A Permanent Home for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s History: The FHXB Museum

 

FHXB II (Zlevor)

Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor

By Annie Zlevor

As part of our continued exploration of Berlin’s hidden spaces and narratives, today the FemGeniuses toured the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (FHXB) Museum. Before entering the courtyard leading to the museum, you’ll find yourself on Adalbertsraße, a bustling street nestled in the Kreuzberg district. Crowded with a diverse array of restaurants, shops, and businesses, it is easy to see that Kreuzberg is full of life and has an eventful history. Once outside of the FHXB Museum, our guide, Stephanie Kuhn, met us to begin the tour.

While I was aware of the district’s status as the multicultural hub of Berlin, Stephanie pointed out that Kreuzberg developed into this multicultural hub only after an extensive sequence of urban development, gentrification, and political subcultural movements. Kreuzeberg’s transformation began in 1945, after World War II destroyed much of the district. Air strikes left an estimated 42% of the district’s political and industrial buildings destroyed. Most of the area had to be completely rebuilt, but some housing complexes remained. However, once the district’s reconstruction began in the mid-1950s, the government sought to tear down the outdated, densely-packed infrastructure and replace it with a modern development.

In 1961, construction of the Berlin Wall began, closing off Kreuzberg from West Berlin. Within days, more than 60,000 workers living east of the wall were cut off from their work in the west. To end the labor shortage, workers from southern and southeastern Europe were recruited to Berlin. One such immigrant, Junge Menschen, was highlighted in the museum. Like many other guest workers, Junge hoped to earn higher wages than she would at home in Turkey and save money before returning to her country. In response to the influx of migrant workers, the government built temporary housing facilities for guest workers like Junge. During this time, it was common for well-educated, secular Turks to make this trip with the intention of only staying a year, thus the temporary housing was suitable. But once guest workers chose to extend their stay in Berlin, permanent housing became problematic.

In 1963, the Berlin government approved an extensive plan for urban renewal and development. They intended to demolish 90% of the structures built around the turn of the 20th century. The city began buying houses from owners and in turn, Kreuzberg’s people moved away. Surrounded on three sides by the Berlin Wall, many were eager to sell as the value of their homes decreased. As a temporary fix to the housing crisis, the government permitted guest workers to live in these homes until they were torn down. However, as more housing complexes were destroyed, developers began to force guest workers out of their homes.

FHXB I (Zlevor)

Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor

Eventually, the development of excessive commercial housing led to the Renters’ Rights Movement in the 1970s with the hopes of putting an end to investor interest. Distrust and anger with the governance of the city led to the development of the Squatting Movement in 1979. In response to the poor conditions of homes and the high number of empty properties, citizens occupied abandoned apartment buildings. They believed that the people who lived in the city should be the ones that owned it, not the investors who financed the buildings. As a result of persistent protesting, a law safeguarding residents’ interests was enacted in Berlin.

When the wall came down in 1989, Kreuzberg became the center of Berlin once again. With a newfound ability to travel, many Kreuzberg residents left for the neighboring district of Friedrichshain. But in an effort to continue their fight for affordable and livable housing, protestors from the Squatter Movement again took up their demonstrations, this time in Friedrichshain. Unfortunately, this micro-migration produced detrimental effects on Kreuzberg’s economy. In response, an administrative reform in 2001 merged the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Since then however, gentrification has stripped the district of nearly all available and affordable housing. As Wolfgang Kil and Hilary Silver describe in their historical description of Kreuzberg in “From Kreuzberg to Marzahn: New Migrant Communities in Berlin,” “The neighborhood remains a zone of concentrated ethnic poverty” (100). Rent is nearly twice as high as it was in 2007, and the 1 million tourists who visit the district annually rent out the few available apartments. By using trendy websites like AirBNB, owners can easily rent their home out for days at a time. Consequently, the 40,000 Syrian refugees welcomed to Berlin in 2015 were forced to live in airports and gymnasiums without access to a permanent or even temporary home. To this day, the housing market in Berlin has been nearly impossible to navigate.

