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.

Consumption of Culture: A Trip to the KENAKO Afrika Festival

By Jazlyn Andrews

Kenako Stage

Main Stage

We ended our jam-packed day on postcolonial theory and resistance through storytelling at the KENAKO Afrika Festival at Alexanderplatz. Upon arrival, I had a feeling of sensory overload trying to take in all the sights, savory smells, and sounds. “Shosholoza,” a song popularized in South Africa that I remember from my high school choir’s attempts at educating us on “the Other,” rang clearly in the background. In front of me were rows of booths filled with colorful tapestries and clothing alongside wooden bowls, artwork, and jewelry. The linen clothing hung on White mannequins as White consumers stared, attempting to imagine how they would look wearing a dashiki.

The first thing that struck me was the demographic of those attending the festival: apparently White Germans. I was confused and conflicted, since I hoped (naïvely) that this would be a space for the Afro-German population to celebrate in an area of their own without a fetishizing White gaze. Noticing the White vendors selling ethnic adornments or their own arts and crafts quickly brought me back down from the clouds, as I realized who the true beneficiaries of this festival were. While there were educational opportunities there—we briefly saw a panel on the integration of Africans into Germany—it was clear that they weren’t as popular. From what I could tell by peeking into the tent, it seemed the audience for the panel was more diverse than that of the consumers outside. Even though I saw posters with quotes from African scholars and activists hanging on some of the tents, no one was gathered around reading them or even taking a second glance. This made me question, what is it that makes certain aspects of African culture so desirable to predominantly White audiences?

Hair Braiding Station

Hair Braiding Station

I continued making my way through the festival, stopping to explore and talk with booth owners, when I noticed a man singing onstage. He stood center stage dancing and singing in dark dreadlocks and a red dashiki, while four men with blonde dreadlocks played their guitars and drummed behind him. Seeing this Black man performing as the four smiling White men surrounded him epitomized the festival for me: Black artwork and culture placed on display for predominantly White audiences’ entertainment. As Sandrine Micossé-Aikins and Sharon Dodua Otoo write in the “Introduction” to The Little Book of Big Visions, “Dominant White cultural producers typically consider their own art to be universal (and the art of marginalized groups to be less relevant for the mainstream population)—they are usually completely unaware of their own Whiteness and of the constraints this will have on their perspectives, their creative work, as well as on their potential audience” (10). This inflated sense of ability reared its head at the festival, as race seemed to be a non-issue for White vendors and performers selling trips to Africa, “exotic” clothing, and beaded bracelets. The meaning of the traditions and items on display flew out the window, as African culture became something they could put on for a day while they sat to get cornrows put in their hair. They could even buy a drink named “African Feeling,” if they really wanted to get in the spirit. Seeing the White shop owners profit off of African cultures reinforced the ways in which Black art is flattened to something meaningless, something that can easily be replicated by “universal” Whiteness.

After spending a considerable amount of time today discussing the horrors of Germany’s colonial past, I was reminded to pay close attention to the colonial legacies lurking in the festival. As Sharon Dodua Otoo writes in “Reclaiming Innocence. Unmasking Representations of Whiteness in German Theatre,” “The justification of the atrocities that racism, White supremacy, the Maafa and colonialism are required the extensive dehumanization of people of African descent. It required people who considered themselves to be White to regard people constructed to be Black as less than them, as unable to feel pain, as mere beings to be exploited, or perhaps patronized, but in no way to be empathized with or regarded as equals” (63). While on the festival website, the patrons of the festival claim it is “an excellent platform of cultural dialogue between Africans and Germans,” from where I was standing, there didn’t seem to be much dialogue at all. Only when I got to the other side of the festival did I see tents dedicated to workshops and organizations such as the Afrika Center, which offers German language courses and various workshops, including one on how to interview for jobs. These spaces looked barren in comparison to the rows of food and other goods and services. African culture, history, and people, then, became a commodity for exploitative consumers.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” —Desmond Tutu

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
—Desmond Tutu

Even though I wished the festival would be different, I can’t say I am really surprised that I saw an “Asia Food” restaurant selling chicken nuggets next to cocktail bar selling “exotic” drinks. Ultimately, the festival reminded me of the importance of having spaces of self-definition. As Jasmin Eding, co-founder of ADEFRA writes in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” “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). It is critical that such spaces of exploration, self-definition, and resistance exist outside the White heteropatriarchal supremacist gaze; otherwise, our voices will continue to be silenced and repackaged for White consumers.


JazlynJazlyn Andrews hails from Grinnell, IA, so she is a pro at navigating corn mazes, driving tractors, and tipping cows. When she isn’t out in the fields, she enjoys majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and minoring in Race & Ethnic Studies at Colorado College. On the weekends, she likes to binge watch House of Cards, obsess over her corgi, Biscuit, and be goofy with friends. When she’s less lazy, she likes to go for runs, have solo dance parties to “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae, and listen to music outside in the sun. Her future plans include finishing up her final two years at school, then hopefully either moving back out to Seattle, WA to pursue a writing career or attending graduate school to extend her studies.