Some Final Thoughts on the 2017 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Zlevor)

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

By Annie Zlevor

Throughout this trip, I encountered many difficult questions that I have been struggling to answer. After three weeks of exploring Berlin, meeting with local activists, visiting museums, and attending walking tours, I find myself only a little closer to understanding their answers. More often than not, my experiences have left me with new questions, wishing I could spend more time in Berlin. On my final day in the city, I would like to consider these questions and reflect on how my recent experiences have allowed me to more critically examine them. I hope to apply what I have learned in the course and continue furthering my understanding of identities, forms of oppression, and memorials.

First, I want to consider our navigation of identities and subjectivities. How do we see ourselves and acknowledge how others see us? This question has helped me reflect more deeply on my own positionality and how society chooses to perceive it. In the spaces I have been welcomed into during this trip, it was important for me to understand how my own experiences exist in relation to the experiences of others. Having a greater awareness of this has better enabled me to listen critically and appreciate the narratives people share. Therefore, I discovered that my primary role ought to be that of a curious listener. This blog serves as an extension of this curiosity and as an ongoing attempt to understand the marginalized communities of Berlin and my role in it.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

After speaking with local activists, I began to question how and when people decide to confront forms of oppression and when they choose to affirm or challenge stereotypes. These questions reminded me of our “Rethinking Masculinities” panel and our discussion with Post-War Generation Black German Women. Spending time with Black and Turkish activists in Berlin has allowed me to better understand how individuals chose to deal with racism and sexism. While each experience is unique to the individual, it was clear that in their navigation of public space, they are never divorced from activism. As Musa Okwonga plainly stated, “You’re Black all the time in Berlin.” And although it is the Afro-German’s right not be discriminated against and exhibit self-determination, they must to spend their life in opposition to racism. They are not getting paid to spend their time confronting oppression, yet the burden so greatly lies on them.

How people choose to confront different forms of oppression also reminded me of our discussion with Salma Arzouni about their work with Gladt and SAWA. I felt that Salma consciously and efficiently navigated what needed to be achieved in their own fight against racism and sexism. Although it is exhausting work, it seems as if they effectively prioritize their goals when trying to combat oppression in a community. As someone who works day and night to support queer communities in Berlin, Salma has to carefully decided how to spend their time. They described the sacrifices they had to make in order to achieve their short-term initiatives. For example, instead of spending their time arguing with the local government at the risk of receiving cuts to Gladt’s government funding, Salma decided to temporarily halt a particular kind of political activism. For the sake of Gladt, Salma now chooses to spend that time helping queer people secure a permanent place to live. While this achievement might not seem monumental to some, it is life-changing for those people who now have a place to sleep at night.

Memorial in Schöneberg (Mills)

Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]

Additionally, after visiting many museums and memorials, I hope to gain a greater understanding of how certain histories have been told. I personally need to take more time to consider who writes these stories. More specifically, I want to understand the implications for those who speak for themselves and those who are being spoken for. Also, it was important for me to learn more about what groups of people were involved in the creation of Jewish memorials. I was curious if Jewish-Germans often gave input on their construction and who decided what to include in it. As Sabine Offe writes in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “We do not know whether individuals, confronted with the obligation to remember, do indeed remember what they are supposed to” (79). However, while some forms of remembrance can be more accurate than others, figuring out a way to accurately commemorate an event such as the Holocaust is beyond complicated and nearly impossible to accomplish. As a result, I am reminded of the importance of looking at historical sites more critically. This causes me to further question how we decide to honor a community that is not monolithic. For instance, I hope to better understand how a memorial can erase the individual experiences of a population. As R. Ruth Linden describes in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” a generalized representation of a group of people “fails to be accountable to lives that are actually lived: situated in bodies with limited means of making sense of…world-historic events in which they participate as…cultural subjects” (27). As a result, this adds another layer to the complexities of memorials and how people choose to represent communities. I hope that we more often attempt to honor the experiences of individuals since it can be easy to erase these differences when trying to honor an entire group.