While the FHXB Museum tells the determined and resilient history of Kreuzberg- Friedrichshain, most incredible to me was the way they told their story. When you first enter the museum, a three-dimensional map illustrates what the district of Kreuzberg looked like in the 1981. However instead of relying on a group of historians to produce the map, the museum invited local residents to create the exhibition with them. This is one the first exhibits of its kind, unlike any other in Germany because of its collective participation. It forced me to question the difference collaboration might bring about as we look to remember our past. It seems disturbingly common that the history of a group of people is often told by everyone but the people themselves. As Michael Stewart notes in “Remembering without Commemoration: The Mnemonics and Politics of Holocaust Memories among European Roma,” when historians and other academics write about a people’s past, it “entirely bypasses the relationship of the victims to their own history” (561). I feel this project represents the power and unity of a collaborative community. The museum provides a safe space for the neighborhood to remember and commemorate the district’s past on its own terms.

Additionally, in conjunction with the neighborhood, the FHXB Museum has also created an interactive map of East Berlin. Over the course of four years, the museum collected hundreds of stories about specific places in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain. You can actively walk on the map and listen to these stories told by the people themselves. By participating in the exhibit, the community demonstrates its support and emotional investment in the district’s history. It was exciting for me to experience this exhibit knowing of all the people who came together in order to create it. The map’s construction tells the history of a community just how the community wants it to be told. In Berlin, it is so common to see Germany deciding how to remember and commemorate the long histories of other people. For example, sites honoring murdered Jews in the Holocaust are often built without consulting the Jewish community first. As Sabine Offe describes in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Jewish museums have “been established for a largely non-Jewish public, mostly lacking in knowledge and experience of Jewish history, culture, and religion” (78). However, much unlike this example, it was refreshing to see the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain district representing itself.

FHXB III (Zlevor)

Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor

The FHXB Museum has been a staple location for our class on this trip. Thus far, it has served as the site of our “Rethinking Masculinities” panel, the building for temporary classroom abroad, and the location of our tour today. After learning more about the museum’s purpose in the community, it seemed fitting to me that we had taken advantage of the space for our academic learning purposes. Just as we have spent time in this building to uncover the truth about Berlin’s past, the local community has done the same. The museum actively collaborates with activists in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district by offering support for their cause and by providing a space for these organizations to meet. Even the simple offering of a room to hold speeches, discussions, and exhibitions can be instrumental to a nonprofit’s success. It felt empowering to be in a place that actively enables the community to take action and strive to create change.

Our tour ended with an open conversation about current gentrification in the United States and Germany. During our discussion, it became evident why this museum was a relevant experience for us. The stories told by each exhibit showed the capacity and effectiveness of continued dedication to a cause. Unlike Germany, political movements such as the Renters’ Rights Movement focusing on housing and gentrification are not happening as broadly in the United States. In some cases, it can feel as if capitalism is more powerful than demonstrations. There are hardly any known squatters actively protesting this capitalistic initiative. However, the people of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain have shown that the housing market is not invincible. We should look to this community as an example of ways to initiate change at home. Although their fight lasted many years and still continues to this day, we should not be scared of its difficulty, but instead be inspired by it.


Annie Zlevor Blog PhotoAnnie Zlevor is a rising junior from the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. She is an Organismal Biology & Ecology major and a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. Annie is also a pre-medicine student, and hopes to attend medical school. In her free time, Annie enjoys eating Lebanese food, going fishing with her family, and taking lots of naps. Currently, you can find her spending some time outside the lab learning about Berlin’s hidden histories. She is excited to be exploring Germany for the first time and hopes you enjoy reading about her experiences.

Empowerment, or Support as Needed

By Nitika Reddy

IMG_0639Today was what I like to lovingly refer to as our “marathon” day. For the majority of us, it consisted of three sessions, an expedited lunch in a train station, and getting home at 6:30 pm. Now that might sound overwhelming (and yes, it was), but since this was our last day of academic sessions, I thought it was pretty fitting. CC style is always go big or go home and make it look easy. So, my classmates and I awoke this morning ready for our last day and our first session at the Antidiskriminierungsnetzwerk Berlin Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg (ADNB des TBB).

