Taking Down The Wall of Religious Intolerance: Jewish History in Berlin

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

By Olivia Calvi

This morning we had the opportunity to explore some of the hidden histories of Berlin with a woman named Carolyn Gammon took us on a walking tour about Jewish history throughout East Berlin, and opened our eyes to why the waiter at the restaurant taking our order seems to have a bit of resentment for us. We’re people whose President wants to build a wall. A wall that will divide families and fulfill greed for power driven by hatred and discrimination. Of course, what is becoming our reality existed for the Germans generations ago. And they are still feeling that guilt and recovering from that hate. Over seventy years after the Holocaust ended, recently built Jewish museums and memorials ensure that it is something the Germans will never forget.

Along these lines, one of the first things Carolyn pointed out to us while walking were little brass plaques in the ground, each representing a German Jew that was murdered during the Holocaust. Carolyn informed us that these small squares were usually placed in front of the house where the individual lived as a ritual of commemoration. Along these lines, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Sabine Offe suggests that these memorials were placed because of the guilty feelings passed down through the generations. People are told they can shine these plaques with their shoes as a sign of respect so that the brass does not turn brown and the names of the deceased can still be clearly read. These memorials lie throughout most of the city.

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

Next, Carolyn took us across the street to the Burning Book memorial. It is a piece of glass that covers a hole in the ground. When you stand to the side, you see bookshelves that have enough space to hold the 20,000 books that were burned. When you stand on top of the memorial, you can only see the reflection of yourself. I viewed this memorial as a warning to future generations to really take a look at who we are and the destruction we have the ability to cause. Next to the glass lies a plaque was a quote from Heinrich Heine, which translates to “if you start burning books, you will end up burning people.” It’s far too reminiscent of the books being banned in the U.S. and the textbooks riddled with creationist ideas that teach young teens that abstinence is the only form of sex education. Religious and political censorship leave children uncertain of their past or their future. I can’t help but think the fundamentalist right is well on its way to burning the people of the U.S.

This extreme religious intolerance is what led us to the most humbling part of our tour: a Jewish cemetery torn down by Nazis with only a few salvaged tombstones remaining. When the Nazis occupied East Berlin, they saw to it that every synagogue was burned and every cemetery destroyed. We learned that in Germany, the term Nazi is not used because it is too short and “sweet.” Germans only refer to them as National Socialists, because the German word is extensive and has a connotation of disgust. The cemetery sits on a street that was referred to as Tolerance Street before the Nazis occupied the area, because of the open dialogue and shared space between the Jewish and Protestant communities. When the Nazis invaded, the street became known as Death Street. Carolyn made it very clear that the plaques located at the cemetery use strong language in German, because referring to the deaths as killings instead of murders would be doing an injustice to the Jews whose lives were lost. Since the community has come back together, it has regained its original name. Under Nazi rule, communities were forced to come together against anti-Semitic groups. Along these lines, in “We Don’t Want to Be The Jews of Tomorrow: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11,” Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann examine the Turkish and migrant groups that helped lead initiatives against anti-Semitism and demonstrated to show their solidarity with Jewish Germans against Nazi terrorism. Similarly, the people of East Berlin who called that community home refused to stand for the intolerance and instead chose solidarity.

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

Just down the street from the cemetery is a school founded by and named for Jewish German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn who strongly believed in religious tolerance and had a dream to create a school where Jews and non-Jewish students could study together and learn from each other. The school, established in 1778 and reopened in 1993, currently enrolls students of all religions. Those from non-Jewish backgrounds take Hebrew and Judaic studies, learning from a young age what it means to be open-minded and accepting of a community different from your own.

