The Wall

By Nitika Reddy


“Berlin is the most bike friendly city!” my tour guide enthusiastically explained as the rowdy boys in my class fidgeted with their bikes. For a class of twenty coming from Copenhagen, we knew immediately that this statement was, in fact, not true. When in Copenhagen, you needed, even wanted a bike to participate in day-to-day activities. The orderly bike lanes and calm streets were easily manageable. This was nothing like Berlin. The city was larger, more chaotic, and extremely exciting. “I’m so excited to see the wall,” my friend, Audrey, said as we started our bike tour. I smiled and nodded careful not to take my eyes off the road for too long. We were, after all, literally in the middle of the road. After a couple more minuets of hectic cycling, a few facts about Berlin, and an unwanted trek up a tiny hill, we were there: The Berlin Wall. Below the wall was a flea market accompanied by loud, festive music and an overall air of joy. Our tour guide didn’t say much about the wall. We mostly just examined the layers and layers of coated on paint and were told that this was the wall that separated so many Germans from each other. I examined this concrete and steel canvas for street artists and rubbed my hands along the cold, hard surface, not quite grasping the importance of it all.

Now, a few months have gone by since this first visit, and I head to Berlin once more. As I reflect, I can’t help but acknowledge how quickly (just over 30 years since it has fallen) people seem to have moved on. For my generation, 30 years seems both so recent and so unfathomably long. This is probably due to the fact that most of us were born a few years after the wall came down and don’t know much about the German reunification. But there is a responsibility in knowing history as well as questioning it. The History Channel’s The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall gives a good overview of the history and stories brought on by the wall. From its sudden creation to collapse, the wall drastically changed the social climate of an already divided Germany. The Berlin Wall no doubt played a huge role in Berlin’s history. While watching the documentary, one gets a general idea of the two sides of Berlin and Germany during this time. The documentary gave plenty of anecdotal examples of stories of Germans split up. And it detailed riveting stories of both failed and successful attempts to leave East Berlin.

The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall also shared very interesting narrativess about freedom. It was clear that before the construction of the wall, West Berlin was the symbol of an oppression-free land. This symbol of unattainable freedom that East Germans experienced seems to somewhat parallel the lives of marginalized people during and after the collapse of the wall. For example, in a foreword written for Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes,

I walk into a shiny tourist sweetshop in the newly accessible East Berlin of 1990. The young white German saleswoman looks at me with aversion, snaps an outraged answer to my first question, then turns her back upon me and my companion until we leave the shop. Once outside, I look back. She turns also. Through the glass door, our eyes meet. That look of hatred she hurls against the glass in my direction is prolonged, intense, and very familiar. (xi)

It is still interesting to see the lengths to which people will go to secure the right to live in a free land, which in the case of East Germans was democracy.

When the wall went up, many people were separated from their homes, family, and significant others. This sense of urgency to “break free” was quite relevant. It became increasingly evident that people would risk going to jail and dying to get to this protected “free land.” For instance, a man explained his failed attempt to bring over his fiancé, Roswita Koppen, to West Berlin, where he engineered his car so that she could hide next to the engine and under the hood. Roswita risked going to jail or even her own life, as she was burned badly by the engine next to her. The documentary claimed that 136 people died trying to get out of East Berlin through the wall and thousands were jailed after they were caught. These people were trying to gain the right to vote, have jobs that they wanted, and generally live without oppression.

Unfortunately, however, The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t showcase many voices of marginalized people during this time. This was also the case with much of the discourse of the non-Jews after World War II. For example, in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden explains how “researchers studying women in the Holocaust have generally, unself-consciously assumed (or preceded as though they assumed) that all the women in the Holocaust were Jewish” (26). We now know that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t just extended their hatred to Jews, but many other groups of people including Africans, the Romani, as well as gay and lesbian people.

EdingIt wasn’t until reading texts like Showing Our Colors that I realized the history of Afro-Germans went back as far as it does. For instance, Audre Lorde writes, “I have Black German women in my class who trace their Afro-German heritage back to the 1890s” (vii). Even if those voices might not have been the majority of the minority, they are still important and need to be addressed. As Jasmin Eding points out in “… And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want,”  which outlines the importance of ADEFRA (a group for Afro-German women), “After the collapse of the wall between East and West Germany, we witnessed unification between Black women in the East and the West as well” (131). There are clear stories here that people are willing to tell. So, it’s important for us to acknowledge and listen to these narratives.

As I end this blog post, I leave you with this. Although the Berlin Wall represents a lot of different things for a lot of different people (may that be freedom, oppression, or even hope), it is important to acknowledge the uncommon voices in history. It is our responsibility to do so. As this class gets started, I’m more excited to learn about these narratives. In some ways, many of these stories are just now coming to light. And the only sure fire way to have them survive is to listen and share them, so that more people will do the same.

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!

The Ghost of the Third Reich: Educating Ourselves about Berlin

By Ivy Wappler

Third Reich

As the inauguration of the 2016 FemGeniuses in Berlin looms closer and closer, we FemGeniuses are finishing up our packing and preliminary assignments before we board our flights this weekend. I was grateful for the assignments, not only to keep me reasonably busy here at home, but also in the name of getting informed about Berlin before traveling there. I find that before traveling anywhere for the first time it is important to familiarize oneself with their history and culture.

