have been discussing in class: the memorialization of sites and how they function as institutions of remembrance, knowledge, and recognition while sometimes simultaneously catering to capitalism, especially pertaining to collective guilt. Along these lines, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary,” Sabine Offe writes, “It is a time gap between both institutional functions [collecting/sheltering cultural heritage and obscuring of past and history of guilt] that turns museums in general and Jewish museums specifically into highly ambivalent places, established to transform collective guilt and banish it from memory and thereby enhancing its commemoration” (78). During our class, the lens through which we view and discuss various sites of “remembrance” allows us to critically examine the ways certain acts of memorialization are sometimes fueled by personal, political, and/or capitalist interests rather than changing the way the memorialized subject is seen and treated today.

Berlin is city filled with historically deep wounds that are not forgotten and sometimes not even fully discussed. A common mentality I have picked up from some sites in Berlin is one that seems to scream, “Okay, Berlin has given you and your people a sign, memorial, or museum…isn’t that enough?” We saw this during the Africa in Wedding Tour when we discussed street signs that give recognition to the African countries that Germany colonized, like Ghanastraße, yet the city still fails to do much justice to the people or bring the invisibility of Germany’s colonial past to the present. We saw this at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the National Socialist Regime, where clueless tourists throw pennies into the memorial’s basin of “tears” or continue to use derogatory language when referring to Sinti and Roma people. We saw this at Checkpoint Charlie, where tourists from all over waited patiently in line to dress up in old army uniforms and pose with a replicated U.S. checkpoint hut, while still not fully understanding the lasting effects that the Berlin Wall had on Berlin even after its fall in 1989. The common theme here is that the memorials do not necessarily change the stigma that surrounds these historically marginalized groups today. Just because you dedicate a statue, fountain, or street to something doesn’t mean the pain and suffering is over. Still, these sites are powerful, because they give recognition to groups, events, or people that otherwise might still be unrecognized. My question is, how can we memorialize people in a way that does not suppress their past and present experiences?

Bering I

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

Memorials have become institutions that collect and shelter cultural heritage while sometimes obscuring the past, which contributes to an obscured sense of collective guilt and collective memory. Along these lines, in “Coming In From the Cold: The Black German Experience, Past and Present,” Marion Kraft comments on the recognition and memorialization of Afro-Germans, writing, “Despite the presence and achievement of Black Germans, racist notions and conceptualizations of nation and ‘race’ have not vanished from the mainstream German collective consciousness” (10). So where do we go from here? The beginning of this issue lies within the people—we must slough off shallow, surface-level approaches to sites of remembrance and enter with an open mind and the understanding that the issues surrounding such memorials are issues that are still deeply rooted in society today. The public attraction and capitalization that inevitably attracts tourists isn’t always bad, because after all some kind of remembrance or recognition is better than none. However, we must be careful and compassionate and critical of how and what information tourists and outsiders are seeking and being fed.


BeringLiza Bering is a sophomore at Colorado College hailing from Des Moines, Iowa. She is planning on majoring in Geology and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Feminist and Gender Studies. She plans on combining the three different disciplines in way that with impact others on more than just a shallow surface level. When she isn’t studying (or touring Berlin with her fellow FemGenuises) you may find her checking out street art, walking around Berlin’s beautiful city parks, or getting lost on the subway.

Navigating White Spaces: An Intersectional Analysis of Activist Work by Men of Color

 

By Ryan Garcia

A couple days ago, I was walking around the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg borough when I was approached by a German student in University doing research on the perception of borders and the personal effects they have on our lives. Borders, in my opinion, are synonymous with limitations constructed to separate those who fall within social norms and those who deviate from them. It wasn’t until today’s discussion about masculinities that I thought about borders affecting social constructs, such as masculinity. Throughout history, Berlin has felt the effects of borders, from physical borders like the Berlin Wall to mental borders such as performing within a stereotype. Keeping this idea of borders and division and linking that idea to masculinity allows an intersectional approach to what it means to be masculine and of color based on multiple factors such as class, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender to name a few.