Unlike most of the Jewish memorials, there were two important instances during our trip where I noticed groups of people deliberately telling their own story: the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (FHXB) Museum and the Roma and Sinti Historical Walking Tour. The FHXB Museum exhibit was a collaborative piece that the local community came together to create. They directly told the history of the district where generations of their own families grew up. I felt this participatory exhibit was representative of strong community relationships and also much more effective in the telling the histories they chose to portray. Additionally, the Roma and Sinti walking tour did much of the same work. The Roma high school students who led the tour self-organized and researched all the material presented. Further, when I asked the students what their parents thought about the tours they were giving, they responded, smiling: “Our families are very proud.” The energy and passion the students exhibited on the tour I feel could have been easily lost if non-Roma and Sinti people led it.

Roma and Sinti Memorial (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

Lastly, after three weeks of listening to and engaging with marginalized people in Berlin, I am left wondering how I can take what I have learned out into the world. Firstly, I hope to do this by recognizing the importance of going beyond academic work. While reading and discussing articles and books are beneficial in developing a basic understand of the material, the practical application of Feminist and Gender Studies outside the classroom is a hard-fought war. By spending time both inside and outside the classroom, I feel as if I can most effectively support marginalized communities and become more consciously aware of their situation. As Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti describe in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” if people understand the complexities of human relationships, this subsequently “drives them toward solidarity with outcasts and emboldens them to a collective struggle against the oppressors” (89). I feel my future goal must be to join this collective struggle. By knowing my place and understanding my own identity in relation to others, I feel as if I can do this and support marginalized groups in their fight against forms of oppression.

Cheers

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

2017 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Click here to view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see even more pictures and videos!

#FemGeniusesInBerlin 2017: Our First Two Days” by Hailey Corkery
Taking Down The Wall of Religious Intolerance: Jewish History in Berlin” by Olivia Calvi
Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni: Representation in Political Social Work” by Nora Holmes
The Anne Frank Museum and It’s Place in Contemporary Germany” by Liza Bering
The Told and Untold Stories of Berlin: A Walk-Through History” by Talia Silverstein
Navigating White Spaces: An Intersectional Analysis of Activist Work by Men of Color” by Ryan Garcia
Africa in Wedding: Germany’s Colonial Past” by Jannet Gutierrez
A Young Jew’s First Week in Berlin” by Nikki Mills
A Permanent Home for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s History: The FHXB Museum” by Annie Zlevor
The Porajmos: The Hidden Narratives of the Roma and Sinti” by Hailey Corkery
Writing Ourselves into the Discourse: The Legacies of Audre Lorde and May Ayim” by Nikki Mills
A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins” by Olivia Calvi
‘Nobody Flees Without a Reason’: A Walk Through Berlin’s Queer History” by Ryan Garcia
Memorialization: The Past in the Present and Why it is Important Today” by Liza Bering
ADNB des TBB: Intersectionality and Empowerment in Anti-Discrimination Support Work” by Nora Holmes
Mauerpark: Graffiti as Art” by Jannet Gutierrez

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


Annie Zlevor Blog PhotoAnnie Zlevor is a rising junior from the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. She is an Organismal Biology & Ecology major and a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. Annie is also a pre-medicine student, and hopes to attend medical school. In her free time, Annie enjoys eating Lebanese food, going fishing with her family, and taking lots of naps. Currently, you can find her spending some time outside the lab learning about Berlin’s hidden histories. She is excited to be exploring Germany for the first time and hopes you enjoy reading about her experiences.

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.

Activism: To the Blogosphere and Beyond!

