Writing Ourselves into the Discourse: The Legacies of Audre Lorde and May Ayim

L to R: Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, Jasmin Eding, and Marion Kraft [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

By Nikki Mills

On a rainy Friday afternoon, three remarkable women sat quietly, listening to the rainfall on the roof of the FHXB Museum. While moms outside shielded children from the downpour and businessmen and women sprinted for the metro, we gathered, a class of nine, young and eager, into the museum’s auditory. Marion Kraft, Jasmin Eding, and Judy Gummich spent the next two and a half hours recounting their memories and their work, including stories about Audre Lorde and May Ayim, two remarkable people who led the way for Black women in Germany.

Marion began. She recalled the first time she met the legendary Audre Lorde. She was asked to interview her. “I was so nervous,” Marion told us. “Very shaky.” She went on to describe the tape recorder she brought along, not conveniently sized back in 1985, and her questionable ability to work the machine. Marion conducted the interview and after an hour Audre asked, “Are we done? That was beautiful! Can we listen to it now?” Marion clicked the play button and nothing played back. She hadn’t recorded any of it! Mortified, Marion apologized, to which Audre responded, “Oh well, let’s do it all over again!” And they did. Marion shared this anecdote with us to describe Audre’s honesty and genuine compassion for her work as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Marion continued, “I believe every word public or private came from her heart.” Her encounter with Audre Lorde was life-changing and the beginning of a personal friendship.

Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

Marion, Jasmin, and Judy have each had their own unique hand in shaping Black communities Germany. Marion, a scholar and philosopher, has spent decades trying to right the racist wrongs of society. For example, her recent book, Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration, is a direct response to the lack of Black literature in Germany, because she, along with many other Black Germans of her generation, grew up in “total isolation.” Judy Gummich, diversity trainer and life-coach, recalled how before any organized Black German groups existed, it was sometimes hard to look at another Black person. She noted that it was like looking in to a mirror that reflected back the oppression and racism so prevalent in Germany. They didn’t even have a name for themselves. “Afro-German” and “Black German” wasn’t a common way for them to describe themselves until ADEFRA, a Black women’s organization claimed the name in 1986. Before then, being “Black” and “German” were not what we would call “compatible” identities. Along these lines, in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” Jasmin, co-founder of ADEFRA writes, “We chose to define ourselves, name ourselves. We called ourselves Black Germans, Afro-German or Afropeans, Blacks in Europe (instead of Europeans) or simply Black. We felt it time to challenge German society that being German doesn’t always mean being white and that we also had a long Black history in Germany/Europe.” This statement lays the groundwork for the importance of the Black community to define itself rather than be defined by anyone else.

Before helping to found ADEFRA, Jasmin found influence in Audre Lorde’s work—more specifically, the back cover of one of her books. On the back was an advertisement for another book, Farbe Bekennen: Afro-Deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out), co-edited by May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz. It piqued the interest of a young Jasmin and soon enough she had the book in her hands. During our discussion, she said, “It was like looking into a mirror.” Everything she was reading in this book about the experiences of other Afro-German women paralleled her own. So, she wrote a letter to Katharina Oguntoye, and eventually heard back. The two women got together and started talking. Those conversations sparked the thought process behind ADEFRA. It was a “mission,” Jasmin explained. In the 1980s, with no Facebook or Whats App, these women had to resort to person-to-person interaction to build their collective community. Handing out fliers on the street and through word-of-mouth, ADEFRA grew bigger and bigger. Jasmin noted it was like a “Black coming out.” They were no longer in “total isolation,” as Marion had described earlier. It was no easy process but slowly a connection on a national level was built among Black German communities. These women, including Ria Cheatom—who made a surprise visit to our discussion, spent hours driving all around Germany, even venturing into former German Democratic Republic (GDR) to find the Black community in East Berlin.

L to R from Top: Nikki Mills, Dagmar Schultz, Ika Hügel-Marshall, Marion’s Partner Oury, Dana Asbury, and Nora Holmes [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

They recalled their first office, a kitchen table, and laughed about the hours spent hand writing fliers because at that time print copies were expensive. A fascinating part of our conversation about ADEFRA’s beginnings were the challenges they faced venturing into East Berlin. There they found a common sentiment that there was “no racism,” an official position of the GDR. This inability to accept the racist discrimination made it incredibly difficult to have honest conversations about life for Black Germans. But as Marion recalled, after the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent plummet of the GDR economy, many minorities were blamed. The classic story of using a minority group as a scapegoat for the ruin of the economy. The racial violence toward Black and refugee communities in the former GDR spoke to the necessity of groups like ADEFRA. Marion, Judy, and Jasmin all attested to the fact that there are still “no-go” areas for minority groups within Berlin. The voice ADEFRA and other Black German organizations, such as the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD), gives to Black German communities is essential in their fight for equity.

