The Wall

By Nitika Reddy

NATO ANNIVERSARY

“Berlin is the most bike friendly city!” my tour guide enthusiastically explained as the rowdy boys in my class fidgeted with their bikes. For a class of twenty coming from Copenhagen, we knew immediately that this statement was, in fact, not true. When in Copenhagen, you needed, even wanted a bike to participate in day-to-day activities. The orderly bike lanes and calm streets were easily manageable. This was nothing like Berlin. The city was larger, more chaotic, and extremely exciting. “I’m so excited to see the wall,” my friend, Audrey, said as we started our bike tour. I smiled and nodded careful not to take my eyes off the road for too long. We were, after all, literally in the middle of the road. After a couple more minuets of hectic cycling, a few facts about Berlin, and an unwanted trek up a tiny hill, we were there: The Berlin Wall. Below the wall was a flea market accompanied by loud, festive music and an overall air of joy. Our tour guide didn’t say much about the wall. We mostly just examined the layers and layers of coated on paint and were told that this was the wall that separated so many Germans from each other. I examined this concrete and steel canvas for street artists and rubbed my hands along the cold, hard surface, not quite grasping the importance of it all.

Now, a few months have gone by since this first visit, and I head to Berlin once more. As I reflect, I can’t help but acknowledge how quickly (just over 30 years since it has fallen) people seem to have moved on. For my generation, 30 years seems both so recent and so unfathomably long. This is probably due to the fact that most of us were born a few years after the wall came down and don’t know much about the German reunification. But there is a responsibility in knowing history as well as questioning it. The History Channel’s The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall gives a good overview of the history and stories brought on by the wall. From its sudden creation to collapse, the wall drastically changed the social climate of an already divided Germany. The Berlin Wall no doubt played a huge role in Berlin’s history. While watching the documentary, one gets a general idea of the two sides of Berlin and Germany during this time. The documentary gave plenty of anecdotal examples of stories of Germans split up. And it detailed riveting stories of both failed and successful attempts to leave East Berlin.

The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall also shared very interesting narrativess about freedom. It was clear that before the construction of the wall, West Berlin was the symbol of an oppression-free land. This symbol of unattainable freedom that East Germans experienced seems to somewhat parallel the lives of marginalized people during and after the collapse of the wall. For example, in a foreword written for Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes,

I walk into a shiny tourist sweetshop in the newly accessible East Berlin of 1990. The young white German saleswoman looks at me with aversion, snaps an outraged answer to my first question, then turns her back upon me and my companion until we leave the shop. Once outside, I look back. She turns also. Through the glass door, our eyes meet. That look of hatred she hurls against the glass in my direction is prolonged, intense, and very familiar. (xi)

It is still interesting to see the lengths to which people will go to secure the right to live in a free land, which in the case of East Germans was democracy.

When the wall went up, many people were separated from their homes, family, and significant others. This sense of urgency to “break free” was quite relevant. It became increasingly evident that people would risk going to jail and dying to get to this protected “free land.” For instance, a man explained his failed attempt to bring over his fiancé, Roswita Koppen, to West Berlin, where he engineered his car so that she could hide next to the engine and under the hood. Roswita risked going to jail or even her own life, as she was burned badly by the engine next to her. The documentary claimed that 136 people died trying to get out of East Berlin through the wall and thousands were jailed after they were caught. These people were trying to gain the right to vote, have jobs that they wanted, and generally live without oppression.

Unfortunately, however, The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t showcase many voices of marginalized people during this time. This was also the case with much of the discourse of the non-Jews after World War II. For example, in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden explains how “researchers studying women in the Holocaust have generally, unself-consciously assumed (or preceded as though they assumed) that all the women in the Holocaust were Jewish” (26). We now know that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t just extended their hatred to Jews, but many other groups of people including Africans, the Romani, as well as gay and lesbian people.

EdingIt wasn’t until reading texts like Showing Our Colors that I realized the history of Afro-Germans went back as far as it does. For instance, Audre Lorde writes, “I have Black German women in my class who trace their Afro-German heritage back to the 1890s” (vii). Even if those voices might not have been the majority of the minority, they are still important and need to be addressed. As Jasmin Eding points out in “… And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want,”  which outlines the importance of ADEFRA (a group for Afro-German women), “After the collapse of the wall between East and West Germany, we witnessed unification between Black women in the East and the West as well” (131). There are clear stories here that people are willing to tell. So, it’s important for us to acknowledge and listen to these narratives.