When we walked into the ADNB des TBB building, it was not hard to immediately notice the open space and welcoming atmosphere. Once inside the presentation room, we met with the equally welcoming Celine Barry, one of the five full-time staff members. She told us that this organization was founded as project of the Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB) against discrimination. While TBB focuses primarily on Turkish communities, both organizations are committed to the struggle against discrimination in general. ADNB des TBB addresses these issues through counseling and other forms of intervention regarding sexism, racism, Islamaphobia, and discrimination based on sexuality.

IMG_0641When we first got there, a lot of us expressed interest in the relationship ADNB des TBB has with the German government, since they are funded by the state. This is not unlike many of the other organizations we have visited with these past few weeks. This, of course, seems like a source of conflict, because we have seen, time and time again, countries say they care about marginalized communities without every fully listening to what needs to be done. For instance, one main goal of Germany has been the idea of “integration.” For example, in the introduction of Winter ShortsClementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo problematize this idea when claiming integration “is the carrot dangled in front of those with a so-called migration background. It will never be attained but we are told it is what we should be aiming for. We are told to keep chasing that damn carrot!” (12). But Barry was careful to explain that this was not the case with ADNB des TBB, and although the government funds ADNB des TBB, it is not a government organization. It’s an independent counseling center dealing with discrimination issues and legal support aimed at giving confidence and a voice to people.

At one point, Barry asked us why we thought counseling might be important for people in these situations. Dealing with everyday racism (even microaggressions) is exhausting, and people need to address those emotions in some way. Barry explained that it goes deeper than the classic counseling most might understand. Their counseling method revolves more around empowerment. To ADNB des TBB, it’s important to allow people to resolve their own problems while still receiving support. To help us understand this more clearly, Barry split us into small groups to discuss real cases. My group’s case was about a Muslim university student named Nura. Nura was studying Orientalism, and applied for a job at a museum specializing in that subject. She ended up having an interview, but when Nura arrived, the manager was surprised that she was wearing a head scarf. After the interview, the manager said that he would give Nura the job because she was very qualified, but only on the condition that Nura remove her head scarf. The reasoning was that it would confuse the museum customers. We struggled mainly about how to advise Nura on an individual level. More specifically, Nura needed to determine whether she would just not take the job or pursue the long, drawn out bureaucratic process of going to court. Neither option seemed satisfying.

IMG_0649As Celine pointed out, it’s also important to realize the more deep seeded importance of liberation and empowerment practices. So much of this work deals with strong power structures and oppression. When the oppressed gets empowered, the power structures in place are challenged and deconstructed in a way that immediately affects and threatens the oppressor. Barry explained that the oppressed are the only ones that can free themselves, and that eventually the liberation of the oppressed will also lead to the liberation of the oppressor.

Being in a class about intersectionality, helped us to be aware of the different intersectional issues regarding Nura’s case. An intersectional approach was beneficial when we discussed the importance of an inclusive safe space. Along these lines, Otoo writes, “Well for me Black spaces still have to work against logics of oppression. Black men need to reflect and work against make privilege every much as straight people need to think about ways the gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer people experience marginalization and violence…in Black communities” (14). Barry explained that although ADNB des TBB is a safe space, she and her colleagues are aware of the crossovers of different forms of discrimination, such as that based on language. Because of their awareness, they are able to operationalize these ideals in the empowerment strategies they implement when addressing their cases.

IMG_0645As the session ended, I couldn’t help but think about something we addressed in the very beginning of the course. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes, “We are the hyphenated people of the Diaspora whose self-defined identities are no longer a shameful secret in the countries of our origin, but rather declarations of strength and solidarity. We are an increasingly united front from which the world has not yet heard” (viii). Germany, the U.S., and other western countries do not acknowledge their problems with discrimination, which then causes them to fail to acknowledge the people being discriminated against. These acts of silencing can only really be reconciled with the oppressed finding their voices to speak out. The fact that ADNB des TBB gives that opportunity to people on the people’s terms is inspiring to see.