With the help of members of ADEFRA like Jasmin and many other voices within Black German communities, Marion created Kinder der Befreiung to “write [Black Germans] into the discourse in [their] own voice, in [their] own language, that’s not imposed upon [them].” The book is composed of “life stories,” histories of the children of the liberation. For example, in an interview with the Jewish Museum of Berlin, Marion explains, “The title Children of the Liberation refers to the liberation of Germany from fascism” and “stands in contrast to the term ‘occupation’ and at the same time refers to liberation from the discriminating labels that prevailed for a long time to describe the children of Allied soldiers and German women, in particular the Black children.” The language used by ADEFRA and Marion is crucial to the liberation of Black Germans from colonial imposition and naming of certain minority groups. As she writes in “Coming in from the Cold: The Black German Experience Past and Present,” “The self-definition of Black Germans began in the 1980s, and the visions and actions of the generations born after World War II have had a profound influence on the development of a Black German cultural and political consciousness.” Our panelists and guests, which also included—to our surprise—Ika Hügel-Marshall and Dagmar Schultz, nodded in agreement that today’s young Black Germans admirably have a certain kind of self-confidence about their identity and belonging. We concluded that this confidence developed, in part, because of our guests’ generation, the children of the post-war era, a generation of elders that allowed this confidence to come to fruition.

Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

Marion also argues that Kinder der Befreiung is a vital way of combatting the notion that racism is in the past. For example, the forward opens with Anton Wilhelm Amo, an influential Black German philosopher from Ghana who was also a contemporary of Immanuel Kant’s. At the same time that Amo was teaching and writing in Germany, Kant claimed that no African has ever made anything of a contribution to society. Marion used this anecdote to highlight the racism that has saturated society. But that was the 18th century right? Marion then juxtaposes this problem with a more contemporary philosopher, Hannah Arendt. Arendt wrote in the 1950s that the social structures of the Black community were something akin to that of animals. Even more contemporary, a current street sign in Berlin proudly sports an extremely racist slur about Black people despite their resistance.

This, of course, can best be understood through an intersectional lens that carefully considers multiple forms of oppression. Along these lines, Judy has found herself immersed in the particular discourse on inclusion and what that means in terms of human rights. It’s a discourse about how to live together and allow all people the fundamental right to live. It’s also about moving away from words like “integration” and “assimilation” so often the terminology used to describe “progress.” Whether it’s a salad bowl, mosaic, or a majestic multi-colored coat, the discourse remains the same. “Integration” is not the goal. In Germany, this word often targets “people with a migration background” and problematizes them rather than the barriers they face. It is also important, as Judy asserted, to include all Black Germans, to pull everyone out of the “total isolation” Marion described and give them a voice in the conversation on Black German identity.

L to R: Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, Jasmin Eding, Marion Kraft, and Nikki Mills [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

The work that these women are and have been doing to give the next generation of Black Germans a clear identity, a cohesive history, a voice in a country that pretends they don’t exist, is remarkable. As I walked out of the museum into the evening drizzle I couldn’t help wonder, did I just meet this generation’s Audre Lorde and May Ayim?


Nikki Mills hails from the swampy Washington, D.C. area, and treasures the moments she gets to spend in sunny Colorado. She’s an Anthropology major and Political Science minor, but in an effort to leave her comfort zone and still explore issues close to her heart, she’s chosen to take her first official Feminist & Gender Studies course this summer. On campus, Nikki can be found hanging from ropes in the climbing gym and attending Shabbat dinners at the Interfaith House. Throughout school and beyond, she hopes to continue working hard for the disregarded in our society and find creative ways of moving past this particularly vile moment in U.S. history.

 

Marketing Narratives and Misplacing Others: Queer Berlin Tour

By Amelia Eskenazi

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The gray skies and chilled temperature greeted us this morning as we hustled out of our apartment at 8:15 trying to decide whether or not we wanted to ride the bus this morning. Quickly becoming Google Maps pros, we decided to walk, weaving through the streets of West Berlin to the Reichstag, where we were supposed to meet the rest of our group and our tour guide, Ryan, who leads the Queer Berlin Walking Tour.