As I end this blog post, I leave you with this. Although the Berlin Wall represents a lot of different things for a lot of different people (may that be freedom, oppression, or even hope), it is important to acknowledge the uncommon voices in history. It is our responsibility to do so. As this class gets started, I’m more excited to learn about these narratives. In some ways, many of these stories are just now coming to light. And the only sure fire way to have them survive is to listen and share them, so that more people will do the same.


ReddyNitika Reddy is a rising senior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an Economics & Business major, as well as a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. She is an avid dancer and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity. She has been traveling for the past 5 months (studying aboard in Copenhagen and visiting parts of Asia), and is finishing her 6th month of traveling with FemGeniuses in Berlin! Nitika loves reading memoirs, really any kind of film, and singly loudly in the shower. Fun fact: She is currently in a long distance relationship with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which she misses dearly!

Resistance through Art: The FemGenuises Do Graffiti with Berlin Massive

By DeAira Cooper

IMG_1361Today, our class was up bright and early, as we were excited for our activities today. Some of us were lucky to make the bus this morning, as we chased it down the street knowing that another would not be coming for a while and that we could not be late. After getting on the bus panting and out of breath, we were on our way to our first destination: a graffiti workshop with Berlin Massive in Mauerpark. Once we arrived, we met up with Heidi, the rest of our group, and our graffiti instructors/educators Pekor and Marco. Before we could get started, Pekor spoke briefly about the history of graffiti in Berlin, as well as how the Berlin Massive came about.

IMG_1359Many argue that the contemporary graffiti movement in Berlin was inspired, in large part, by Thierry Noir, whose art consisted of these block-like, colorful characters. According to Jonathan Jones in “Thierry Noir: The First Graffiti Artist Fired up by the Berlin Wall,” “Part of the Berlin Wall is recreated in his gallery show to try to bring to life that moment in the 80s when cracks were appearing in the edifice of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and artists, led by Thierry Noir, were comically transforming the ugly symbol of the Cold War that ran through Berlin with a carnival of bright colours and visual gags” (22). This is important, because at that time, Noir didn’t know he was about to start what can be seen today as a social movement. There always has to be someone to take the first step, and Noir did just that.

IMG_9340Many artists followed in Noir’s footsteps with graffiti being their form of creativity and expression. Some of these artists include Linda’s Ex, XOOOOX, Tower, Alias, and Mien Lieber Prost whose work can be found all over the city. Regarding the relationship between graffiti and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Simon Arms writes, in “The Heritage of Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Scene,” After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the graffiti artists marched straight into East Germany…all of the areas that the military had occupied became a new playground for the Western artists and became a new world for the Eastern artists who joined them…It wasn’t that they were better artists, but they could express—with authority—the one concept close to the hearts of all people now living in the city: what it meant to be free” (2-3). Graffiti, then, became more than just a hobby; rather, it became a necessity for these artists to voice their freedom and speak against various forms of oppression, such as racism and capitalism.

IMG_1370Another movement that exploded during this time was hip-hop. Many people of color were excluded from particular facets of German culture, and American hip-hop became a vehicle through which people of color could voice their frustrations, lifestyles, and desires. As Heinz Ickstadt writes in “Appropriating Difference: Turkish German Rap,” hip-hop especially “lent itself to becoming a vehicle of ethnic minority and allied youth protest against…discrimination anywhere. British Black and Asian, Franco-Maghrebi, German Turkish, and other bi-cultural (or rather, in view of their appropriation of trappings of American culture, tricultural) rappers in Europe are seen and heard as ‘voices from the ethnic ghetto,’ speaking out on behalf of new generations of post-migrant ‘communities’” (574). It’s important, then, that artists are able to express themselves and speak out against the oppressions they face.

IMG_9341In keeping with this tradition, Berlin Massive was founded 11 years ago by people who wanted to express themselves and fight oppression in creative ways. They offer programs and workshops for youth and adult aspiring artists to learn graffiti, breakdance, beatbox, rap, and many more forms of hip-hop expression. They also participate in an exchange program with Italy, China, India, Russia, and other countries. Our class was fortunate to participate in today’s graffiti workshop.

Berlin MassivePekor is a very skilled artist, and he taught us the basics of forming graffiti letters on a blank canvas. We learned how to draw the letters, fill them in, add effects, and touch them up. Once we finished, we created a brilliant masterpiece showcasing the hashtag for this course: #FemGeniusesInBerlin. We were very proud of ourselves and this accomplishment, considering most of us don’t come from artistic backgrounds. It felt great to be able to leave our mark on the Berlin Wall, especially at the end of what has been an amazing and educational experience.