Prior to jumping head-first into our discussion, we were briefly introduced to three men of color who disturb traditionally white spaces in their own unique ways. We were first introduced to Musa Okwonga. While his parents are from Uganda, Okwonga grew up in London, England. Musa is a queer-identifying poet, musician and writer who has also made films for NGOs. His writing is primarily focused on sports, politics, gender, and sexuality, while his music is focused on transforming negative circumstances into positive experiences. After meeting Musa, we met Noah Hofmann. He is avid blogger on Facebook, which tends to be personal in nature. While he does not label himself as queer, he feels limited by heterosexuality. Noah has tried acting and jokingly stated that he left it for those who knew what they were doing. He then proceeded to give music a try, which then led him to writing. We were then introduced to Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz. He is a writer and a student currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Sociology all while being a parent. Although he was born in Berlin, his parents came to Germany from Turkey to work. Mutlu was influenced during his teenage years by an Afro-German who knew his brother. It was through his brother that he began working with Phoenix, an organization which offers anti-racism training for the white community along with empowerment training for people of color. Phoenix has allowed Mutlu to deal with negative circumstances and factors in his life in a positive rather than destructive way.

In order to navigate Berlin as men of color, Musa, Mutlu, and Noah have to deconstruct masculinity and realize what it means to them. Without trying to redefine masculinity, Noah has realized that gender and its relation to masculinity aren’t necessary in order to give up its toxicity. Mutlu’s background in antiracism work has allowed him to get a first-hand experience in what it is like to be viewed as a man of color. When he walks into a room, people see a Turkish-Muslim man. By being aware of this perception he has humbled himself in way to know his place and how to navigate a space. After more than fifteen years with Phoenix, he knows that being socialized as a male “can be limiting and imprisoning.” Mutlu developed a freedom within feminism and the parallels between being socialized as male and of color. Along these lines, May Ayim writes, “racism goes hand in hand with sexism” (82). They are both social constructs with material implications that are evolutionary in nature, functioning similarly because they are both born of natural phenomena such as being born a certain race and being born a certain sex; something that you cannot change.

Class (Garcia)

L to R: Dana Asbury, Nikki Mills, and Annie Zlevor [Photo Credit: Ryan Garcia]

On this note, Marion Kraft writes that the effects often felt by racism are due to institutional catalysts, such as the political climate that Berlin faced throughout the war and during the reunification period. More specifically, she writes, “Racism in everyday life and in the media, corresponds with institutionalized racism” (11). Musa had an interesting take on this as he delved into a much deeper conversation on what it feels like to be a Black man in Berlin. He stated that by being Black in Berlin means that you are often seen either as American or an asylum seeker, a feeling that dehumanizes you. He noted that Black men here are threatening to white cisgender men, because Black men have been stereotyped as taking women from the men. Musa dove deeper into this statement as he explained the animalistic perception of Black men by white women and how Black men are fetishized because white women fear them. Because of this there is no clear division between activism and living out his life. He is constantly having to navigate the spaces he’s in, stating that “being Black feels like being on trial all your life,” in and out of the city.

Despite the negative circumstances these men face every day, positive affirmation, reciprocity, and empowerment are just a few politics that help them navigate public spheres. Along these lines, Mutlu stated that you must free yourself and positively construct a way to deal with circumstances as a self-help mechanism. He provided us with an anecdote on how he rejected socialized perceptions of men of color. He used to put honest positive affirmations where he looked the most, his desk and his bathroom mirror, and he would eventually absorb these affirmations and began to believe them, which was empowering. Another mechanism they discussed regarding responses to racism is to simply not care; not caring about what is said about you and deciding for yourself that you can be what you want to be. They noted that if you focus primarily on what the opposition says about you, it slowly chips away at who you are because of fear about how to relate to stereotypes, something that kept Musa from experiencing things white men can experience without the fear of performing within or outside social norms. The fear of stereotypes often leads to a dangerous questioning of our identities: Am I masculine enough? Am I queer enough? Am I Black enough? Mutlu states that we cannot buy into limiting constructions of identity, because they are degrading and often lead to violent erasure.