Ryan began our tour by explaining how it had changed since the FemGeniuses took the tour last year: “It used to be the history of gay men in Berlin tour, but we changed it because it’s a queer history tour.” Pleasantly surprised, we began the tour near Hotel Adlon where Ryan told us a story about prolific artist Francis Bacon and his stay at the infamous hotel. According to Ryan, one morning when the room service was delivered and Bacon was in bed with his male partner at the time, the person delivering the food “didn’t blink an eye.” This is apparently when Francis Bacon knew that Berlin was the city for him. But as a white gay man, any city that markets to queer culture markets to him. While Berlin is oftentimes described as the “queer capital of Europe,” we must ask ourselves, whose queerness is valued and whose is diminished within this so-called progressive culture?

As we walked towards the U-Bahn station to catch a train to the “notoriously gay” neighborhood of Schöneberg, we learned about some of the legislation behind LGBT criminalization in Germany. Ryan explained to us that when the separate states of Germany were unified in 1871, Section 175 of the German penal code was written, criminalizing sodomy across the country. When the Nazis were in power, they utilized Section 175 as a means of persecuting homosexual individuals. On our walk, we passed a memorial for homosexual individuals who were persecuted along these lines during the Holocaust. The memorial, designed by Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen consists of a concrete cube with a five-minute video of a gay or lesbian couple kissing projected on the inside. When the memorial was first created, the only videos used showcased gay men. According to Ryan, after some public outcry by individuals living in Berlin, videos of lesbians were added and the videos are now rotated every six months. Due to the pervasiveness of gay male culture in Berlin, this addition later on is not uncommon. Unfortunately, due to construction, we were not able to view the videos.

IMG_1921Schöneberg, the first neighborhood we went to, has been notorious for being lesbian and gay friendly since the 20s and 30s. About ten years ago, however, the owner of a Dolce Freddo, a local ice cream shop, threw out two gay men after one of the men kissed the other’s cheek while ordering ice cream. The next day when the owner walked from the subway stop to his ice cream shop, he saw hundreds of lesbian and gay couples kissing—the result of a kissing protest that had been staged in response to his requests for the couple to not publicly display affection in his shop. According to Ryan, the Mayor of Tempelhof-Schöneberg, Ekkehard Band (who was openly gay), stated that these “types of action were no longer welcome in Berlin.” Spectacles of queer affection, like this one, have been used as a means of sexual assimilation throughout Berlin for the last few decades. According to Jin Haritaworn in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” the use of kiss-ins are used as a means of exemplifying  progressivism. “Today’s kissers occupy space very differently. Rather than sick perverts outside the law, they are state-sponsored envoys” (76). She continues to claim that “the vulnerable, respectable body of the gay kisser brings home the need for a military and police apparatus to protect the safety of the vulnerable and to defend ‘our’ hard-won values of freedom and diversity” (83). But Berlin’s use of gay and lesbian history as a means of marketing modernism does not stop at commemorating public displays of affection in parks and support from political figures.

IMG_1924While in Schöneberg, we visited the former home of acclaimed author Christopher Isherwood. Similar to Francis Bacon, Isherwood was not originally from Germany; he came to Berlin after hearing about the openness of the gay and lesbian community in the 20s and 30s. While in Berlin, Isherwood developed a relationship with a man named Otto Dix. He stayed in Berlin for a few years, writing short stories and developing relationships within the gay community of Schöneberg and Kreutzberg. Two of his most famous books, Goodbye to Berlin and Christopher and His Kind, are focused on his experiences in Berlin. According to Ryan, Isherwood left Berlin in 1933, the night after the Nazi book burning. Though Isherwood’s relationships and literary accomplishments were quite significant for Berlin’s lesbian and gay community, Ryan did not mention any people of color who have also impacted marginalized communities within Berlin, especially LGBTQ communities.