ReddyNitika Reddy is a rising senior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an Economics & Business major, as well as a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. She is an avid dancer and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity. She has been traveling for the past 5 months (studying aboard in Copenhagen and visiting parts of Asia), and is finishing her 6th month of traveling with FemGeniuses in Berlin! Nitika loves reading memoirs, really any kind of film, and singly loudly in the shower. Fun fact: She is currently in a long distance relationship with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which she misses dearly!

Building a Community of Voices from Silence

By Lila Schmitz

SUSI Blog 1On the first day of summer, the streets of Berlin transform into stages, housing artists of a multitude of disciplines and genres for the Fête de la Musique. Around 5 pm yesterday, I found myself plopped down on the sidewalk outside RosaCaleta, a restaurant some of my classmates have been raving about since day two of our trip. Somehow, I aimlessly ended up outside the restaurant, watching the performances on the cobblestone sidewalk. With a stroke of luck I had yet to encounter in my nights out in Berlin so far, the attendees were mostly young and, seemingly, mostly queer.

The artists that I saw perform were primarily women of color, and the feeling in the air was that of hesitancy to pass judgment and liberty to dance like nobody’s watching. One of the performances was a voguing troupe and after their choreographed performance, they opened the “runway” for anyone who wanted to take the stage, giving the spotlight to those who might not have that opportunity often. Originating as an art form to illuminate those who wish to come out of the shadows, voguing, a series of poses that could be found in Vogue magazine linked together with music, was created in the New York Black drag ballroom scene, as I learned after watching Paris is Burning. Yet, when I try to find a hyperlink for a proper definition, each website silences its exact origins, claiming rather that voguing originated in the “New York gay scene” or “African-American ballrooms.” Along these lines, another performer, a German slam-poet, recited: “White supremacy gives daily racial injustice its supremacy.” As I wandered away to ingest two scoops of ice cream before dinner, the sun began to dip behind the buildings, and the party was just getting started with a reggae beat padding the way.

SUSI 4The following morning, we visited the incredibly inspiring Biplab Basu at ReachOut. After, we made our way to RosaCaleta to introduce Heidi and Dana to the delicious Jamaican food and beautiful setting. We ate outside, where yesterday the faux stage housed so many passionate performers. I munched on a juicy portabella sandwich, and after forgetting ourselves in the delicious tastes and relaxed conversation for a moment, we scurried to our next stop, SUSI: Interkulturelles Frauenzentrum (Intercultural Women’s Center). We ran up the endless flights of stairs and made it (a bit sweaty and slightly tardy) to meet Jamile da Silva e Silva.

Silva ushered us into the center, where she provided an array of drinks and snacks in a magnificently warm welcome. She began by apologizing for her English, which I’ve noticed seems to be a trend among the folks we’ve been meeting. How have we gotten to a place where our hosts apologize to us for not speaking perfect English when we all know so little German? I love that I am able to communicate with so many people, but like many things recently, I’m realizing how much of this language connection I’ve been taking for granted. Next, Silva told us that she was born in Brazil, so she speaks Portuguese and German fluently, while also being able to deliver our entire presentation in English. Yet, she is apologizing to us?

SUSI Blog 2Next, Silva shared that S.U.S.I. is a gathering place, a counseling center, a cultural network, and a voice in the community. Women gather in the beautiful rooms to cook meals that smell like home and deliberate on their activism. In those same rooms, they can find counseling in seventeen different languages, because as we’ve learned, immigration can be particularly traumatizing for women. Hence, having psychological and social counseling in their first language can significantly change their quality of life and mental well-being for these women. S.U.S.I. also provides a continual cultural and political educational program, using panels, classes, lectures, and art to bring awareness to racism, sexism, and other relevant issues.