By Lila Schmitz

Grrrls Team ILast night, I was up late. As the drizzle pitter-pattered on our window, Amelia and I joined the chorus around the globe of the vocal chords forming the sounds of tragedy. The feeling of pain and fear in our guts was enough to keep eyes open and minds muddled. As Amelia spoke on their feelings of hurt and powerlessness, I recalled Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s message about the necessity of activist self-care. In musing about my latest musical obsession, Akala, I had to share his words with Amelia: “The only way to ever change anything is to look in the mirror and find no enemy,” adding, “But I think it’s more than that, it’s more than ‘no enemy.’ It’s about being good and healthy first.”

We woke without the springing bounce that seemed to guide us out of bed over the past week. In my grogginess, I made it at least a block from the apartment before realizing my shorts may not have been the most appropriate choice on this chilly, damp morning. On the train, I pieced together, with the aid of good ol’ Google Translate (complete with a downloadable offline feature!), a headline about the massacre that read, “[Donald] Trump Calls for Obama’s Resignation.” I wish the permeation of the former’s overused name into this German headline had been a jolting surprise, but alas, since arriving in Europe three weeks ago, I’ve noticed it more than ever. While in London, I read an opinion piece in The Evening Standard, which claimed, “The Trump phenomenon would be a little less alarming were it confined to America. But it is merely the most dramatic instance of what looks increasingly like a pan-Western pathology.” The extensive transnational effect of the United States makes me worry tenfold about the aftermath of the events of this election season and this Sunday morning could have around the world.

In “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,” Erik N. Jensen explores transnational collective memory, as it bridges between Germany and the United States. Jensen finds, “Films, plays, historical studies, and commemorative strategies produced in one country have often found a receptive audience in the other” (339). Yet, he also explores the dichotomy that exists as the gay community in the United States finds the Jewish Holocaust “a template for understanding the persecution of homosexuals, [while] the German gay community has avoided this comparison” and looks to the history of the United States (342). By appropriating the story of the Holocaust in association with German gay movements, the United States is able to elevate itself above the level of that sort of inhumane oppression by “othering” the terrors of the foreign. Meanwhile, Jensen notes the German commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in the United States, an act of not only solidarity, but also adopted history, leaving me to wonder what could happen if our histories begin to cross again in the current political climate.

This is where my mind is as we sit, again in Each One Teach One, to hear from Magda Albrecht and acclamie, writers for the largest German feminist blog: “Mädchenmannschaft” (“Grrrls Team” in English). Magda and acclamie sit at the front of the room in cushioned chairs in a laid back, talk-show style, next to Heidi, who “feels like Oprah.” Today, the show is a continuation of the special series: “How to Live as an Activist,” Episode: “Blogging.” acclamie and Magda introduce the history of “Grrrls Team” and its development over its nine year lifespan. Coming to fruition in 2007 at the hands of three young white women, this blog family is now composed of fourteen writers, and has resulted in 4,500 posts that have received 51,000 comments.

The “Grrrls Team” writers, like most activists, work for a gain that exists outside the realm of capitalism ($0 per hour, after taxes). Magda is a self-proclaimed musician and political educator, doing events management to “pay the rent.” Her dress has smiling hot air balloons of different pastel colors, and she refers to herself as the “Grrrls Team granny,” as she is currently the longest standing writer, having joined the blog in 2009. She works specifically in queer feminism and fat activism. acclamie chooses to use a pseudonym for job safety reasons, but it also allows her freedom of voice that Magda writes without. “I’m still scared to hit the publish button!” Magda tells us. “Wow, really?” acclamie exclaimed, as she hasn’t fully realized the power of her own pseudonym until today. Both women found feminism in returning to Germany from studying abroad in “anglophile” countries, the U.S. and the U.K. They laugh, remembering the feminism they were reading at the time and reflecting on their constantly developing activism. acclamie finds that social change “takes for fucking ever.” “Things reconfigure, but do they really change?” she wants to know.