On a different note, the men were asked about their reactions to the whitewashing of queer spaces. Musa navigated this conversation by stating that social media has become a tool for exposing this reality. More specifically, social media has allowed us to amplify the voices of people of color and their narratives to counteract white washing. With these circumstances, education is key—it be used as a means for navigating white spaces. Being educated is seen as a luxury that most people of color don’t have access to, so to use that as a social mechanic is very powerful. We often see the white queer community use and idolize women of color but disregard their existence and narrative. A resolution to this issue is to elevate those voices that are often silenced.

Group Photo (Asbury)

L to R: Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz, Ryan Garcia, Noah Hofmann, and Musa Okwonga [Photo Credit: Dana Asbury]

We ended discussion on the question, “Have prior existing borders and modern borders affected the way masculinities have been perceived?” Musa responded by discussing colonial borders that exist physically and mentally. To better understand this concept, I turned to May Ayim‘s “Racism, Sexism, and Precolonial Images of Africa” when she writes,

The fact that theories of race were developed and circulated exclusively in continental Europe makes it clear that “race” is a social endorsement that has little to do with biological difference. Consequently, whenever “race” is invoked it is understood as a relational concept that consists of distictions drawn between one’s own group (in group) and another group (out group). (11)

Race here is not just understood as a biological difference but a socially constructed concept that creates borders between communities. The “in group” being those who perform within the social norms and the “out group” being those who deviate from the norms. This is all an effect of colonization and imperialism, both of which used borders to separate their people from those who did not fit the category of their people.


Garcia (NA)Ryan Garcia is a first-generation rising sophomore at Colorado College. After taking Feminist Theory this past block 6, they decided to dive right in and declare a Feminist & Gender Studies major with an intended minor in Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies. They are currently working with the Bridge Scholars Program at CC and co-lead the Queer Community Coalition. This is their first time abroad, and they plan to make the most of this educational experience from getting lost on public transportation to being awed by the tour sites. With an intersectional and transnational approach, they hope to apply prior knowledge to various discussions and tours while also learning more within their field of focus—Queer Studies.

The Told and Untold Stories of Berlin: A Walk-Through History

Photo Credit: Talia Silverstein

By Talia Silverstein

Today our adventures in Berlin took us through some of the city’s most famous historical sites. Our tour guide, Kathinka Minthe, walked us through many parts of the city, teaching us about the history, social discourse, and controversy that each place held. We started at the Reichstag Building, home to the German Parliament and finished at Museum Island where we saw Angela Merkel’s home. We visited the Brandenburg Gate, walked through Tiergarten, and explored The Memorial for the Murdered Jews. We walked along Hannah Arendt Straße to get to the site of Hitler’s old bunker, now a parking lot, and later saw Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus, a section of the old Berlin wall. Around the corner was the Topographie of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie,  the site of a historic standoff. We wrapped up at the site of the infamous book burning, across the street from the Käthe Kollwitz Museum. The focus of our tour was to examine the ways in which these historical landmarks allowed us to discuss some of the “hidden” women of Berlin’s intricate history.