Part of the reason why the FemGeniuses study in Berlin is because for many years, Audre Lorde came to Berlin each summer, teaching, working, and writing with women of color, especially Black German women. Her presence in Berlin was so impactful that a group of Afro-German women, including May (Opitz) Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye co-edited a book entitled Farbe Bekennen: Afro-Deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Gechichte in 1986 with Dagmar Schultz as a means of documenting their experiences and diasporic herstories individually and collectively. This book was the first published edited collection of autobiographical writing by Black German women. Despite this accomplishment, neither Lorde’s impact nor her times in Berlin were mentioned on our tour. As Lorde writes in the foreword of Farbe bekennen, “Racism cuts a wide and corrosive swath across each of our lives. The overt climate that racism takes can alter according to society and our national situations…[A]s members of an international community of people of color, how do we strengthen and support each other in our battles against the rising international ride of racism?” (x). Although queer and trans people of color throughout Berlin and all over Germany have been working to create a cohesive and well-known community, the lack of recognition on a tour from a well-advertised company becomes a lack of acknowledgement.

IMG_1923In a place that has been so influential for LGBTQIA+ history in general, we must analyze the way in which these subjectivities have been evicted out of mainstream history. Due to the focus of this class being the intersections of identity within Berlin, it is important to know the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer individuals. Nevertheless, the way in which this history is framed and who frames it is important to critique. Along these lines, in “Knowledge of (Un-) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Dr. Maisha Eggers writes, “Narration is considered central to changing perceptions of normalcy. Since narration creates and conserves normalcy, dismantling legitimized and historicized dominant knowledges requires counter-narration” (7). Regarding Berlin, these counter-narrations are widely written, spoken, and known. The issue now is shifting the whitewashed epicentral focus to one that includes voices that are oftentimes forgotten in dominant discourses.

IMG_1910Nevertheless, the traps of marketed neoliberal queerness within Berlin are hard to avoid and easy to get excited about. However, at the end of the day, they are not an accurate depiction of the various intersections of queerness within Berlin. Without acknowledging these intersections, the dominant narrations appear to be the sole narrations. Over the last few days, I have begun to question my role in perpetuating the normalcy of prevailing discourses. As a white queer individual, I’ll end with this question: How am I contributing to the hegemonic discourses already in place?


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.

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years

By Cheanna Gavin

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
—Audre Lorde

Snapchat-1321204095298185718As our third full day in Berlin comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect not only on all of the amazing opportunities we have already experienced, but also all of the amazing people we have been able to meet. Today alone, we were able to meet four women who worked closely with Audre Lorde and see first-hand how she influenced them, as well as the influence they have had on their own communities. The day started off at the Joliba Intercultural Network, where we met with Katharina Oguntoye, the organization’s Founder and Director. I had a small background on the work Katharina had done in the ’80s from reading Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, which was co-edited by her, Dagmar Schultz and May (Opitz) Ayim. Today, I got to see the work she continues to do now, and the changes she has been a part of for the past 30 years. After an exciting morning with Oguntoye, we were able to meet with Ika Hügel-Marshall, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, and Dagmar Schultz at Each One Teach One (EOTO), which felt like the perfect place. EOTO was created for the Black community, and its name means each Black person should teach another Black person their history/culture in order to form connections and build community. As the only Black student on this trip, this was a very special space for me.

Earlier this week, we watched Schultz’s film Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, and got a glimpse into Lorde’s time in Berlin, as well as her relationships with Schultz, Marshall, Oguntoye, Ayim, and other important people in the Black Women’s movement. As we learned in the movie, Lorde began visiting Berlin in 1984 as a guest professor. Schultz met Lorde in 1980 at the UN’s World Conference on Women in Copenhagen. Around 1984, the women’ss movement was just beginning in Germany, and Schultz believed Lorde would be a driving force. While teaching, Lorde met the Black Germans that came to her classes and encouraged them to write. Eventually, this led to the publication of Showing Our Colors. At this time, the term “Afro-German” was created, which exemplifies the influence of Black women activists. Along these liness, in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Maisha Eggers writes,

The naming project set out to embrace and acknowledge the position of subjects of African ancestry/heritage and German linage/situatedness/identity. At the same time, it symbolized a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness. Political self-definition as Afro-Germans, later Black Germans, initiated a new sense of collective identity and self-appreciation (3).

Not all of the activists involved in this movement were Black-Germans, though. Schultz spoke about how she interpreted her role in the movement as a white German woman, which often is not discussed. Regarding their participation in a movement for Black German women, Schultz arguess that White German women must critically analyze their role and intentions. In order to check her privilege and remain critical, Schultz said she would ask herself, “What am I missing out on by not including women of color?” instead of only asking, “How can I help them?”