As a religion major with the goal of a career as either a prison or military chaplain, there is really nothing I “geek out” about more than churches and religious places of worship. I was glad, then, when our tour took us to a Protestant church that was one of the only remaining buildings from medieval Berlin. Inside the church there is a donation box for an initiative between the Jewish, Islamic, and Protestant communities in Berlin. The initiative is called House of One, and they are raising money to build a religious center that can hold services in all denominations—a great opportunity for people who seek a shared community of multiple religious belonging. I think faith is one of the most interesting things about humanity, because people build shrines and monuments in honor of gods they believe will bring them salvation or peace in this life. I was raised Unitarian Universalist, a liberal faith denomination that does not have a specific dogma but instead is committed to building community and ministry around issues of social justice. While I identify as agnostic, I believe a person’s beliefs, religious and otherwise, tell you most everything you need to know about a person. It is only when religion is misused and becomes combative that a strong sense of religious belonging brings destruction instead of beauty.

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

On that note, I was intrigued to learn that on September 13, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the congregation on Tolerance Street in East Berlin. That day he preached: “No man-made barrier can erase the fact that God’s children lie on both sides of the wall.” I don’t know if I believe in MLK’s God, but I do believe in his sentiments. The 7th and last principle my faith is based on discusses the significance of the interdependent web of life. We are not all the same, and we most certainly do not have the same religious beliefs. But we are all human. Trump’s ideas to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and his attempted ban on Muslims are blatantly racist. As Carolyn told us, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently opened Germany’s doors to one million refugees—an economically advantageous choice that Trump was quick to call a catastrophic mistake. Along these lines, in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women In The Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden writes: “It seems to me that the history of the Holocaust, like all of history, is a collection of stories […] the stories we write, tell, or paint about Holocaust victims and survivors, and the plots we give these stories are mirrors of our own era.” As students, we learn about history so that we don’t make the same mistakes, but Linden’s words point out the problem with America: we don’t pay attention to the mistakes of others. It is going to take a lot of work and admission of guilt to mend America’s mistake, and if one thing is certain, there will always be work to do. At least for the time being, I’m happy to be in a country that can actually call itself a democracy.


Olivia Calvi is a rising sophomore from Los Angeles, CA. She is double-majoring in Religion and Classics at Colorado College, and hopes to also attain a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. After college she plans on attending Seminary to eventually find herself in a career as a military or prison chaplain. She wholeheartedly believes in the Denver Airport conspiracy theory and has recently made the discovery that she is terrible at navigating public transportation.

#FemGeniusesInBerlin 2017: Our First Two Days

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

By Hailey Corkery

After a long ten hours (or more for some) of travel, we had finally arrived in Berlin. The new city greeted our jet lag and fatigue with cool temperatures and pouring rain as we stepped off the plane. The ten of us, a group of Colorado College students with varying degrees of interest in Feminist & Gender Studies, gathered after claiming our bags, most of us meeting for the first time.

After a while of driving through streets of mostly earth-toned buildings, looking especially drab due to the weather, the van eventually pulled up to a bright orange structure: The Happy Hostel. At our temporary home, we met our professor, Heidi R. Lewis, and course associate, Dana Maria Asbury. Over the next three weeks, they will be taking us through many different tours and activities in order to teach us about how identities of marginalized people are constructed in Germany.

Once we settled into our new temporary home, we fought the urge to sleep by starting our required readings and films. Of the six analytical pieces, two really resonated with me: Sabine Offe’s “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany” was one of them. Here, Offe discusses how Jewish museums are used as both physical sights and institutions for their visitors to access the memory of Jewish relations in Germany, as well as for German visitors to deal with secondhand guilt. These ideas were very new to me and were especially intriguing due to my Jewish heritage. I had always been on the other side of the conflict, related to a victim, rather than being a part of the “guilty” third-generation. Because of this, I only thought of Jewish museums as places of mourning and remembrance. I had never thought about how museums serve as places for very different things for those affected (a place to remember what happened to them or their loved ones) and those who are or feel responsible (a place to deal with secondhand guilt).