One of the topics discussed was remembering history without memorializing all of it. When you visit Germany, the first thing many American visitors think about are the sites where World War II, Nazis, and Hitler stood not so long ago. This horrific history is something every German citizen acknowledges and learns about, but many of the actual sites that had been part of the war are now new or renovated. The historical relevance of the war is not lost on people today. As Michael Stewart writes in Remembering without Commemoration: The Mnemonics and Politics of Holocaust Memories among European Roma, “I came to feel that for many people, the memory of the entire war was condensed into a few images that were normally kept deep in the shadows of the cave, illuminated occasionally and incandescently before being enveloped gain in the penumbra of the past.” While this is a history that Berlin wants to make sure to remember, when it comes to memorializing an atrocity it is hard to find “positive” ways to do this. It seems to me that the people of Berlin are in a constant struggle between remembering and acknowledging atrocities without glorifying those who committed them. We cannot forget the actions of Hitler and the Nazis, but at the same time, Berlin must be able to grow and develop. The people of Berlin have made the conscious decision to memorialize some and destroy others. The sites most often destroyed were those with ties to the Nazi party to deter neo-Nazis from using the places as a pilgrimage sites.

Photo Credit: Talia Silverstein

A surreal moment during our tour was when we visited Checkpoint Charlie. None of the historical or original buildings are there at all. What remains are tourist-oriented museums designed to attract. The streets are full of stereotypical USSR and fake communist propaganda for sale. It was a space flooded with tourists hoping to see a piece of history. In the middle of the street a fake USSR checkpoint hut stands for people to take pictures with, of course only if they are willing to pay a fee. The line to take pictures by the hut stretched over a block and almost every tourist held in hand some piece of fake propaganda or were adorned in Cold War uniform replicas. It seemed like a cheesy a commodification not only of a difficult history, but also of the German/Soviet. Watching people capitalize on the hardships of millions left a pit in my stomach.

Further, the little proof we saw of accomplished women was hard to find and are usually newer and smaller. For example, during our tour on Tuesday, Carolyn Gammon showed us that the women’s wing in Humboldt University was only a tiny hallway. To build on this today, we learned about Käthe Kollwitz, a German artist. Her art depicts poverty, hunger, and working-class struggles. She was the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, and had a small museum in her honor. We would’ve visited but, like a lot of Berlin, it was unfortunately closed for renovations. Another famous Berliner, Hannah Arendt, a political theorist and philosopher, has a street named after her. The last woman we saw at the Topographie of Terror was Stella Kubler, a Jewish convert to Christianity turned catcher, who went underground rounding up hidden Jews for the Gestapo. She was an open anti-Semite and was eventually charged with war crimes.

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

Reflecting on the absence of women’s history, they truly are hidden. With a critical eye, you can begin to uncover the stories of these powerful and notable women. As Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti write in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom, “Internal contradictions, incompleteness, and obstinacy characterize the work of Rosa Luxemburg as well as that of Hannah Arendt […] Due to their respective Jewish and Jewish-Polish origins, their gender (which they hardly ever mentioned and when they did, only in private) and the prevailing historical-political situation, both women were strangers in a world whose imposing list of identifications they flatly refused.” As a Jewish woman who has grown up in a predominantly Jewish community, I can’t help but to recognize the importance of remembering this history.  As Stewart writes, “Rather than focus on the means of ‘forgetting’, ‘obliterating’, and ‘downplaying’ the past’ I focus on the ways in which, despite Gypsy ‘presentist’ rhetoric, the past is ‘remembered’ among Gypsy populations.” Until now, I have never understood the struggle for those who it so closely surrounds to be able to escape this history in order to be recognized as more than it.


Photo Credit: Liza Bering

Talia Silverstein is a rising sophomore from Port Washington, NY. She is planning on majoring in Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies and double minoring in Political Science and Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College. She is passionate about her photography, drawing, and poetry. During her time at CC, she hopes to have more opportunities like this class that allow her to travel, explore, and participate in hands on learning. While in Berlin, she plans on getting lost as much as possible unless it makes her late to class.