IMG_0231 (2)While living in the U.S. from 1963-1973, Schultz learned from the activists she worked with and adopted the strategy of not primarily basing her participation on whether or not she would lose her job, something she had been threatened with many times. While in the U.S., Schultz lost multiple jobs for this reason, including a publishing job from which she was let go for publishing something questionable about the church and refusing to allow her boss to review all of her work after that article was published. By taking this and similar approaches, white Germans may find a way to escape the immobilizing white guilt Lorde discusses in the foreword to Showing Our Colors (xiii) and actively dismantle racism, sexism, xenophobia, heterosexuality, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression. As Schultz has aged and become less active in particular ways, her strategies have changed. Now, she works on telling her story of Audre Lorde in Berlin and teaches German to refugees.

We also got to speak with author Ika Hügel-Marshall, who was also a major factor in the formation of the Black women’s movement in Germany. Marshall is the author of Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany (1997), which is the first autobiography written by a Black woman in Germany. In “Troubling Categories, I can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden argues that the histories we learn are a reflection of our own identities. In this case, Marshall is making history, and it is important this narrative is shared. Marshall spoke a lot about the tremendous impact of her relationship with Audre Lorde, so much that she was with Lorde the day she passed away, along with Schultz and Ayim. [Note: Early on, Marshall mentioned her English was not as good, so she didn’t speak as much. For that reason, we did not get to know her as well, but we were still learn a great deal about her life and her journey as a Black German woman.]

Last, we spoke with Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, who is from an el barrio in New York City and has lived in Berlin for 30 years. It was important for her to provide us with a transnational and intergenerational perspective. She spoke about her early connections in Germany (through the work of Audre Lorde and ADEFFRA) with Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, and Jasmin Eding, and still considers them her sisters today. She was also mentored by Gloria Wekker through a women’s/gender studies summer school. Here, she was able to connect with Black German women and women from throughout the Black Diaspora here in Germany. I see this as a continuation of the successful work that the Black women’s movement started in connecting the Black community.

Snapchat-1083077621951262231Dück also spoke about mental health and self-care. I was really able to relate to what she was saying, because many students of color back at Colorado College have been working to create spaces for people of color and to stress the importance of self-care. Dück discussed the toll that activism takes on the minds, bodies, and spirits of women of color and how spaces for women of color are crucial in mitigating this damage. As Eggers points out, “With the emergence of Black women activists, first individually and then collectively, belonging became a particular interest that required addressing” (3). Self-care is particularly important for women of color because of the battle fatigue they are constantly experiencing due to racism, sexism, heterosexism, and various other forms of oppression. By creating and nurturing these spaces, we allow for self-care, more opportunities for “Each One, Teach One” to occur, and more connections to be made.

Being in a room with these women was really grounding for me. Seeing them in films, reading about them, and reading their work made me a bit star-struck. But as Schultz’s movie intended to “humanize” Lorde, this opportunity “humanized” each of them to me. As our session was coming to an end, we were all sitting and looking at pictures and watching videos of Marshall and Oguntoye with Lorde from the accompanying website for Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, laughing and eating strawberries. Never would I have imagined I would get this opportunity, and I am beyond grateful to have been able to meet such influential women. I look forward to all the other amazing opportunities to come while I am here with my fellow #FemGeniusesInBerlin.


GavinCheanna Gavin is a rising Junior at Colorado College from Denver, Colorado. She is majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and potentially minoring in Human Biology and Kinesiology. She is on the Pre-Health track and planning to attend Physical Therapy School. Cheanna loves playing sports and is ecstatic to be a FemGenius in Berlin, as she can’t wait to explore and learn about different German cultures.

Difference is Key: Audre Lorde and Afro-Germans

By Amy Valencia

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
—Audre Lorde

It was the first day in Berlin, and I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked outside and listened to the sounds, I realized this is one of the few instances I have experienced not understanding what people are saying. In the United States, the two dominant languages are English and Spanish, both in which I am fluent. There are rare occasions where I have absolutely had no idea what someone is trying to communicate. When I looked around, I knew I wasn’t at home anymore, because at home, I am not in the minority. I come from a predominantly Latino community where I don’t feel othered. Here in Berlin, it is quite obvious that white people are the majority, and that people of color are few and far between. Still, I was ready to take it all in.