The writers tell us about the slow introduction of intersectional feminist theory throughout the years at “Grrrls Team.” For instance, for their fifth anniversary, they celebrated with panelists and other invited activists, but as happens in the world of activism and Oprah, some of the guests who came to speak about SlutWalks spouted some “racist bullshit” and set off a divide in the “Grrrls Team.” Five members of the team left, while the rest stayed on with an even clearer notion that antiracism and feminism must coexist. Four years later the blog is still thriving and inspiring readers every day. In looking back at this timeline, Magda was wary of the potentially teleological narrative that could arise, saying, “This idea that development is so linear, I have a problem with that.”

The conversation turns toward the possibility of “eradication” of oppressive systems. Heidi finds this a place of impossibility, but acclamie counters, “Racism is not transcendental. [It has a historical emergence.] It takes for freakin’ ever, but it is possible. It is man-made. It has a starting point, so it could have an ending point.” Along these lines, one of the early proponents of women’s rights in Germany, Clara Zetkin, found, “Only with the destruction of capitalism and the victory of socialism would the full emancipation of the female sex be possible” (Honeycutt 133). As capitalism is an essential part of sexism, the idea that anything man-made could be man-destroyed, or better yet woman and/or trans-destroyed, allows for a train of thought I had long ago believed was out of commission. What does it mean that capitalism and sexism are man-made? What does it mean that that which is created can also be eliminated? How do I even begin to imagine a world in which eradication is a possibility?

On “Grrrls Team,” not all comments are published. The authors monitor them, and about 10% do not make it through the screening process. While that is often an easy decision, it comes down to the author of the piece because, as Magda shares, “We have to feel comfortable with it. In German, we say, ‘This is our neighborhood, our little garden.’” “Our turf,” acclamie adds. Contrary to popular belief, this is not censorship, because it is not executed by the state. It is in their self-cultivated garden, and there are only so many bacteria along with which their flora can survive.

Grrrls Team IIIn addition to their (free, volunteer, activist) work on the blogosphere, they organize and host Lady*Fest, which happens two weeks from now in Heidelberg. The poster promotes workshops, parties, lecture/performance, self-defense, film, café, Do It Yourself, and art. Magda noted today that although the blog’s internet capital is soaring, social and financial capital is only a fraction of the size, which for a primarily internet activist must be a constant frustration. With this festival, the opportunity to merge the physical and virtual activist bodies becomes an imperative. The festival is creating a space to find comfort, learn, and create. This reminded me of the introduction to Winter Shorts, a collection of short stories illuminating oppressive systems in contemporary Germany, Sharon Dodua Otoo recalls, “Recently, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion called ‘Can art save the world?’ And when I think about how Black people are being dehumanized, my honest answer is: it is the only thing left that can” (18).

Grrrls Team IIISo here I am, sitting in Café Berio in Schöneberg staring at the art on the walls. Naked bodies in their own distinct coloring sit, thinking. A green woman kisses a blue one contrasting the bright red background. They exist as connected bodies, particles of paint, colors dancing with each other. I find the other works (all by the same artist, who signs “Sarah”) more subtly solemn and pensive, yet coexisting with the tender, passionate embracing couple. As activists, we will inhabit the single portraits of pensive philosophers, but we cannot thrive in the work without a laugh or a kiss. I’m still going to worry about the state of political affairs, queer safety, racism, and the many other pains that compose the world as I know it, but for now, I think I’m going to take a walk through Berlin and listen to Doublethink for the thirtieth time this week, as I’d like something to give me a little hope, and I think Otoo might be right: Art is “the only thing left that can” (18).


Lila IILila Schmitz is majoring in Film and Media Studies and minoring in Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College. She’s going to be starting her second year at CC and third year of college in the fall. She’s enjoyed getting involved with CC theater and a capella (Ellement!), as well as tripping and sweating her way through intramural sports. This summer she’s lucky enough to get to do some gallivanting on the European continent, where you can often find her in a park (photographed in Tiergarten) with that very notebook. Important note: She does not usually look so serious, but rather was trying to figure out how to draw a chin and ended up with this photographic chin display.