Hidden and Recovered Narratives: Women in the Center of Berlin Tour

By Amelia Eskenazi

IMG_2241We woke up to the pitter-patter of the rain once more, looking out the window, saddened by the gray skies greeting us. After all, it was Alejandra’s 20th birthday, and we were looking forward to celebrating later. At 8:07, we frantically tried to find a route to the Reichstag that would allow us to take some form of public transportation, preferably the U-Bahn, seeking the dry sanctuary of the train. Luckily enough, Baheya was able to find a subway route that got us partially there. So, I trudged out of the house with my fellow FemGeniuses, regretting the fact that I did not have a raincoat and the fact that I had not planned further in advance, as the prospect of finding an umbrella to buy at 8:15 am seemed unlikely.

At the Reichstag, we met our tour guide, Dr. Iris Wachsmuth, a self-identified lesbian and feminist activist. She is a member of the group Miss Marple’s Sisters, a “network for local women’s history.” Founded in 1989 around the goal of researching women’s history, this group of female historians seeks to “think [of] women’s history as [the] center of historical analysis” as well as “acquire symbolic competence.” Dr. Wachsmuth began the tour by explaining that her goal was to “find traces that don’t belong to the mainstream” and expose new stories. This reminded me of Dr. Maisha Eggers’ idea in “Knowledges of (Un) Belonging” about “contesting racist representations towards dismantling legitimized and historicized racialized knowledges” (1). Dr. Eggers continues to write,

Hegemonic knowledge systems around Blackness (as well as around gender and sexuality as intricately linked to Blackness) have tended to be deeply implicated in a form of projection in which Blackness is marked and scrutinized to actually produce constructions of whiteness” (12).

Similarly, Dr. Wachsmuth told us that on November 15, 1884, the Berlin West Africa Conference began and took place for months after in Berlin. This conference was organized by Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany, as a means of mitigating arguments surrounding the furthered colonization of Africa. Africans, however, were excluded from this conversation, while various countries, including Germany, Belgium, England, the United States, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, discussed the division of Ethiopia and Liberia. Before leaving the site commemorating this conference, Dr. Wachsmuth explained that the Herero were demanding reparations after the genocide from 1904-1907 as a result of the Herero Wars. Few people know that several dead bodies were also brought back to Germany for research purposes. Nevertheless, Germany has not formally recognized these actions as genocide. Now, that’s something you don’t learn about in history class!

IMG_2229I found it interesting that Germany has candidly acknowledged the history of the Holocaust, yet is still resistant towards the recognition of a genocide that took place over a century ago. Germany’s history, drenched with the filth of white supremacy, must be admitted in full. It is not enough to attest to atrocities when it is advantageous. As R. Ruth Linden notes in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections On Women in the Holocaust,” “By defining certain historical and cultural subjects as epicentral while regarding others as peripheral,” gender is “universalized” (18). She continues to ask: “How do our locations as knowers, including our feminist commitments, shape the questions we ask, and hence, the knowledge we produce?” (18). If we claim to value the history of all women, why is more focus placed on some narratives over others? Furthermore, how are specific narratives used as a convenience for covering other lived experiences?

As the tour continued, the rain lingered, seeping through my black boots, my socks sloshing with every step. We eventually had to stop inside of an S-Bahn station after a quick coffee break because of the deluge. Here, Dr. Wacshmuth explained that the beginning of Berlin’s governmental leadership was a constitutional monarchy made up of strictly white men. It was not until after the First World War in 1918 that the government was a democracy and women delegates were able to partake. Nevertheless, women were not able to be on committees involving finance or the economy, only social committees such as education. This seems to be quite ironic, however, considering the fact that women were not able to attain any higher education in Germany until the early 1900s. Even then, many women were seen as guest students and were required to go through side doors in order to get to their classes. This was nearly 60 years after the first Women’s Movement in Germany, during which women from rich families demanded an increase in rights as well as the ability to obtain an education. While most women in Germany now are able to obtain an education, an important question to consider remains: who are the women who lack this privilege today, and why?