 


DeAiraDeAira Cooper is a Chicago girl living in Colorado. She is an Anthropology major and double minor in Theatre and Race & Ethnic Studies. She enjoys acting and doing comedy, and performs all types of comedy, including short and long-term improvisation, short skits, and sketches. She also writes a lot of her comedic sketches and monologues, and enjoys singing. You can often find her harmonizing with her friends or just creating new music. She’s just a down-to-earth lady always looking for the positives in a world full of negatives. She tries to stay optimistic at all times, and because of this, you’ll probably find her with a group of people making them laugh.

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The “Alternative City” Tour

By Blaise Yafcak

Boros

Boros Bunker

On Friday afternoon, we met Rob, the tour guide, at the Brandenburg Gate and embarked on an “Alternative City” tour of Berlin. Rob started us off with a brief history of Berlin. He told us that the Berlin Wall went up around West Berlin and that the mayor wanted people to move to West Berlin because the city was poor. So, the mayor enacted a law eliminating national service if you lived in West Berlin, which attracted “the punks and artists.” After the wall came down, many people moved from the West to the East because it was cheaper to live in the latter.

Stencil Art

XOOOOX Stencil Art at Boros Bunker

After this introduction, we got on the U-Bahn and began our tour of street art and gentrification. We began in the neighborhood of Mitte, a “punky” neighborhood, according to our tour guide. The first building we looked at was one that had been a Nazi air raid shelter during World War II. The bunker then became a make-shift prison during the time of de-Nazification, and then ended up in the East when the wall went up. The building was then used as a storage facility for dried and exotic fruit, primarily bananas. The building changed hands many times, and eventually, many years later, it was rented out for techno parties—patrons of the club said that the building still smelled of bananas. About ten years ago, a man named Christian Boros purchased the bunker, built his house on the roof, and used the bunker to house his personal art collection. Visitors can now come and view Boros’ art collection in the old bunker.On the outside walls of the bunker, we got our first introduction to Berlin street art. According to Rob, Berlin was a breeding ground for street art since the city boasted the longest wall in the world (actually, the Great Wall of China measured over 5,000 miles in length, while the Berlin Wall was only about 70 miles). Nonetheless, Berlin does have quite the collection of street art or “guerrilla” art, as Rob called it. One prominent artist, Mr. Six, has taken it upon himself to paint yellow sixes on the corners of as many buildings as he can. There were many theories as to why he painted the number six: six means failing in the German school system, so he may paint the number on broken down buildings that are failing; six also sounds a bit like sex (haha!). However, Mr. Six finally provided an explanation as to why he has chosen the number six—he wants to make the internet faster. As of now, Mr. Six has painted over three quarters of a million sixes on buildings, and has been arrested over seven hundred times.

Astronaut

Astronaut / Cosmonaut by Victor Ash in Kreuzberg

Rob then showed us what gentrification looks like in Berlin in the form of a small courtyard in the center of a building filled with cafes and shops and a small park. He took this chance to briefly explain some of Berlin’s laws: in Berlin, if you occupy a building for more than three months, you own said building; prostitution legal here; and when it’s hot, Berliners head to parks in East Berlin and take all their clothes off. It was unclear whether this was truly legal or not, much like smoking in public spaces. Apparently, there is a ban on smoking in outdoor restaurants and similar spaces; however, such places still provide ashtrays at tables, and it’s hard to sit outside and not get a face full of smoke from the Berliner sitting at the next table over. Street art is also illegal in Berlin. There is a maximum penalty of three years in prison for creating street art, but more likely, the artists are simply fined and ordered to remove the art. There is an anti-street art team comprised of 21 individuals who go around the city and paint over street art. However, they paint over the art in random colors that do not match the original color of the building, making a convenient frame for the next batch of street art.

Rob then introduced us to the “stumbling stones.” These are small bronze colored stones set in the cobblestones in front of buildings. The stones were created in the 1990s by an artist named Gunter Demnig as a way to commemorate those killed during the Holocaust. Demnig believes that a person is only forgotten once their name is forgotten, so these stones are ways of keeping the names alive. The stones are placed in the ground outside of houses where victims of the Holocaust resided, and state their name and brief information about when the person lived in the building.

Babies

Street Art by BLU

We then moved on to the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, where we saw more street art, including a large painted astronaut and BLU’s mural of a baby made of babies eating a baby. Apparently, the latter is meant to represent the world coming together, but it looks more sinister than that.

The tour finished at the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall, located just over the river on the East side of Berlin. This portion of the wall is heavily decorated, as artists were invited to come decorate the wall and are still doing so. The art changes every few months, and is currently quite colorful. We, then, got some ice cream after our 3.5 hour tour, and then headed home to rest.

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Blaise IIIBlaise is a rising senior at Colorado College studying Biology and Feminist and Gender Studies. She likes road trips, coffee, and Harry Potter.