Audre Winterfeldmarkt j

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde began regularly visiting Berlin in 1984. She became an influential actor and mentor in the Afro-German movement. A form of resistance against Black Germans being defined by others, the term Afro-German serves as the community defining themselves (Oguntoye, xxii). Even in the early German women’s movement, racism was a form of oppression that was rarely discussed (Schultz, xxiv). This is why Audre Lorde’s relationship to various communities in Berlin is so important. In Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, producer and director Dagmar Schultz (one of Lorde’s closest friends in Berlin) recounts a portion of this influence. By watching The Berlin Years, we learn that Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to learn from one another, to learn from African-Americans, and to seek out the history they didn’t know. For example, in the film, Lorde is shown giving a speech to a crowd of women, during which she asks the white women to leave and asks the Afro-Germans who remain to connect with one another. She asked them to begin to build a network, a community in which they can unite and give voice to the issues they face.

Lorde also emphasizes the importance of difference. In a lot of her writing, she argues that is vital that Black women acknowledge and learn from one another’s differences and recognize that there are some shared goals. One of the goals is to eliminate the fear that results from oppression. For example, she once said to many of her fellow activists, “I value myself more than I value my terrorist.” Hence, the new sense of collective identity Lorde inspired in Berlin, based in large part on this sentiment, made it possible for Afro-German women to organize and be active to change a society that had relegated them to the margins. Their actions, then, would debunk the “myth that there are no Black people in Germany, and if there are any, they have nothing of importance to say” (Eggers, 3). Subsequently, their collective voice became stronger.

Eggers

Aishah Shahidah Simmons (2015 Course Associate), Dr. Maisha Eggers, and Heidi

Along these lines, in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging,” Dr. Maisha Eggers emphasizes that the beginning of the Afro-German women’s movement was focused on discussions about Blackness. Throughout these discussions, Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to feel like a part of a community, a community whose narratives needed to be told. In this way, it is important to write your own narrative and not let someone else write it for you. In “Troubling Categories, I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden discusses how the history we learn and/or write about is reflective of our own time, locations, and identities. For the Afro-German women whose history is still being written, it is important that their narrative isn’t lost due to others’ socialization to denigrate their experiences.

Throughout the rest of my stay in Berlin, I want to be conscious of the spaces and people we interact with and how their narratives have been and continue to be told. I want to always remember that we are in a privileged position to be outsiders within these communities and to be able to interact with marginalized communities in Berlin. Sitting by my window, I look out and think about narratives that are silenced and what has yet to be told.


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!

The Ghost of the Third Reich: Educating Ourselves about Berlin

By Ivy Wappler

Third Reich

As the inauguration of the 2016 FemGeniuses in Berlin looms closer and closer, we FemGeniuses are finishing up our packing and preliminary assignments before we board our flights this weekend. I was grateful for the assignments, not only to keep me reasonably busy here at home, but also in the name of getting informed about Berlin before traveling there. I find that before traveling anywhere for the first time it is important to familiarize oneself with their history and culture.

There are countless arguments for being an informed traveler. Not only will ample background research help you contextualize and understand what you experience in a new part of the world, but it is also imperative to be aware of the rich history of Berlin, for example, because that history informs the nature of Berlin today. Understanding the momentous legacy of The Third Reich is a necessary precursor for exploring the city of Berlin. Our class is going to discuss various intersectional identities in this city. But how can we ever begin to understand the nuanced lives of migrant Turks or Black Germans without at least knowing about the Nazi influence that once so blatantly orchestrated white power and racialized oppression? For that reason, we FemGeniuses were assigned to watch The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall. This History Channel documentary, combined with an assortment of readings, was the beginning of my process of familiarization with Berlin, a prequel to what I expect to be a very illuminating block abroad.

The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall examines the experiences of everyday Germans in the time of the Third Reich. The focus was on how the Germans gave Hitler his power, and what their lives looked like in wartime. All mentions of Jews in the documentary were starkly less personal in nature. The film, constructed from clips of Nazi rallies, strapping German soldiers, and Germans working and recreating together, regarded the Jews were only in cold statistics, such as death tolls in concentration camps. While the documentary certainly made clear the violent and inhuman ways the Jews were treated, there was no mention of what Marion Kaplan explores in “The School Lives of Jewish Children in the Third Reich,” namely the day to day experiences of Jewish people under Hitler’s regime. Kaplan goes through lengths to describe how Jewish children were treated in contrast to their German peers. She paints a clear picture of Jews and Germans living side by side, one group drastically more oppressed by the regime than the other. I thought it interesting and wonder why The Third Reich, however, did not depict Germans and Jews interacting, or acknowledge that racial discrimination was blatant in public spaces like schools.