Jasmin Eding and ADEFRA: On Self-Definition and Empowerment

By Willa Rentel

IMG_8950After getting my kimchi fix at a tasty Korean lunch, we hopped on the U-Bahn and headed to our meeting with Jasmin Eding. As Eding began to share her story, her wisdom and years of lived experience struck me as particularly palpable. Eding is an activist and “founding mother” of ADEFRA, an organization based in Germany (formed in 1986) that, according to Eding’s “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” is focused on the “empowerment for black women.” As she began to share her story and describe her experiences growing up as an Afro-German woman in 1960s Germany, it became clear to me that Jasmin, along with her co-founders formed ADEFRA in order to create a space they desperately needed: a space for Black women in Germany to reconcile feelings of isolation, a space to facilitate and encourage connections and relationships between Black women, and a space for Black women to share their experiences.

IMG_8957Eding grew up in a small town outside of Munich during the 1960s. A child of a White mother and Black father, Eding grew up with her mother. As she reflected on her childhood, Eding noted that there was little discussion surrounding her blackness. As she went through years of schooling looking and feeling distinctly different, navigating an overtly racist society with a looming Nazi presence in her small town, Eding experienced feelings of isolation and unbelonging. In fact, Eding told us that as a very young girl, she was disinterested in connecting with Black people. She described the experience of meeting another Black person as “like looking in a mirror,” something she had no interest in doing. The prospect of being confronted with her Blackness, a part of herself that she was made to hide, ignore, or simply not discuss, was scary and isolating. With little discussion of Blackness happening around her, Eding began to grapple with the question of how to define herself. During our discussion, she referred to a teacher who gifted her Soul on Ice, a book that consists of a series of essays by Eldridge Cleaver, a writer, activist and member of the Black Panther Party. As Eding began to read work by and about other Black authors, she noted feeling increasingly connected to her blackness and increasingly comfortable being recognized for it.

IMG_8958Fast-forward to 1986 when Eding read Farbe Bekennen: Afro-Deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihere Geschichte, translated in English as Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, a book recounting the experience of Black women in Germany co-edited by Katharina Oguntoye, May (Opitz) Ayim, and Dagmar Schultz—featuring a “Foreword” by Audre Lorde. As she reflected on her experience of reading Farbe Bekennen, Eding remembers crying as she turned the pages. She described the experience of finally having access to the experiences of women like her, Afro-German women. This newfound connectedness conjured an emotional response; Eding felt instantly connected to fellow Afro-German women through their stories. As Audre Lorde writes in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” “Without community there is no liberation…but community does not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” In reading Farbe Bekennen, Eding was exposed to a community of Afro-German women with whom she could identify, and as a result, could begin to grow and become empowered.

IMG_8959This community of Afro-German women was then solidified and developed into ADEFRA. In 1986, ADEFRA was founded and meetings began to take place in many cities and places in West Germany, including Berlin and Munich. ADEFRA organizes readings, workshops, discussions, and events for and by Black women and their families. As Karen Honeycutt writes in “Clara Zetkin: A Socialist Approach to the Problem of Woman’s Oppression,” “Women’s groups help women in a number of important ways to combat the crippling effects of female socialization by providing an atmosphere unencumbered by male prejudice” (137). In this way, ADEFRA provides the space for analyses of female oppression to become intersectional—a space for Black women to understand not only what it means to be a German woman, but a Black German woman.

