A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin by Brailey Harris and Elie Deshommes

Brailey Harris

On our last Monday as the #FemGeniusesinBerlin, we had class at our usual spot, xart splitta on Hasenheide Street. After our initial check-in, we got to hear about Judy’s research on Indian hobbyism in Germany and its implications. Throughout our discussion, Judy gave us insight into the academic journey she has followed as her understanding of and relationship to this prominent industry has shifted. As we wrapped up class, I asked Professor Lewis a question about the generation and perpetuation of knowledge. “How do you decide what stories you share with the community, the public, and what you keep to yourself?” In her response, she reminded me that with whatever I choose to share, I should leave room for my future self to disagree with me. As you age, the perspective you have on the work you do will likely change. After class, I headed to the Schwules* Museum to learn about the queer histories of Berlin. With white faces abound, I saw friends, lovers, and colleagues, but I struggled to find myself represented in this space– except in a small but powerful exhibit dedicated to Audre Lorde, Katharina Oguntoye, and Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out. I did, however, notice what looked like remnants of New York style Ballroom culture in the drag queens’ dress and performances depicted on the walls. This leads me to the question: “How is Black culture within the United States reproduced elsewhere?” I ended my day with a visit to the Berlin Aquarium. As a giant Ecology nerd, I have been very curious to know more about how Berliners memorialize, preserve, and protect the nature that surrounds them. The tortoises and lizards were more friendly with visitors than I have ever witnessed, and I got to see insects I have only ever heard about in books!

Brailey Harris is a rising sophomore at Colorado College and a Texas native. They enjoy slam poetry, speaking out of turn, and playing rugby for the school’s Cutthroat Trout club team. Brailey’s major is currently undeclared, but they hope to intertwine their passions for understanding both people and the planet.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Elie Deshommes (middle) with Kate Nixon (left) and Elliot Triplett (right)

My day in the life was an interesting one. I went to the Schwules* Museum and the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité (the Gay Museum and the Medical Histories Museum). Medical history has always been a topic of interest to me. From the humor of Ancient Greece to the “bad airs” of the Victorian period, humanity has come a long way in understanding what makes our bodies tick. However, what most fascinates me is the study of race, body rights, and the extent that these beliefs affect us today. The Medical Histories Museum acknowledged the shaky history of its early collections, noting that most wet and dry specimens were taken from the most vulnerable in society (e.g., mentally ill, unwed mothers, and poor people). Quite simply, these people were only seen as valuable in terms of what could be taken from them. Walking around and seeing the early specimens was a painful process. They had no names, and their anonymity in life continued in death. Female, Male, Adolescent, and many other labels were attached to them—all but the names that gave them identity. Seeing the phrenological skull and the journals on phrenological and racial typecasting made me ache. Before me was the justification and the works that were utilized in the slave trade, genocides, and many other systems of racial hate. The museum did a good job in acknowledging the criminality of these “doctors” and “scientists” with an entire section on how false science and racism influenced the results and the methods that were used to gain these results. But what made me hopeful was the museum’s focus on giving body rights and names back to the patients they cared for (in the connected hospital). From the 1920s onward, consent was a major element of the specimens. Other visitors didn’t enjoy the fact that the specimens had names and stories behind them, but for me it was refreshing. Their bodies weren’t stolen and abused. They were given freely with the goal to further medical understanding. It isn’t a perfect system. Classism, sexism, and racism are still very present in the modern day. For example, Black people are still often seen as patients without pain and without needs. The mentally ill are still treated with scorn and discomfort. But what I saw in that museum (and the adjacent studies in the Neuroscience Division) was a focus on the individual, a practice focused on truly helping others, caring about them, and letting the patient have their individuality and names back.