AyimThe Third Reich: The Rise and Fall approached race interestingly. The only races and/or ethnicities it mentions as targeted and persecuted by the Nazis were Jewish people, Poles, and Russians. There was no mention of Black people or their experiences in WWII. In “Afro-Germans after 1945: The So-Called Occupation Babies,” May (Opitz) Ayim observes that the rhetoric surrounding the Third Reich does not give space to the non-Jews who also suffered on account of their race. She notes that although Afro-Germans and Asian-Germans existed in Germany before and during the second world war, they were not considered in discussions of compensation. I wonder: Is The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall contributing to the erasure of Afro-Germans and other groups? Or is it just zooming in on particular aspects of the war?

Something I hope to discuss further that was brought up in both the documentary and some of our readings is the concept of rape in war. After WWI, Germany had ceased to be a colonial power, and some of the soldiers who occupied German territory after the war were black. There was national outrage over the fact that white German women were exposed to the black soldiers, or “wild people” (“African and Afro-German Women” 45).  It had been customary, however, in previous German military endeavors to rape foreign women. This “unwritten male right to enslave women” was never challenged until black soldiers exercised it on white German women (“African and Afro-German Women” 45). Rape in war is important to examine because it is an area where racism and sexism intersect. The Third Reich describes how the Russian Red Army raped countless German women when they invaded Berlin, probably in direct retaliation of how the Germans treated their people earlier in WWII. How did Germans justify their right to rape and pillage foreign peoples? How did Germans view their own women? What does it mean that Germans celebrated their raping of foreign women, and cried out about black men raping their own? I look forward to unpacking layered considerations of race and gender in discussions of the rape, war, and nationalism when we convene as a class in Berlin.

Audre Winterfeldmarkt j

After reading from Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speaking Out and watching The Third Reich,  it is clear that white guilt is a force to be reckoned with, especially in contemporary feminist circles.  The fall of The Third Reich ends with Germans being forced to go inside neighboring concentration camps and stand face to face with the inhumanity they imposed upon the Jews. At least a million Germans were then left in concentration camps to die. This was only the beginning of the reparations that Germans would be forced to make for the disaster that was WWII. White guilt has by no means been eradicated from the German consciousness, however. Audre Lorde laments German white guilt in the foreword to Showing Our Colors. Lorde has “met an immobilizing national guilt in white German women which serves to keep them from acting upon what they profess to believe” (viii). Lorde laments how white German feminists seem paralyzed, unable to accept fully who they are, their history, and their privilege. She views this as a waste of power and potential for “battles against racism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, [and] xenophobia” (viii). Contemporary white guilt is born largely from the deep footprint that both world wars have pressed into German history and culture. In the preface to Showing Our Colors, Dagmar Schultz notes that “only gradually are white women beginning to realize that accepting responsibility is a viable and necessary alternative to being paralyzed by guilt feelings” (xix). En route to Berlin, I am curious to investigate how the legacy of the Third Reich manifests itself in the modern city, and how palpable white guilt may be. In conversation with activists and academics in Berlin, I hope to examine the reconciliation of white guilt, and how German feminists are addressing it as a problematic, stagnating force that has the potential to be a source of power.

Looking more closely at our readings and watching The Third Reich has made me even more excited to take off for Germany. I feel lucky to be writing this first blog post, because I had even more reason to dwell on these assignments. The film and readings have got me thinking about the power of narratives, rape in war, and white guilt, among many other things. I look forward to gathering as a class and discussing these topics in more detail, with Berlin and its people as our classroom. Our assignments so far have given me an idea of how the ghost of the Third Reich continues to haunt the country, but I am sure there is so much more to see and learn. Given its rich history, I predict Berlin will be an especially interesting place to study the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and more.

I guess it is time to finally start packing. I certainly left that to the last minute. The art of packing light is a lesson I have yet to learn… going to challenge myself this time! Monday morning we will gather as a class for the first time and embark on our academic adventure. Safe travels to all my classmates, and see you soon!


WapplerIvy Wappler hails from Long Island Sound and is grateful to spend her summers in New England, and her winters in sunny Colorado. She is a Feminist and Gender Studies major, and an Environmental Issues minor. After school, she hopes to explore environmentally and socially responsible tourism. She may also end up reforming sex education. An avid foodie, Ivy is ready to experience Berlin through its food and drink when she’s not in class. You may find her taking walks through sunny streets, seeking out farmer’s markets and green, open spaces.