During our tour, Clara Zetkin, German socialist and advocate for women’s rights was brought up several times. Zetkin was instrumental in organizing International Women’s Day and impacted Germany enough to have a street named after her (though it was changed for some time while the Berlin Wall was up under the influence of the GDR). According to Karen Honeycutt in “Clara Zetkin: A Socialist Approach to the Problem of Woman’s Oppression,” Zetkin was a proponent of “bringing working-class women together on a regular basis for organized activities separate from those of their male colleagues” (136). This made me think about working class women, immigrants, and women of color in Germany today. Have their rights been elevated alongside upper-class white women?

I began to wonder about the space that women of color are allotted in the prominent history of Germany. Why is it that two different walking tours did not mention a single name of a woman of color? There was never a mention of the struggles of Turkish women or the authors of Farbe Bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out), for example. I would like to end, then, with an expansion of Linden’s question from earlier: How do our locations as knowers influence the knowledge we value and the consequential subjectivities we ignore?


EskenaziAmelia Eskenazi is a rising sophomore at Colorado College from Indianapolis, Indiana with a major in Feminist and Gender Studies. In their free time, Amelia is a fan of film photography, making zines, and listening to punky girl bands. While in Berlin, they look forward to eating vegan pastries, exploring flea markets, and documenting all of the street art.

Little Istanbul: Our Walking Tour through Kreuzberg

By Amy Valencia

IMG_0364Today we made our way to the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum (FHXB), where we were to begin our walking tour of Kreuzberg. As our tour guide Intissar Nassar introduced herself, we were greeted by a man whom she said was a famous Berlin pop star. I didn’t catch his name, but I did catch his band’s name. We were meeting a member of Mr. Ed Jumps the Gun. Heidi was visibly excited as she talked to him and discussed the meaning of the band’s name. He then waved goodbye and Intissar began to describe our next three hours. In the hours to come, we would learn how Kreuzberg had become the vibrant multicultural neighborhood it is today.

IMG_0363Walking into FHXB’s eldest exhibition, we sat around Intissar as she began to recount the history of Kreuzberg. She began with the 1960s and the rise of the Berlin Wall following the end of WWII. The Berlin Wall was built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1961. Large concrete barriers completely separated West Berlin and East Berlin for 28 years. While the Berlin Wall divided many families, it also separated approximately 60,000 people from their jobs (Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall), which caused a severe labor shortage. To remedy the labor shortage, young people from Southern and Southeastern Europe were recruited as “guest workers.” Intissar emphasized that these individuals never intended to remain in Germany indefinitely—their intention was to earn money and return home at the completion of their three-month work permits, as wages in Germany were significantly higher than in their home countries (White 755).

Intissar explained that many countries were initially reluctant to help Germany because of its ugly past and that Turkey was one of the first countries to agree to send “guest workers.” Subsequently, in groups of 10, work permit applicants had to pass three tests. These tests were comprised of a hand examination, a medical exam, and a literacy test. Applicants had to show their hands to examiners in order to make sure their hand size was useful for the jobs needed. The medical test and future medical costs had to be paid by the employer; with that said, the employer made medical exams as cheap as possible by making all 10 applicants see the doctor together. They would stand next to each other in their underwear as the doctor examined each one of them, which was dehumanizing and humiliating. The final test, the reading and writing test, was to assure employers that the workers could integrate into society. Applicants were graded and those deemed intelligent enough were allowed to come to Germany for work.

IMG_0367Walking around the exhibition, Intissar’s words also were depicted in the pictures on the wall. Guest workers were sent to live in tight living conditions. Residents on multiple floors in one apartment shared one outside bathroom, and showers had to be rented. Needless to say, many residents went without privacy or comfort. Further, guest workers did not know the German language or culture, and for the most part, they were without family. Living in these alienating conditions made it more important to remember their goals and focus on achieving them. At the end of their three-month stay, employers saw no reason to repeat the process of obtaining and screening guest workers. So, in order to save money, they asked workers if they would like to continue to work and extend their work permits. While some chose to go home, many decided to stay and remain in Kreuzberg. Part of this is because in Turkey, people would label the Turks in Germany with a badge of difference. For example, Turks in Germany were called Almancilar, a derogatory term. In a 1994 survey, “83% of Turkish respondents said they were no longer considering a return to Turkey” (White 755). This was, in part, because they were now othered in Turkey.