Elienne Deshommes is a queer rising junior who loves to learn. They are majoring in Organismal Biology, focusing on environmental stability and healing. However, their interests are broad and include African-based religions, queer history, evolutionary sciences, and Greco-Roman history. Born in Denver, CO to a Haitian immigrant father and a Coloradan mother, their dream would be to return the island of Hispaniola and its ecological past to increase the opportunities of LGBT citizens via STEM jobs and education.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Under the Berlin Wall with Berliner Unterwelten by Elie Deshommes and Elliot Triplett

Kate, Elie, and Elliot

The saying “seeing is believing” is one that epitomized my experience with Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground). Being born in the post-Wall era and never being taught of the Berlin Wall and its impact left me with a blasé view of the Wall and its relevance. Seeing where the Wall was placed, crossing over it several times, and later heading to underground tunnels was a shock. Common acts, such as sleeping over at a friend’s or visiting one’s parents could mean that you were separated from your home, belongings, and loved ones in one night, for decades. Seeing the lengths that people went through to escape and help others escape made me pause and understand that the Wall was not merely a physical boundary. It was a boundary that quite literally separated neighbors, cut across metro lines, and was harshly enforced by the government. From the readings, I was still under the assumption that East Berlin wasn’t that bad and that the true horrors of the Soviet Union were outside the boundaries of Germany. Hearing of the reproductive control East Berlin women had over their bodies further influenced this impression, that while conservative people still chose to live in East Berlin. The tour and later research helped me round out the perspective. I learned that not all agents of the Berlin Wall were in agreement with their government. While there were good aspects of East Berlin, it was still a Soviet-run area with the further downside of people being physically separated from their family, their support network taken away. I learned that the Berlin Wall is a complex subject, one that was shaped by Germany’s past and that shaped Germany’s future. I also learned the ingenuity and grit of those who resisted is something to be admired and studied.

Elienne Deshommes is a queer rising junior who loves to learn. They are majoring in Organismal Biology, focusing on environmental stability and healing. However, their interests are broad and include African-based religions, queer history, evolutionary sciences, and Greco-Roman history. Born in Denver, CO to a Haitian immigrant father and a Coloradan mother, their dream would be to return the island of Hispaniola and its ecological past to increase the opportunities of LGBT citizens via STEM jobs and education.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Elliot Triplett

Today our class had the opportunity to take a Berliner Unterwelten tour focused on resistance to and escapes under the Berlin Wall. What struck me most were the stories of people who had been separated from their loved ones and who were willing to do anything to reunite with them, even if it meant spending months digging a tunnel and putting themselves in danger. While I had studied the Berlin Wall in history courses before, I had never truly understood the intense impact it had on the people of Berlin, separating families and friends. The tour made me appreciate the value of studying people’s lived experiences, something that is often emphasized in feminist spaces, but not as often in many other disciplines. While theorizing and understanding the facts of an event are both valuable and important, theory and fact are incomplete without a grounding in material consequences and lived experience. Additionally, learning about the group of men who dug tunnels who still take the time to educate people on the Wall and its history reminded me of the importance of learning from past events and making connections between struggles. While there is no “Berlin Wall” today, the tour prompted me to consider where similar forms of subjugation are happening and where I can be “digging tunnels.” A key intervention of transnational feminism, which helps guide this course, is to see where forms of power are showing up similarly without erasing contexts. I feel so privileged to have been able to go on this tour and learn about the risks and successes of resistances in the past, and I am excited to take my learnings forward with me into the future.

Elliot Triplett is a Computer Science major and Feminist and Gender Studies minor from Longmont, Colorado. He is passionate about the mountains, disability justice, and his cats. In his free time, he can be found reading comics, making stuffed animals, and taking naps. This is his first study abroad course, and he is enjoying the chance to explore a new city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some Final Thoughts on the 2023 #FemGeniusesinBerlin by Dr. Heidi R. Lewis

“Gotta hit them muthafuckin’ angles! It’s a short life!”
—Drake, “Nice for What” (2018)

Judy at the DARK MATTER Museum with Me and Chase

I want to be honest. Every summer since around 2018, about halfway through this course (which I’ve taught annually since 2014 and except in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19), I contemplate not teaching it again. Most of the time, that has little to nothing to do with the students, who are usually great overall. The real issue is I’m getting older and changing in ways I never thought I would. Sometimes I think seriously about leaving the liberal arts or even about leaving the academy altogether. I don’t love teaching the same way I used to five years ago let alone twenty years ago when I taught my first college course while pursuing my Master’s degree. A large part of that is probably also due to my kids getting older. I now have an 18-year-old son headed to college this fall and a 17-year-old daughter headed into her senior year of high school. So, I’m interested in reinventing myself and spending more time with my elders and folks my own age. Plus, teaching in Berlin is exhausting. I still do everything the students do, including the walking tours and museum visits. Then, when my kids come along (as they did in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and my daughter also came this year), I’m energized by doing additional things with them like going swimming, shopping at flea markets, going to the zoo, and visiting extra museums. But that’s also exhausting.