Another piece that was particularly memorable to me was “We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow”: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11” by Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann. This work discusses the inter-ethnic relations between minorities and immigrants—specifically Jews and Turks—in Germany, which I was not previously informed about. This reading forced me to think about how unaware Americans generally are of other nations’ inequalities and power relations. Our country is very focused on itself, and our media is filled with mostly American politics, stories, and events. Many other countries, however, are informed about most of the issues occurring in America. This reflects extremely poorly on the U.S., and makes me question our media’s priorities regarding the distribution of information.

The two films also had an impact on me, especially The Holocaust: What the Allies Knew. This documentary analyzes World War II, and presents evidence of the allies’ early awareness of genocide, examining why they often did not do anything to stop it. Though I had learned about World War II in high school, the curriculum never mentioned anything about the allies’ prior knowledge of concentration camps. I found this information extremely shocking and disturbing, and I also reflected a lot about how it is rarely discussed. A lot of history that casts a country in a bad light is not included in our schools’ curricula, which is problematic because it tells a false narrative and continues to add to the cycle incorrect information being fed to the American people.

Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

After doing some work and resting at the hostel for a while, the group got together to look for food. We hopped on the (somewhat confusing) public transportation and headed toward a neighborhood called Kreuzberg. While exploring the area to find a restaurant, we stumbled upon a large crowd of people listening to live music. We got closer to see what it was for, and discovered that we had ended up at Berlin’s Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures). The carnival included multiple stages, bars, activities for children, and dozens of food stands filled with cuisine from around the world. It also featured a parade that celebrated different cultures, which we, unfortunately, did not get to see. Despite missing out on that, we spent our first night exploring the festival, eating amazing food, and getting to know Berlin and its people a little better (while also getting to know each other).

The next day we traveled to Heidi’s flat to discuss our expectations for the course. Though most students’ hopes for the class were similar to those of Heidi and Dana and each other, many people had at least one personal learning experience they wanted to get out of the class. One talked about how their goal was to learn more about queerness and the white washing of the LGBTQIA+ community in Germany. Another wished to find out more about racism in Germany and how it manifests itself in Berlin, which led us to discuss global racism and how Americans and United States media are so focused on their own country that many people from the U.S. are unaware of inequalities and events occurring elsewhere. My biggest expectation was to learn about what it’s like working for a non-profit organization when we visit some during the course, since I have interest in the field.  We also talked about our expectations for Heidi and Dana. We let them know that we expect them to be understanding and supportive both regarding the course and not.

The expectations mentioned were not solely about the academic course; some regarded the experience of travelling abroad with a group. There was a discussion about sharing space, both with the citizens of Berlin and the members of our group. Multiple people mentioned an extremely important factor: discomfort due to privilege. As Americans, no matter how oppressed each of us may or may not be back in the States, we automatically have a certain privilege in Germany. For example, most of us do not know German, but most Germans know English. As Americans, we can walk into places of business and other German spaces speaking English with few problems, if any at all; we will most likely be able to communicate with the employees without even trying to speak their first language. This privilege we have as Americans, as many different privileges often do, may make us feel guilty or uncomfortable while we are here in Berlin. Another causation of our discomfort as Americans comes from being stereotyped by Germans due to the current political climate in the United States. We may at times feel extremely guilty; the looks or attitudes Europeans give us may convey that they think we personally agree with the decisions President Trump has made. This discomfort is and will be a challenge for us to deal with, but everyone in the group agreed that it is something we need to and will embrace in order to fully appreciate our experiences here.

Photo Credit: Ryan Garcia

A few hours after class ended, we met Heidi and Dana at the Berlin Fernsehturm, also known as TV Tower. We were given the amazing opportunity of eating dinner in a restaurant towards the top of the structure. This restaurant was inside of a revolving sphere that rotated 360º per hour. This movement, along with the large windows by our tables, allowed us to see a bird’s-eye view of Berlin from all angles. Though the weather was rainy and cloudy, the city was still visible and spectacular to see from so high up. I have never been to Berlin before and honestly did not know much about it before arriving here, so this gave me a better sense of both how the city is laid out and how beautiful it really is. Our group was unfortunately split up between two tables, but it was nice to get to know half of the group a little bit better over an incredible meal.

