Site Seeing (and Thinking, Analyzing, Understanding, etc.)

By Willa Rentel

Willa 5With a blanket of grey sky over our heads, light rain hitting our cheeks, and remnants of a less than adequate night’s sleep on our faces, the FemGeniuses boarded a tour boat docked on the Spree River. As the ship began to creep forward, it quickly became clear to me that this tour would be unlike many of the critical and socio-political tours we have been lucky to take during our time in Berlin. As we glided down the river, passing under bridges and being urged to take notice of buildings on the banks, I felt a bit frustrated by the passive site-seeing our guide facilitated due to his failure to attach any sort of critical lens to his comments on the various sites and buildings we passed. What frustrated me further was the idea that some of the tourists that surrounded me might not have the opportunity to understand the plethora of narratives I have been lucky to learn about on this trip. If this is the only information about Berlin they are being presented with, they’re bound to have a more-than-skewed and less-than-full understanding of the social, political, and cultural history of this politically-charged city.

Willa 3“On our left, the TV Tower, which houses a wonderful restaurant with spectacular views of the city!” I found myself waiting for the guide to shine light on the socio-political meaning behind this tower, which, according to Simon Arms, stands as a symbol of the legacy of political history in Berlin. A tower so socially and politically charged that East Berlin graffiti artist Tower created his pseudo-name with it in mind. “Tower, as in the communist TV tower; Tower, as in the skyscrapers that dominated the skyline of almost every major city—built not only for the people who lived there, but for the egos of the people who ran them” (3), Arms writes. Next, we were urged to direct our eyes to a building known as The Palace of the Republic, once the site of the German Democratic Republic parliament, now home to various restaurants, hotels, and auditoriums. I chuckled at the thought of such a shift in function of this building. Could it be yet another representation of the development of Germany’s political past, evidence of a shift toward a German capitalistic society during the last half-decade? Disappointingly, the guide failed to present any critique or delve past the functional importance of the structure.

Willa 3The boat also passed the Jewish Center, a building hidden peaking through a gap in the buildings well beyond the riverbank. As the guide directed our gaze to the center, stating not much more than the name, I thought of Sabine Offe’s interpretation of the critical functionality of Jewish museums in “Sites of Remembrance?  Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany.” She argues that Jewish museums “are places of remembering. Or, rather, they are sites that have been established intentionally to make people remember, institutions representing collective memory […] the result of political decision making, even in those cases where they came into existence by seemingly quite individual motives” (79).

Willa 2As the guide pointed out the Moltke Bridge, I was not taken in by the architecture of this beautiful red, brick structure, but by the graffiti that covered the concrete on either side of it. I considered what this graffiti was communicating to its viewers, what political and social message it was sending, and how it represented an act of resistance. Because of this, I was reminded of Jonathan Jones’ article wherein he writes of the importance of the first graffiti on the Berlin Wall, Thierry Noir. Jones writes, “This scar running through a city had provided novelists, musicians, and film-makers with a dark subject matter and surreal inspiration so often lacking in the safe, consumerist world of the postwar democracies” (1).

11202116_973927834298_748751754440202050_nAs our pace began to lessen and the boat slowed to a stop on the bank of the river, I began to question what frustrated me so about the tour, why I felt so unfulfilled by the site-seeing experience I would have once been happy to enjoy quietly from my seat. Yes, the buildings were beautiful, the architecture of the bridges we passed under was intricate and admirable, and I loved being on the water, but after three weeks of critical examination of Berlin’s past and present through exposure to a breadth of narratives, passive enjoyment of buildings around me felt impossible. I couldn’t seem to quiet the corners of my brain that were begging for an acknowledgement of the socio-political implications of these sites, and I can thank this course for that.


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.

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The New Berlin Walking Tour

By Melissa L. Barnes

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

Hotel Adlon

Hotel Adlon [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

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

Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe

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

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

Hitler's Bunker

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

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

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

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

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

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

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

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

Heinrich Heine Quote in the State Opera Square

Heinrich Heine Quote in the State Opera Square

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

Heidi Giving us the "Key Talk”

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

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

Our Tour Guide Rob McC and I

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

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

 

 

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Me and Kadesha

Me and Kadesha [Photo Credit: Blaise Yafcak]

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

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The FemGeniuses Are in Berlin

Students

Well, FemGeniuses family, we made it!