But then, something(s) always happens to give me a spark, a second wind, if you will—another reminder of why I love teaching this course and why I’ll come back again.

Photo Credit: Katharin Luckey, 2023 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

This year, I remembered to visit a space where I once wondered if I could hold class for discussion days. The Regenbogenfabrik (or Rainbow Factory), just across the street from the flat where I’ve lived almost every year since 2018, is a self-governing, emancipatory, grassroots collective that began in 1981 (the year I was born) as part of the tenant’s rights movement in Kreuzberg. But to be honest again, my remembering the space wasn’t intentional. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it once this year—despite passing it multiple times daily—until I was preparing for our class swap and convergence class with Dr. Zachary Woods of Seattle University. I reserved rooms for us at two spaces that have been friends of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin for years, xart splitta and the FHXB Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum. One “fell through” for that morning, so I wrote the Regenbogenfabrik staff last minute asking if we could use their kino (theater). They said “yes,” and it was truly amazing. It reminds me so much of the now-defunct Brauni space that I was introduced to by Jewish Antifa in 2017 and where I held discussion days in 2018. I’m really looking forward to having class there and not only because I’d only have to leave my flat 15 minutes before class starts. So, that was one thing, and I’m starting with that, because sometimes it really is the “little” things that make a huge difference.

On that note, the majority of folks in Berlin were surprisingly kind this year. Never have so many strangers smiled at and offered to help me. It was unreal. My friend Sharon and I even met a guy from Detroit as we were leaving a coffee date. Shoutout to the Midwest. I wonder if some of the unusual kindness I’ve experienced is related to folks being happy to be back outside “after” COVID-19, but to be more honest, I don’t really care. As I told my student Kaléa during a walking tour, the older I get, the more I appreciate random acts of kindness. I need it. I receive it.

Ria and Me

Of course my friends, colleagues, and comrades here are always a reminder. I even met some new folks I’m excited to connect with again next year. To the former, I visited Ika Hügel-Marshall’s grave for the first time with Ria, Jasmin, Dagmar, and their friends Sabine and Katharin, who I met back in 2015. Every year, we go to the cemetery to see and tend to May’s grave, as well as Mike Reichel’s and Fidelis Grotke’s. This was the first time Ika wasn’t with us in the physical. I miss her. Most of all, I’m so thankful to have known and loved her and to have been loved by her. My daughter Chase and I were also so happy to spend time with Deborah, Katja, Ecki, Peggy, and Maisha in their garden. As usual, the food and drinks were delicious and the company was even better. I was thankful to hear Sharon and my other friend Josy read from their new books and seeing Tiffany at the former. I was thankful to have dinner with Rebecca, especially since she’s now a tenured professor in the U.S. and may not always be visiting Berlin when I’m in town. I want to spend every moment possible with my folks—sharing stories, smoking, eating, drinking, and laughing, especially my elders. Every hug, every kiss on the cheek, every toast is a reminder.

I do miss my best friend Dana, who came to Berlin with me as the Second Responsible Adult (SRA) five times between 2016 and 2019. It’s still hard for me to think about being in the city let alone actually being in it without her. To fill the void, my daughter, Judy, and I went to what felt like 100 flea markets and museums. I walked when it was possible to take public transportation way more than I was willing when Dana was with me. I also took pictures of the weirdest things like a donut on the bus and a bumblebee on a flower. She was definitely here in spirit.

Still, it was great having Judy back. Judy, a Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College alum (2020) and member of the Fall 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin, acted as the SRA last year and this one. The students and I always love hearing about her research on Indianthusiasm (or hobbyism) in Germany. Moreover, I remain honored that this course was one small catalyst for her work.