IMG_8961Eding explained to us that ADEFRA means “Afro-Deutsch-Frauen” or “Afro-German-Women.”  Self-identification is embedded deeply in this institution, beginning with its name. This self-proclamation acts as a force of empowerment, and solidifies the identity of a group that has been told incessantly that they must subdue themselves. As Maureen Maisha Eggers writes in “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,”  “Black women activists were at the core of the actions that led to the creation of initiatives and discussion groups on Blackness in Germany and eventually to the definition of Black Germanness.” Eggers contends that it is this act of definition that “can be more precisely described as a move towards claiming symbolic space” (3). Similarly, Eding claims that “self-determination, self-development and assertiveness are critical for us in facing and surviving racism and sexism in our daily lives in a predominantly white, Christian, patriarchal society” (131). Through self-empowerment and self-determination, ADEFRA, a coalition of dynamic, empowered Black women, works to do just what Eggers references, to “claim symbolic space,” empower, and create connections between Black women. When asked how the formation of ADEFRA has changed her experience as an Afro-German woman, she responded by saying simply, “It changed everything…my whole life. I finally felt I belonged to something. Everyone needs to belong.”


WillaWilla Rentel is from Croton, New York, and will be entering her second year at CC this coming fall. She is planning on majoring in Sociology and absolutely loves people and good conversation. The Sociology class she took 5th block of last year focused on the growing income gap in America revealed to her an interest in majoring in the field. An avid thrift shopper, Willa loves searching through racks of clothing to find great, quirky gems. Willa loves music and is constantly altering her playlists on Spotify. She prides herself on being open to most any genre, but currently loves listening to The Talking Heads, Al Green, FKA Twigs (and most everything in between). Willa really, really loves strawberries. She also loves lying in hammocks, the smell of lilac flowers and swimming (in the ocean and ponds particularly). Her favorite television show of the moment is Broad City, and she is currently making her way through season two with impressive speed. Willa has a strong passion for social justice and feminism and would like to use her degree to pursue her passion further.

Finding Their Presence: A Women’s Perspective Tour of Berlin

By Nia Abram

Penelope

Penelope “Pen” Hassmann

The rain trickled onto our freshly awakened faces this morning as we bustled to the Brandenburg Gate to begin our day. When we arrived at the gate, we met our tour guide Penelope Hassmann, or Pen as she likes to be called. She leads the Women’s Perspective Tour, which gives insight into the women who have contributed to the history of some of the city’s most talked about and controversial stories, museums, and memorials. As the tour kicked, off I began to realize that although Berlin is a fairly young city, it is rich with so much history even in just the past 100 years. So, I began to wonder how Pen located and choose the bountiful information about the women’s perspective. How did she begin to piece together the female presence that is woven throughout German history? To paraphrase Penelope’s response, there’s a part of the women’s experience in everything. She says that she chose to mention the women’s perspective in relation to the places she passed through every day. This seemed especially important to me when thinking about how we can bring women’s issues and experiences to light—we need to recognize women’s experiences in our daily lives.

The FemGeniuses in Berlin with Pen Hassmann at Brandenburg Gate

The FemGeniuses in Berlin with Pen Hassmann at Brandenburg Gate

We walked with intent through the damp streets of Berlin, and Pen told our first fact about one of Berlin’s historical women.She was the first person to die due to her attempt to cross the Berlin wall, Ida Siekmann. As Pen pointed out, in the official government memorial and the “book of the dead,” Siekmann is listed as the first death at the Wall. However, Pen points out that the narrative at this memorial (which is managed by a private company) begins with the first shooting, which was a man, rather than the first death. In cases like this, Siekmann’s death wasn’t considered the first to mark the tragedy of the Berlin wall. It couldn’t. She was a woman.

Hannah Arendt Straße

Hannah Arendt Straße

One of our next stops was at the Memorial for Murdered Jews. As I exited the memorial, I noticed the street sign hanging in the gray sky: Hannah Arendt Straße. A political theorist by trade, Arendt was also a highly acclaimed feminist philosopher. She was Jewish, and her work explored many topics, including anti-Semitism. She had strong opinions about how our political actions relate to our social and economic ones. According to Sidonia  Blättler, Irene M. Marti, and Senem Saner in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” Arendt argued that freedom is the direct aim of political action. More specifically, she argues, “Freedom in the positive political sense is bound to an interaction in which the agents acknowledge each other simultaneously as different and as equal beings.” Arendt’s philosophies changed perspectives and policies; hence, the site of the street sign could not be any more fitting for a brave heroine and the work she did for the Jewish community.