Silva explains that in the 1990s racism in Berlin became “much clearer.” Due to the fall of the wall in 1989, Germans felt themselves united from east to west and therefore rejected all those who did not fit this new “unified” community, primarily excluding migrants and people appearing to have a “migration background.” Contract workers were deserted, and papers were voided. One of many groups affected was that of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese migrants, who were deported, being torn away from jobs that had promised consistency. Throughout the country, “antiforeigner violence” flourished, and, according to Wolfgang Kil and Hilary Silver in “From Kreuzberg to Marzahn: New Migrant Communities in Berlin,” in 1992 and 1993, fifty to 100 racist attacks a day were reported in Germany (107). Silva refered to “much clearer” racism, and yet even with numbers like this, these stories are continually silenced by the mainstream German narrative about history, culture, and politics. As for people who are German and yet still suffer from “antiforeigner violence,” Sharon Dodua Otoo and Clementine Burnley explain in the Introduction to Winter Shorts that in Germany:

“‘Person with a migration background’ is a euphemism. It is rarely used to describe certain white non-Germans – I think white US Americans for example do not feel addressed by it. On the other hand, people who were born and raised in Germany, and who do not look white, are often labeled as having a ‘migration background.’ Well I did migrate to Germany – I come from the UK. But dominant German society does not have this in mind when my migration background becomes of relevance” (15-16).

IMG_0615Along these lines, many Black German women have specifically told us that they are still spoken to in English even after their lips produce perfect German. Last night at RosaCaleta, a spoken-word poet did her entire set before speaking in German, and when she did, those that understood German laughed with surprise. She then explained to them that although she is Black, she is German, an astounding revelation even for some gathered in such a diverse setting. Similarly, in Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, May (Opitz) Ayim argues, “Because [‘hyphenated Germans’] appear to be foreigners they are most often treated as such—as people who do not really belong in this country” (136-7). As for the people who actually do immigrate, they are definitely not treated as though they belong in Germany. In an investigation of homophobic hate crimes in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” Jin Haritaworn finds that migrants are specifically targeted and “destined for incarceration” (71). Haritaworn determines that migrants are disproportionately imprisoned for homophobic hate crimes because of the detachment from homophobia that this allows for Germans. By throwing the homophobic accusations onto a different “other,” Germany is able to contrive a homonationalist narrative, while demonizing migrants and masking the xenophobia and racism.

When the narrative constantly attacks, migrants need spaces to find emotional and psychological support. S.U.S.I. is unique in its specified attention given to migrant women, and while there are women’s centers sprinkled throughout Berlin, Silva shares that she is part of the only international one. Yet even with its precarious position as the only center serving multitudes of migrant women, S.U.S.I. is not granted any full-time employees. Silva and her four colleagues are salaried for no more than 30 hours per week, and three of these five core members have to reapply to the state for their positions every two years. Additionally, Silva shares that the counselors cannot thrive on what ends up being basically volunteer work due to the minimal compensation the state provides. Yet, there are twenty-five counselors who speak up to five languages each currently practicing and giving their time to S.U.S.I.

SUSI Blog 3“How do you stay resilient in this work?” Heidi asks, referring to the constant bureaucratic battles. “Well for the others it is probably different, but I would do this work regardless [of the pay],” Jamile begins. Before working with migrant women, she was particularly active in the Black rights movement here, and she also cites her days at university, where she acquired a Master’s degree in Gender Studies, not a subject area with which the members of this class are unfamiliar. She also adds, “I believe it’s going to change.” In the foreword to Showing Our Colors, Audre Lorde writes, “The essence of a truly global feminism is the recognition of connection.” Later, she notes, “The first steps in examining these connections are to identify ourselves, to recognize each other, and to listen carefully to each other’s stories” (xiii, xiv). As humans, we need each other; we need connection for solidarity and support. Racism and sexism serve to isolate and disempower the “other.” Jamile and her colleagues at S.U.S.I. are fighting against the desertion and disregard of migrants by striving to create community. They are fighting for change, and no matter how small the steps, they continue, one at a time, forward. After all, they’re in quite good company, surrounded by artists and in the footsteps of Audre Lorde.


Lila IILila Schmitz is majoring in Film and Media Studies and minoring in Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College. She’s going to be starting her second year at CC and third year of college in the fall. She’s enjoyed getting involved with CC theater and a capella (Ellement!), as well as tripping and sweating her way through intramural sports. This summer she’s lucky enough to get to do some gallivanting on the European continent, where you can often find her in a park (photographed in Tiergarten) with that very notebook. Important note: She does not usually look so serious, but rather was trying to figure out how to draw a chin and ended up with this photographic chin display.