Italia and Marisa during the Street Art & Graffiti Walking Tour

Last, but never least, my spark was lit by this incredible group of students—these 19 students (highest enrollment for the course ever!) who were thoughtful, curious, funny, and super duper fly. It’s been a long time since I taught a course in which the Black students, Brown students, and other students of color were the majority and also gave so many damns about how they look. I firmly believe in the “look good, feel good” mantra, and these “kids” stayed camera-ready, and I loved to see it—hence, the Drake quote opening this essay. Oh, and for the record, can’t nobody serve poked lips in a picture like Marisa, honey. It was absolutely beautiful. I was so inspired. If I continue with my honesty theme, though, these were some of the slowest walkin’ students in the history of this course, probably in the history of all of mankind. Emma referred to them as “saunterers,” and I absolutely concur. But that was part of their swag, and it was only really annoying during walking tours—for me, that is. Haha. And their bond seemed so genuine. That’s not a prerequisite or a learning outcome for the course. However, it’s always a beautiful thing when I get to witness and support students developing substantial relationships. To be fair, several knew (or at least knew of) each other beforehand, but even those students seemed to grow closer during their time here.

The Street Art & Graffiti Walking Tour

And they’re so smart. I felt compelled to ask several if they’d thought about graduate school, because I see future professors in this group who’ll write critical scholarship that interrogates oppression and resistance with an especially necessary focus on intra-communal relationships. I see artists who’ll create critical spaces that center subjugated and oppressed people. I see K-12 teachers who’ll do the same. Whatever they become, I know the world is and will continue to be brighter with them in it. I feel sadness thinking about those slated to graduate next year, since I may not have them in class again. Still, and most importantly, I feel hope thinking about their futures. I also feel gratitude for being a small part of their journeys.

Chase and Judy before the SZA Concert

In closing, and as of this writing (June 21—save a few edits), I miss my husband and son more than words can say. I miss my house. I miss my bed. I miss our pets. I miss my friends. I miss my home office. I miss writing. I miss Black America. I miss Hip Hop. I’m ready to go home. But I will be back. And I’m already looking forward to it.

P.S. Other highlights include my daughter Chase’s budding friendship with Atquetzali; the SZA concert; my very novice attempt at storytelling during the German colonialism walking tour; my even more novice attempt at theorizing the bra we saw hanging on a wall during the graffiti and street art walking tour (#FreetheNipple); the convergence class with Zach; the new photojournal assignment; the students’ extra credit postcards; our first cracks at the Precarious Berlin walking tour I learned about from Adam, our Jewish history tour guide, and the Museum des Kapitalismus; and #FleaMarketFrenzy and #MuseumMayhem with Chase and Judy.

Click here to view a slideshow of pictures of the 2023 #FemGeniusesinBerlin, and follow on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook (@FemGeniuses and|or @AudresFootsteps on all platforms) to see more. To view final project indices and slideshows for previous #FemGeniusesinBerlin, click here

PhotoJournal Index:

German Colonialism Walking Tour with Josephine Apraku” by Katharin Luckey and Ella Simons
The Neues Museum” by Kaléa Daniels and Glorie Michelle Romero Elvir Enamorado
A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin” by Noor Issa and Nova Yu
Jewish History Walking Tour with Adam Schonfeld” by Brailey Harris and Emma Fowkes
The German Resistance Memorial” by Marisa Diaz Bonacquisti and Talulah Geheim
A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin” by Barbara Bilić and Gabby Rogan
A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin” by Atquetzali Quiroz and Ella Simons
Die Mauer asisi Panorama” by Jordan Fields and Gabby Rogan
Under the Berlin Wall with Berliner Unterwelten” by Elie Deshommes and Elliot Triplett
A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin” by Italia Alexandria Bella’-Victoria Rodriguez Quintana and Kate Nixon
Graffiti and Street Art Walking Tour with Alternative Berlin” by Noor Issa and Cecelia Russell
Urban Nation Art Museum” by Nova Yu and Barbara Bilić
A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin” by Glorie Michelle Romero Elvir Enamorado and Marisa Diaz Bonacquisti
A Day in the Life of the #FemGeniusesinBerlin” by Brailey Harris and Elie Deshommes
The Schwules* Museum” by Jordan Fields and Emma Fowkes
Queer Berlin Walking Tour with Mal Pool” by Elliot Triplett and Cecelia Russell
On the History of Poverty and Solidarity: The Precarious Berlin Walking Tour with Stefan Zollhauser” by Kaléa Daniels and Italia Alexandria Bella’-Victoria Rodriguez Quintana
Museum des Kapitalismus” by Kate Nixon and Talulah Geheim
Graffiti Workshop with Berlin Massive” by Atquetzali Quiroz and Katharin Luckey