I arrived in Berlin on Saturday, May 24, and all of the FemGeniuses (pictured L to R: Nicole, Stefani, Kadesha, Melissa, Casey, Ximena, Blaise, Kaimara, and Beril) arrived yesterday—Sunday, May 25. Kaimara arrived around 8 am, and we were lucky that their apartment was available so that she didn’t have to roam around all day waiting for check-in. She did want to walk around a bit and get some air—which makes sense after her 8-9 hour flight from Chicago—so we walked to get some breakfast.

We ate at the Nalu diner, a place I found online a few weeks ago. I wanted to try it because I’m a sucker for eggs, bacon, French toast and thangs for breakfast, and that’s what they have on the menu. I ordered the aforementioned with some orange juice—delicious!—and Kaimara ordered pretty much the same thing except she ordered regular toast—she says it was delicious! Fun fact. The diner is named for a breakfast place one of the owners visited in Honolulu, where he spent time growing up in the 80s, called “Eggs and Things.” But “Nalu,” which actually means “surf,” is just an easy name to say in German, English, and Hawaiian.

By the time we went back to their apartment, Blaise had almost arrived. Once her driver parked, she almost killed some bikers by opening her door right in the bike lane. We only laughed because no one got hurt. She didn’t see the bikers because she claims she was so happy to see me. I was happy to see her, too.

After we got settled, we went to get Blaise’s currency exchanged—her hard-headed self didn’t heed my advice to do that in the TXL airport in Berlin. I was going to get mine changed at the airport in Newark, but the man was trying to hustle me and I wasn’t having it. To be honest, though, I didn’t even heed my own advice. I forgot to change my currency at TXL, and had to go to the city to get mine changed, too, after I arrived the day before. Haha.

BBQ Duck from BBQ Kitchen

BBQ Duck from BBQ Kitchen

During the non-exchange of the currency process, we ate some lunch at the BBQ Kitchen. I had BBQ duck—delicious!—Kaimara had pommes frites (French fries), and Blaise had some potatoes and thangs. I also had this great apple juice spritzer that was so light and refreshing! Let me also point out something I learned about Berlin when Tony—my husband—and I visited last November. They do NOT play about wasting condiments. You get one serving, and if you want more, you pay extra. No handfuls of ketchup at McDonald’s. Pretty smart, actually. Meanwhile, it was good getting out and about, even though we didn’t get the currency, because I was able to show them some things about getting around in the city.

After this, Blaise and I took her bags to her apartment. We walked for almost 30 minutes, which was silly because we could have taken a tram. That was my fault. Haha. Still, we were able to do some bonding, and I could point out some things about the area and give her some more tips about local travel. She’s super smart and has been picking up on all that really quickly. We had to stop by the main office to get the keys, which made us about 15-20 minutes late meeting Stefani and Kadesha, who were on the same flight from Denver to Berlin. Of course, they had to fuss me out. They’re so resourceful, though. When Blaise and I arrived at the main office, Nathan—the manager (who’s been SO helpful to me since I started planning this trip months ago)—told me, “Your students found some of our other residents and gave us a call! I told them you’d be there in about 10 minutes!” How’d they manage to do that without using their own phones? They buzzed almost every apartment in the building until they found someone to help them! Gotta love my FemGeniuses! I should also mention that they fussed me out even more because their (very beautiful) apartment is on the 5th floor, and there’s no elevator/lift! Haha!

Melissa & Ximena hadn't arrived yet. :(

Melissa & Ximena hadn’t arrived yet. 😦

I wasn’t able to stay long enough to greet Casey, because I had to go back to my apartment and get ready for our dinner at Käfer GmbH and tour of the Deutscher Bundestag, where the German Parliament meets for business. Fancy, huh? I’m not even gonna tell you how much dinner cost! But it was so very nice! It’s so prestigious that I had to send along our full names and birthdates so they could check our identification before we went through the security system.

The Salad

The Salad

For starters, we ate an elaborate salad—buffalo mozzarella with farm tomatoes with old balsamic and basil pesto. For dinner, we ate pink-fried beef filet with white asparagus, new crop potatoes, vegetable-vinaigrette, and Hollondaise sauce.

Fried Corn-Fed Chicken Breast on Asparagus Risotto with Braised Red Wine-Shallots, White Mushrooms, and Buerre Blanc

The Chicken

Blaise doesn’t eat red meat, so she ate fried corn-fed chicken breast on asparagus risotto with braised red wine-shallots, white mushrooms, and Buerre blanc.