After this dinner and every other activity from the first few days, I feel like I know everyone extremely well considering the amount of time I have known them. The beginning of this trip has been so fun and rewarding, and has only made me more excited for what is to come!


Hailey is a rising sophomore at Colorado College from the Washington, D.C. area. She plans to major in Sociology and minor in Feminist and Gender Studies. At CC, she is part of Students Against Sexual Assault (SASS) and Ellement, an all-women acapella group. This is her first course with Heidi and first time in Berlin, and she is extremely excited for all the learning and exploring to come with this experience.

“I Want You to Listen to My Story!”: An Afternoon with Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz

By Jade Frost

MutluAfter our class’ harrowing experience with the tour guide on Friday, I was particularly yearning for this session, because we had the pleasure of meeting Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz. When we all had shuffled into the room and sat down at the table, Ergün-Hamaz set the tone by saying, “I didn’t prepare a PowerPoint presentation with pictures, because I want you to listen to my story and my narrative. I read about the tour that you guys had, so I want you to pay attention to my story.” After hearing this, I was quite elated that our class was finally going to hear a narrative of Turkish people in Berlin that was not going to be misrepresented.

Ergün-Hamaz was born in the late 1970s in Berlin. Both of his parents came as guest workers from Turkey in 1965. He and his family actually lived in our cozy town of Wedding for a short while before they moved to a more predominately White area in Charlottenburg due to his father’s job with the civil service. This was an exception since there was a German law that mandated Turkish people to live in certain areas like Kreuzberg, Neükolln, and Wedding rather than areas that are predominately White. Ergün-Hamaz went on to discuss how he and his brother’s education was very different in their new neighborhood. The White teachers in Wedding often assumed that Turkish children were dumb and taught them the bare minimum. In their new neighborhood, however, the students received a more advanced education.

IMG_9250Their peers isolated Ergün-Hamaz and his brother, because they were Turkish. So, as he grew older, Ergün-Hamaz became interested in Hip-Hop. He said, “I liked Hip Hop, because it was a culture of resistance.” He talked about listening to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and watching Beat Street. His reasoning was not that Turkish people are the same as Black Americans, but that both cultures experienced oppression and developed a commitment to resistance. In Heinz Ickstadt’s “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” he states, “Turkish-German rappers (in Berlin and elsewhere) have indeed appropriated especially black cultural assertions of protest and of difference to articulate their own difference from a dominant and hostile German culture” (572). Along these lines, hip-hop in Berlin was a vehicle through which Turkish Germans could begin to reclaim Germany for themselves. Ergün-Hamaz, under the name Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla, even began to write hip-hop lyrics. While he no longer writes and performs rap, he continues to use Sesperado as a stage name for various other kinds of performance.

As far as the “dangerous 36 Boys” that our misinformed tour guide told us about, here is the real story. There was a young Turkish woman who was attacked and beaten in Kreuzberg by a Nazi gang. The Turkish community in Kreuzberg was enraged by this, and started to carry knives and baseball bats to protect themselves and their neighborhood. They wanted to send a message, “Don’t fuck with us! This is our neighborhood and we protect our own, so don’t think about it!” These groups weren’t formed to create tension within the community, they were formed to protect and keep their community safe. However, racist interpretations of these communities cause them to be primarily interpreted as extremely dangerous.

DiariesAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall, things changed. The problem was that Turkish-Germans were excluded from Germany’s reunification narrative. White Germans were telling Turkish-Germans to go back to Turkey, and would rant about the Turkish-Germans “taking” all of their jobs. In “‘We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow’: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11,” Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann claim, “With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a chaotic social environment and cheap labor from East Germany led to mass unemployment in the Western part of Berlin” (50).  During the same time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was published, and continued to skew the narrative of Muslims. This book, along with the end of communism, led to the scapegoating of Muslims. When 9/11 happened, the Turkish-Germans and Muslim community were under suspicion again. As Yurdakul and Bodemann point out, 9/11 “cast a dark shadow on all Muslims in Germany and at the same time paradoxically perhaps, intensified anti-semitism” (51). The Germany government sent records and files of all Muslims or people with Muslim-sounding names to the FBI.

