Our Second Weekend in Berlin

By Amanda Cahn

Cahn IFriday morning, during our walking tour in the heavy rain, half of the group decided to get phở for lunch to warm us up. We took the metro to Kreuzberg, and tried to walk under the restaurants’ awnings in the fruitless attempt to stay wet instead of soaked. Unfortunately, we arrived a half-hour before the restaurant opened. Not wanting to wait in the rain, we started our second weekend off with drinks and olives at the Knofi Feinkost restaurant and deli. A half-hour later, we moved to Green Rice for phở. We were already halfway through our meal when we realized there was a large photograph of a naked woman hanging right in front of us, demonstrating how conditioned we are to seeing women’s bodies used as decoration.

Cahn IIThat evening, the whole group took the metro back to Kreuzberg, where we had dinner and drinks at Ta’Cabrón Taquería and Que Pasa and went dancing at Havanna to celebrate Alejandra’s birthday. Unlike the majority of the nightclubs we’ve visited, Havanna did not play electronic dance music (EDM). Upstairs was primarily bachata; although, it switched to reggaeton later on in the night. Downstairs, there was an active salsa room, as well as another room playing mostly hip-hop and R&B, which is advertised as “Beautiful Black Sounds.” It is important to note that the other rooms are not referred to as “Latino Sounds” or any other similar label. Furthermore, many of the songs were not even by Black artists. The way in which the music is uniquely racialized is problematic, especially when the majority of the people in this room were white (or white-passing), suggesting the music is racialized primarily for marketing purposes.

Cahn IIIOn Saturday morning, a German friend of mine arrived at the apartment, bearing coffee for the both of us. Because it was sunny and still early, Chris and I walked around the city for a while before heading to the Boros Collection (Sammlung Boros), a contemporary art exhibition in an old Nazi bunker (Reichsbahnbunker). Forced laborers constructed the air-raid shelter in 1942, and it was referred to as an M1200 because it was intended to shelter up to 1,200 people, but it ended up sheltering around 3,000. We could still see the artillery damage on the exterior of the building, because in 1945, the Red Army used the bunker to house prisoners of war. Since WWII, the bunker has been used in quite a variety of ways. In 1949, it was used as a textile warehouse. In 1957, it became known as the “Banana Bunker” because imported fruit from Cuba was stored there.

Cahn IVCurrently, there are three pieces on display, all by Berlin-based artist Alicja Kwade, which particularly interested me and are quite relevant to this course. In a small room visible from the lobby but blocked off with a chain, an organized stack of shining gold bars sits elevated and illuminated. However, the bars are actually coal-plated in gold leaf. Upstairs in another small room, precious gems sit protected and illuminated within an elevated glass case. These are stones Kwade took from the streets of Miami and had cut and polished. The last piece is in another small room, but it is dark and the floor faintly reveals its past life as a bathroom. Kwade shattered a mirror, outlined it, then used the outline to cut this steal and position it as the mirror had shattered. All of these pieces problematize how we decide what is valuable and what is not. Along these lines, in the introduction of Winter Shorts, editors Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo refer to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness.” Burnley explains, “Du Bois wrote about the way double consciousness comes into being for us as Black people, because society sees us through a largely negative filter of assumptions and prejudices. Double consciousness is about both aspects: how we see ourselves as individuals or as a group and how society sees us” (10). Kwade’s work not only reflects the two aspects of the double consciousness, but also the filters that are used to manipulate which lives the mainstream society deems valuable.

Cahn VIn the afternoon, we were craving Thai food, so we took the metro to Charlottenburg and Chris showed me a little slice of heaven in Preuβenpark, also known as Thai Park. Exiting the flowery trail, we came upon a sea of umbrellas, shielding the vendors from the sun or drizzle, whichever one cared to pass by. There had to be at least fifty vendors, many who actually cooked the food right there in front of the customers after they ordered. Of course, I noticed that most of the vendors were Asian, whereas most of the customers were white. In Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak OutMay (Opitz) Ayim notes, “Turkish kabob, Greek gyros, Italian pizza, Indian and African teas have long since become a regular part of everyday life in the Federal Republic. Nevertheless the people who have made these and other enrichments possible through their contribution to cultural diversity are regarded with caution” (136). While Showing Our Colors was published in 1986, Germany may still be in much of the same situation. This also reminds me of the chorus of “Gold” by High Klassified,

They say melanin is in
I just can’t see why
‘Cause you love our style, ‘cause you love our skin
‘Cause you love our food but there ain’t no love within.

Cahn VIIThat night, half of the group went out for sushi and drinks at Le Coq D’or in Friedrichshain. Afterwards, everyone decided to go back to the apartment except for Nitika and I. On our way to Newton Bar, we were approached by a group of people on the metro and a couple of guys started asking us where we are from. For the first time during our stay in Germany, they did not take “the United States” for an answer. They said, “No, but where are you really from? You guys look Latina.” Nitika is Indian, and I am Indonesian, so when they said that we looked Latina, it only emphasized what we already knew: they wanted to know why we have brown skin, not where we come from (whatever that even means). Ayim describes an all too familiar sentiment, “No matter where I go, I know some guy is going to say something to me—especially at parties: ‘Well, where do you come from?’” (151). Again, we see that for the “Other,” not much has changed.


CahnAmanda Cahn is from Portland, Oregon and a rising senior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist and Gender Studies and a minor in Spanish. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights and has worked with Planned Parenthood teaching sexual education in public high schools, as well as analyzing statistical data from their various sexual education programs. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with friends.

 

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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.