Strawberry Tartlet with Sour Cream Ice Cream and Woodruff Sauce

The Strawberry Tartlet

And for dessert, we all ate a strawberry tartlet with sour cream ice cream and woodruff sauce. DELICIOUS, I tell you. And didn’t I tell you it was fancy? Just look at these pictures. Hmph—my FemGeniuses are sho ‘nuff spoiled.

Deutscher Bundestag Dome

Deutscher Bundestag Dome

Now, I should tell you that the only reason I could tell you all the names of this stuff is that I only just now deleted the reservation email. It’s so fancy that they have a limited menu, and I had to order everything in advance. Yaasszz, hunty.

Reichstag

Deutscher Bundestag

After we ate and looked around the building—while Blaise took these pictures—we headed back to the apartments and tried to get some rest. But let me say a little bit about these apartments. First of all, they’re extremely beautiful. At first, I was looking for hostels—thinking that’s the typical way college students do study abroad courses. However, my colleague Gail Murphy-Geiss told me that she found apartments for her students studying in France this past spring, and I am really glad she made that suggestion. While I was conducting research, I found the most beautiful apartments that were suitable for accommodating large groups of people—the Old Town Apartments. And after Tony and I visited them this past November? We fell in love! I’m not going to tell you where the students are staying exactly, but if you click that link (above), you can see the beauty for yourself—they look just like the pictures. I swear.

Frauenkreise Berlin

Frauenkreise Berlin

The great thing is that I’m staying nearby in an independently owned apartment that I love. And all of our apartments, near Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, are also close to our classroom space at Frauenkreise. Please check out their website by clicking the link—they are doing some great work, and Gabriele “Gabi” Zekina has been tremendously great to me since we first connected last fall online. We’re all within a 5-minute walk of the nearest grocery stores, and our apartments are equipped with stoves, ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, and cooking utensils so that we all can balance eating out with eating in. Things couldn’t have worked out better in this regard, and I must say that my students will be staying at Old Town each and every time I’m able to teach this course, which will hopefully be every year for the rest of my natural life.

Kaimara

Kaimara

Last, I should say that I couldn’t be happier with this inaugural group of students enrolled in my first study abroad course. I say that because five of them have taken a class with me more than once, so we know each other pretty well. Kaimara took her first Feminist & Gender Studies (FGS) course, Intro to Feminist & Gender Studies (Intro), with me last spring, and she also took Feminist Theory (Theory) with me this past spring. She’s going to minor, which couldn’t make me happier.

Blaise

Blaise

Blaise also took her first FGS course with me, Intro, which was actually her first college course ever. It was also the first time I’d taught a First-Year Experience (FYE) course at Colorado College (CC) during the fall semester in 2011, so our history together has some real significance for us both. She also took my Theory course. She’s also minoring in FGS (majoring in Biology), and she’s going to graduate next spring, so I’ll probably cry. Haha.

Melissa

Melissa

Similar things can be said about Melissa. She also took the same FYE course I taught with Blaise. She was also in the same Theory course. The difference is that Melissa also took me for Black Feminist Theory this spring and has decided to double-major in FGS and Psychology. She’s also graduating next spring, and I’ll probably cry again. Haha.

Kadesha

Kadesha

Kadesha also took me for FYE, Intro, during the fall semester in 2012. She also took my Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) course this past fall. She decided to major in FGS recently, and we’ll be working together on a college-funded research project this summer after our time in Berlin! Clearly, she—like Melissa—is ushering in the next generation of Black feminists in a flame way!

Stefani

Stefani

Stefani also took my FYE course, Intro, this past fall. She then took me again for CWS with Kadesha again last fall. I keep saying that I must be getting better at teaching FYE—a really hard first course for college students—because she’s the first student that took me that soon after the FYE. Most of the students can’t deal with me again for at least a year! Haha! Stefani’s a superstar, though, so I gotta give her credit!

Casey and Nicole

Casey and Nicole

Finally, Casey, Nicole, Beril, and Ximena are taking me for the first time here in Berlin.

Beril and Ximena

Beril and Ximena

I wholeheartedly welcome them into the FemGeniuses crew, and hope they’ll take many more classes with me before they graduate!

As for our time in Berlin, keep reading and following us during our journey! Today, we went on a walking tour, and Melissa is in the process of finishing up her blog about that experience as I write! Stay tuned, and be well!

Heidi

Heidi

Best,

Heidi