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The New Berlin Walking Tour

By Melissa L. Barnes

From the Reichstag building made out of chocolate to Hitler’s bunker to the site of the World War II book burning—for 3 hours today, we toured one of the busiest areas of Berlin and learned about the history of Germany.

Hotel Adlon

Hotel Adlon [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

We began at the Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson infamously dangled his youngest son, Blanket, over a balcony. Across the street from the hotel, we saw the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, and we explored the potential meanings of the wordless art memorializing the heinous attempted extinction during World War II—memorials remembering others who lost their lives are spaced out around the same area. The memorial consisted of blocks of varying size, reminding me of coffins, with spaces wide enough for us to walk between each wedge of concrete. Peter Eisenman, the architect who designed the memorial, refused to answer questions about the meaning of his memorial other than the fact that his inspiration was drawn from Jewish cemeteries.

Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe

Kaimara in the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

Ximena offered her interpretation that walking through the memorial signified the unpredictability Jewish people faced during the Holocaust. When walking through the memorial, I could see other students I know and then I would quickly lose them behind the pieces of concrete; I can only imagine being separated from family members and loved ones, seeing them for a moment, and probably never seeing them again and never knowing exactly what happened.

Hitler's Bunker

Blaise (left) and I (right) Standing Four Meters above Hitler’s Bunker

We then walked to the site of Hitler’s bunker, which is now covered with earth and a “car park” or parking lot. We were standing 4 meters above his bunker and saw the playground that is now at its former exit. Next to Hitler’s underground bunker is the site of the former Nazi headquarters, which was demolished by the Soviets. When the tour guide told us that we were currently standing on top of Hitler’s bunker, I actually felt a little sick to my stomach.

The Slide Placed at the Former Exit of Hitler’s Bunker

The Slide Placed at the Former Exit of Hitler’s Bunker

I did not expect to be so close to history and deeply sad, disturbing tragedy. I was expecting to witness the consequences of World War II, but not necessarily the actual location of Hitler’s final act of violence. As a psychologist-in-training, I am intrigued with the psychology of war, but my research has focused more on the victims of war not the personal aspects of the perpetrators of war. Suddenly being thrust into the setting of Hitler’s direct decision process caught me aback.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

The Berlin Wall is much, much shorter than I thought it would be and the tour guide correctly said, “Most of you were probably expecting something like the Great Wall of China.” However, our tour guide taught us about “The Death Strip” and the differences in life experiences between those who lived in East Berlin and those in West Berlin. For example, those in East Berlin likely never actually saw the concrete wall because of the underground mines, sand-hidden spikes, and “shoot-to-kill” policies strategically placed well before the wall.

On our way to the ending point of the tour, we briefly stopped to look at chocolate-made buildings, but were not allowed inside the store for some reason. I tried taking a picture of the chocolate-made Reichstag building; however, the store’s windows were too glossy to take pictures.

Heinrich Heine Quote in the State Opera Square

Heinrich Heine Quote in the State Opera Square

After this, we walked to the square in which Joseph Goebbels endorsed and led the burning of books written by authors not approved by the National Socialist administration. Within the square there is a plaque that features a quote from Heinrich Heine in German claiming, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” However, Heine was talking about the Spanish Inquisition not the Final Solution. When we were talking about this quote, I thought about the letter Audre Lorde and Gloria I. Joseph wrote to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Lorde and Joseph discuss the implications for community silence that perpetuate the ignorance leading to particular historical events and boost the likelihood that these events, such as violence, war, and discrimination, will re-occur. Just as Heine observed the process of burning people during the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of books by Goebbel led to the subsequent burning of unaccepted people by the National Socialist administration.

Heidi Giving us the "Key Talk”

Heidi Giving us the “Key Talk” [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

Our official tour ended with Heidi giving an impassioned speech about our use of the apartment keys. We are currently staying in two separate apartments, and the FemGeniuses I am living with only took one out of three sets of keys when we left for the tour—I brought the key, yay me! Heidi subsequently lectured us on the importance of bringing all of our keys, since we just about locked ourselves out of our apartment because I almost gave Heidi my key so that she could retrieve her laptop bag after the tour.

Our Tour Guide Rob McC and I

Our Tour Guide Rob McC and I [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

Our unofficial tour ending consisted of our tour guide, Rob McC, showing us the way to our first bar/biergärten experience with many of us enjoying our first drink in Germany! Thank you, Rob McC!

 

 

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Me and Kadesha

Me and Kadesha [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

This fall, Melissa will be starting her final year as a student at Colorado College, double-majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology. This fall, she is planning to apply to Ph.D. programs in Clinical Psychology.