The FemGeniuses in Berlin with Pen Hassmann at Bundesministerium der Finanzen

The FemGeniuses in Berlin with Pen Hassmann at Bundesministerium der Finanzen

Our tour continued, and we made our way to the old Nazi government district. We reached a building called the Bundesministerium der Finanzen. This building was used during the height of the Holocaust by the Nazi party, but it was later used by the last German parliament when the Soviet Union took control. Now it’s where the Finance Minister is and decides the budget. On the side of the building is a mural of people celebrating and nearly half of the people are women. One woman is holding a sign that says “socialism.” Pen told us that this mural was made under the Soviet control when East Germany was a communist state. This meant that there was not only more equal economic opportunity, but there was also more gender equality at this time. As Karen Honeycutt claims in “Clara Zetkin: A Socialist Approach to the Problem of Woman’s Oppression,” Clara Zetkin believed that the solution to gender inequality would be to create economic equality for everyone. This meant that women would be just as valuable workers as men are. This was evident in East Germany during the Soviet communist state, as Pen told us that one woman went back to work as early as three weeks after her pregnancy. Pen indicated that the amount of time between a woman giving birth and going back to work seemed to vary widely, and was very much influenced by the point of history at which she gave birth (at times being anywhere from three months to a year). She also notes that it is difficult to get accurate information on official government policy at that time. This challenged Clara’s point of gender equality because it was soon realized that women’s lived experiences were different from those of the men, women were mothers and needed recuperation after giving birth, making her socialist equality principle a utopia that sounded good in writing, but proved to exacerbate social problems in practice. Although communism has had a controversial standing in Germany throughout its history, this mural represents its particular relationship with the women’s experience.

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Penelope “Pen” Hassmann

After stopping in a café to grab coffee and some WiFi (to post pictures to Instagram, of course), we eventually ended up at Humboldt University where we learned about Frederick the Great’s wife Elizabeth. While Frederick was fighting wars, Elizabeth was banished to a villa in northern Germany. Although Frederick treated her poorly, she kept up with all the court ceremonies and traditions, and she donated half of her annual $40,000 allowance to charity. But no one knows about her deeds, because Frederick is always the historical main attraction. Pen continued to tell us about a number of incredible women throughout the tour, too many for me to mention, and as her extensive knowledge rolled off her tongue and into our whirring brains, the rain began clear. As we closed our umbrellas and pulled down our hoods we ended our tour conversing about how Germans remember and reconcile the history of the Holocaust. How do they sort out their guilt about the events of the past if they even have any? We concluded that our responses to history are sometimes individual, which has prompted me to end with a quote from R. Ruth Linden’s “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” “Historical ‘truths’ lie in triangulated points of view, for any given event of historical consequence is experienced from multiplex, situated perspectives. The impact of such an event is felt by many actors, each of whom has a biography fraught with idiosyncrasies (which mediate the event’s meaning).”


Nia Abram

Nia Abram

Nia Abram is a rising junior, an Environmental Science major, and an avid dancer at Colorado College. She has lived in central New Jersey, Atlanta, California, and northern Jersey (in that order), but in the end, she calls north Jersey her home. Nia enjoys hiking and creative writing, as she often retreats to nature to write short stories and personal essays in her free time. Some of her favorite movies include Coming to America, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Mulan, Howl’s Moving Castle, and, of course, Harry Potter. She has taken an interest in Feminist & Gender Studies; although she does not plan to major or minor. However, she hopes to use her knowledge as a feminist and an academic to address environmental justice issues through an intersectional lens. Optimistically, her future career will allow her to start a non-profit organization that brings environmental science and outdoor education to underprivileged urban girls through a program that teaches science, empowerment, and social justice.