Still, Turkish Germans have consistently resisted such racist efforts to dangerously misrepresent their history and culture. Along these lines, Ergün-Hamaz discussed his membership with Phoenix, where he began to participate in anti-racism and empowerment training sessions. It’s important to point out that these trainings do not necessarily teach people how not to be racist. Rather, they focus on how we are all racialized. For this reason and many others, Ergün-Hamaz said that we should be aware of the implications of using the term “people of color,” because it is important to not blanket other races experiences as the same. Phoenix’s work reminded me of Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti’s “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” in which they write, “The knowledge that mattered to them is tied to concrete experiences articulated within the context of thinking and acting in a community with others” (89). It is the knowledge the communities develop and disseminate that matter.

IMG_9256Now, Ergün-Hamaz has finished his Master’s degree and has written a book, Die geheimen Tagebücher des Sesperado (The Secret Diaries of Sesperado), which he wrote for the minority audiences who may be empowered by his experiences. He is also continuing his work with Phoenix. I am truly grateful to have listened to his story and to hear a narrative of the Turkish-Germans that was told with passion and complexity. It was in this session that it really hit me why we are here. Throughout this trip, we have listened to narratives about what it is like here from those who have been marginalized and oppressed. We are here to find these often hidden spaces and listen to these often hidden and silenced narratives.


JadeJade Frost is a rising junior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is double majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and English Literature, with the hopes of becoming a journalist or working at a publishing firm. She is involved with Black Student Union and The Cipher magazine on campus. Jade’s hobbies are reading, creative writing, binging on Netflix, going for drives, dancing spontaneously and hanging out with friends and family. She enjoys discussing topics such as Black feminism, women with disabilities, and social constructs. Her favorite TV Shows are Law and Order: SVU and Gilmore Girls, and her favorite movies are Love & Basketball and Mulan. Jade loves pretty much all types of music, but her top hits are “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah, “Video” by India.Arie, and “A Change is Gonna Come” covered by Leela James. Jade is excited for this course, so she can learn and discover new things.