Through photographs and short captions, the museum exhibition also showed the journey of Kreuzberg. Kreuzberg sat along the Berlin Wall in West Berlin. Because their stay in Germany was now indefinite, “guest workers” looked for other places to live with better living conditions. They were now able to bring their families over, but many were still unable to afford a living space fit for a family. Te government promised to assist in renovations of the buildings, but Intissar explained the lack of immediate intervention by the government; families were paying rent for buildings that should have been condemned. The Berlin Senate Committee for Construction and Housing turned to a plan for restoration with “residents remaining in their buildings and having input to the restoration process” (Bockmeyer 52).  The advisory panel included 50% resident representation; however, it notably did not include “significant representation of Turkish or other immigrant groups” (Bockmeyer 52). The Berlin Senate presented itself as working with the people; however, they failed to include the communities composing the majority of Kreuzberg’s population.

IMG_0368Along these lines, Intissar also spoke with us about a model of Kreuzberg in the museum, because Heidi’s daughter Chase asked her why there were huge gray buildings that seemed to be out of place. Instead of answering her question, Intissar asked us to guess, and we left the museum. We passed through an alley where Intissar asked us to turn around and notice the gray building behind us. The buildings that we had seen in the museum’s model were in fact the “new” (new in the 1980s) apartments for “guest workers” and their families. The apartments had more privacy, bathrooms inside each apartment for example, but still failed to adequately address the families’ needs. To fix one issue, the lack of schools for children, a parking garage that was rarelyused was turned into a kindergarten.

As we continued walking through Kreuzberg, Intissar addressed some of the issues facing this community today. She makes it clear that while there may be an increase in dangerous activity, according to some, she doesn’t believe it is any different than any other big city. She still feels safe at night, but has to be cautious just like she would anywhere else. On the other hand, gentrification has also been an issue for this community. The culture this community has worked hard to develop is now being diminished in lieu of the modernization of buildings and an increase in the cost of living in Kreuzberg. It’s position in the “shadow of the Berlin Wall” allowed for the expression of freedom and creativity. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, this vibrant multi-ethnic and creative community has become a tourist destination. Hence, everything must become “slick and hip” to compete for tourists and investors. The transition into a new era is leaving behind the community that built it.

IMG_0449Our last stop on our tour of Little Istanbul was the Merkez Camii mosque. Entering a room used for prayer, we removed our shoes and sat in a circle as Intissar explained the significance of the mosque for the Muslim residents of Kreuzberg. For example, in order to combat the hostility and tyranny leveled at their community, including gentrification, the multi-ethnic people of Kreuzberg embrace a “feeling of we.” That “feeling of we” resonated with me. In a predominantly white space, people of color build communities to support one another. For me, I see this kind of community building in two parts of my life. The first is with my family. I am the daughter of two immigrant parents. They built their community through family and friends, and have created a network of unconditional love and support. The second place I see this is back at Colorado College. During my first two years at this predominantly white institution, I found my community in SOMOS, the Latinx student union. Without other students of color, I could not have made it to my final year as an undergraduate. For these reasons, and many more, I know it is important to learn about the history of Kreuzberg, where communities come together to make sure their voices are heard, to make sure their culture is not erased, and to make sure that they are seen. A lesson in unity that should be shared not only in history, but presently, as well.


ValenciaAmy Valencia is a senior at Colorado College from Waukegan, Illinois. She is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Feminist and Gender Studies. She focuses her studies on immigration policy and the effects of these policies on Latin American communities. Amy is excited to be studying abroad for the first time and ready to explore Berlin!