Ignorance is Never Bliss: Our Turkish Tour Experience

By Meredith Bower Street ArtDisappointing is, without a doubt, the best way for me to describe our experience on today’s Turkish Berlin Tour. Fortunately, our class readings have given us insight on the lives of Turkish Berliners in the past and present. My favorite is “’We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow’: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11” by Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann, which opened my eyes to the fierce racism that Turks experience daily in Germany. It has gotten to a point that, as Yurdakul and Bodemann point out, “leaders in Turkish immigrant associations stress the similarities between the racism against Turks and anti-Semitism” (45). Scarier still, this racism is quickly shrugged off by many Germans. Turkish rights are simply not seen as important. Yurdakul and Bodemann further explore this in their comparison between treatment of German Turks and German Jews. They address a “double standard, tolerating Jewish practices while opposing Turkish ones” and how this “is another reason why Turks have associated themselves with Jews, and ask for equal recognition in public space” (57). After our readings, I hoped to explore these issues even more, and had numerous questions lined up—mostly regarding the aggressive stereotyping that surrounds the Turkish community. Unfortunately, my questions had to go unanswered, as the tour took an unplanned turn and ended after only thirty minutes. Rather than addressing and problematizing the hurtful narrative that Heinz Ickstadt describes as the “fantasy” of the “‘bad, bad Turk,’ a mean tough, deceitfully clever with his knife—in any case, potentially a criminal” (572) in “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” our tour guide actually played into this stereotype. He warned us “not to be afraid” of the surrounding residents in this predominantly Turkish part of Kreuzberg (a neighborhood we have been to multiple times and in which we have never had any issues). Though he did speak briefly of the migratory history of Turkish communities and how that created major identity crises within the community, I felt as if he treated the original Turkish status of “guest worker” as though it were something the Turkish ought to thank the Germans profusely for, because it was the Germans who “saved” these people from “disaster.” This standpoint is extremely privileged coming from a white, German male, and obviously does not consider the theories and politics of those who actually experiencing that hard, treacherous labor. Stop RassismusFurthermore, his narrative focused primarily on violence and “street gangs” that he claimed were mostly influenced by American hip hop narratives, such as the films Colors and Menace II Society. There was no mention of any resistive and/or generative aspects of the Turkish community in Germany. Rather, Turks were portrayed as a nuisance. And sadly enough, this seems to be a typical mindset. As Jin Haritaworn points out in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” the “post-migrant population” is represented as “unassimilable and disentitled” (71). Haritaworn further explains how the Turkish community is viewed as a bunch of “homophobic Muslims,” people who “cannot handle diversity and present an urgent threat to it” (71). Therefore, they take the blame for most homophobic hate crime taking place in Germany. Because of this, the tour came to a dramatic close as Heidi and all of us cringed when our tour guide laughed and told us he could not take us into a T-shirt shop run by a former member of the “36 Boys,” because “we would probably get stabbed.” At this point, Heidi intervened and the next twenty minutes consisted of her strictly (and intellectually) informing him just how offensive his tour had been. He was shocked at Heidi’s accusations, though he did listen to the criticism and even began taking notes on what Heidi was saying. Despite his attempts to understand, the deed had been done, and I was incredibly saddened by how he constructed the Turkish community. Had I not had any previous knowledge about the Turkish community here, including Kreuzberg, I may have believed that the community is erratically violent and that Kreuzberg is an area that needs to be avoided at all costs. In reality, however, I have not seen or experienced any cold-hearted aggression from a Turkish person (and we live among Turkish folks in Wedding). I have also thoroughly enjoyed spending a few of my days and nights in Kreuzberg. The major issue at hand here is, as Heidi addressed with him, his perpetuation of extremely dangerous ignorance. Unfortunately, his tour company assigned him to lead this tour when he knew nothing of the topic. Our tour with him was the first “Turkish Tour” he had ever done. From the very beginning, he spoke of using Wikipedia as his source of information in order to build this tour. It should go without saying that an entire community and its history cannot be whittled down to a single Wikipedia search. Fuck Ur SexismAll of the emotions, experiences, issues, and viewpoints that should be discussed when teaching about Turkish history, culture, and politics cannot be quickly jotted down in a notebook at the naïve request of your supervisor. Accurate, complex narratives demand passion and intellect, and clearly there was none within this man who declared to us that Turkish history is “boring.” Today was a spot-on example of how racism continues to be deeply intertwined into society. To be clear, the racist is not necessarily the blatant asshole on the street shouting derogatory terms. Many racists today are the ignorant (and sometimes very “nice”) ones who do not care enough to educate themselves. It is necessary to stop this, because without an awareness or acknowledgment of their ignorance, skewed narratives, such as the one we experienced today, will continue to be shared, learned, and maintained.


MeredithMeredith Bower is a sophomore at Colorado College from Dallas, Texas. Though her major is undeclared, she loves to take courses in Feminist & Gender Studies and English. She is also planning to take prerequisite courses for Nursing School. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, and participates in a weekly ballroom dance adjunct. Her ideal meal would be pepperoni pizza with a Diet Coke followed by a big scoop of gelato. She loves sleeping in late and cuddling with her cat, Lola. Alongside Lola, she also has another cat named Izzy and a dog-named Molly. Fun fact, she is also a certified vinyasa yoga teacher. Meredith is extremely excited to be in Berlin and cannot wait to start exploring!