There are countless arguments for being an informed traveler. Not only will ample background research help you contextualize and understand what you experience in a new part of the world, but it is also imperative to be aware of the rich history of Berlin, for example, because that history informs the nature of Berlin today. Understanding the momentous legacy of The Third Reich is a necessary precursor for exploring the city of Berlin. Our class is going to discuss various intersectional identities in this city. But how can we ever begin to understand the nuanced lives of migrant Turks or Black Germans without at least knowing about the Nazi influence that once so blatantly orchestrated white power and racialized oppression? For that reason, we FemGeniuses were assigned to watch The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall. This History Channel documentary, combined with an assortment of readings, was the beginning of my process of familiarization with Berlin, a prequel to what I expect to be a very illuminating block abroad.

The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall examines the experiences of everyday Germans in the time of the Third Reich. The focus was on how the Germans gave Hitler his power, and what their lives looked like in wartime. All mentions of Jews in the documentary were starkly less personal in nature. The film, constructed from clips of Nazi rallies, strapping German soldiers, and Germans working and recreating together, regarded the Jews were only in cold statistics, such as death tolls in concentration camps. While the documentary certainly made clear the violent and inhuman ways the Jews were treated, there was no mention of what Marion Kaplan explores in “The School Lives of Jewish Children in the Third Reich,” namely the day to day experiences of Jewish people under Hitler’s regime. Kaplan goes through lengths to describe how Jewish children were treated in contrast to their German peers. She paints a clear picture of Jews and Germans living side by side, one group drastically more oppressed by the regime than the other. I thought it interesting and wonder why The Third Reich, however, did not depict Germans and Jews interacting, or acknowledge that racial discrimination was blatant in public spaces like schools.

AyimThe Third Reich: The Rise and Fall approached race interestingly. The only races and/or ethnicities it mentions as targeted and persecuted by the Nazis were Jewish people, Poles, and Russians. There was no mention of Black people or their experiences in WWII. In “Afro-Germans after 1945: The So-Called Occupation Babies,” May (Opitz) Ayim observes that the rhetoric surrounding the Third Reich does not give space to the non-Jews who also suffered on account of their race. She notes that although Afro-Germans and Asian-Germans existed in Germany before and during the second world war, they were not considered in discussions of compensation. I wonder: Is The Third Reich: The Rise and Fall contributing to the erasure of Afro-Germans and other groups? Or is it just zooming in on particular aspects of the war?

Something I hope to discuss further that was brought up in both the documentary and some of our readings is the concept of rape in war. After WWI, Germany had ceased to be a colonial power, and some of the soldiers who occupied German territory after the war were black. There was national outrage over the fact that white German women were exposed to the black soldiers, or “wild people” (“African and Afro-German Women” 45).  It had been customary, however, in previous German military endeavors to rape foreign women. This “unwritten male right to enslave women” was never challenged until black soldiers exercised it on white German women (“African and Afro-German Women” 45). Rape in war is important to examine because it is an area where racism and sexism intersect. The Third Reich describes how the Russian Red Army raped countless German women when they invaded Berlin, probably in direct retaliation of how the Germans treated their people earlier in WWII. How did Germans justify their right to rape and pillage foreign peoples? How did Germans view their own women? What does it mean that Germans celebrated their raping of foreign women, and cried out about black men raping their own? I look forward to unpacking layered considerations of race and gender in discussions of the rape, war, and nationalism when we convene as a class in Berlin.

Audre Winterfeldmarkt j

After reading from Showing our Colors: Afro-German Women Speaking Out and watching The Third Reich,  it is clear that white guilt is a force to be reckoned with, especially in contemporary feminist circles.  The fall of The Third Reich ends with Germans being forced to go inside neighboring concentration camps and stand face to face with the inhumanity they imposed upon the Jews. At least a million Germans were then left in concentration camps to die. This was only the beginning of the reparations that Germans would be forced to make for the disaster that was WWII. White guilt has by no means been eradicated from the German consciousness, however. Audre Lorde laments German white guilt in the foreword to Showing Our Colors. Lorde has “met an immobilizing national guilt in white German women which serves to keep them from acting upon what they profess to believe” (viii). Lorde laments how white German feminists seem paralyzed, unable to accept fully who they are, their history, and their privilege. She views this as a waste of power and potential for “battles against racism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, [and] xenophobia” (viii). Contemporary white guilt is born largely from the deep footprint that both world wars have pressed into German history and culture. In the preface to Showing Our Colors, Dagmar Schultz notes that “only gradually are white women beginning to realize that accepting responsibility is a viable and necessary alternative to being paralyzed by guilt feelings” (xix). En route to Berlin, I am curious to investigate how the legacy of the Third Reich manifests itself in the modern city, and how palpable white guilt may be. In conversation with activists and academics in Berlin, I hope to examine the reconciliation of white guilt, and how German feminists are addressing it as a problematic, stagnating force that has the potential to be a source of power.

Looking more closely at our readings and watching The Third Reich has made me even more excited to take off for Germany. I feel lucky to be writing this first blog post, because I had even more reason to dwell on these assignments. The film and readings have got me thinking about the power of narratives, rape in war, and white guilt, among many other things. I look forward to gathering as a class and discussing these topics in more detail, with Berlin and its people as our classroom. Our assignments so far have given me an idea of how the ghost of the Third Reich continues to haunt the country, but I am sure there is so much more to see and learn. Given its rich history, I predict Berlin will be an especially interesting place to study the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and more.

I guess it is time to finally start packing. I certainly left that to the last minute. The art of packing light is a lesson I have yet to learn… going to challenge myself this time! Monday morning we will gather as a class for the first time and embark on our academic adventure. Safe travels to all my classmates, and see you soon!

WapplerIvy Wappler hails from Long Island Sound and is grateful to spend her summers in New England, and her winters in sunny Colorado. She is a Feminist and Gender Studies major, and an Environmental Issues minor. After school, she hopes to explore environmentally and socially responsible tourism. She may also end up reforming sex education. An avid foodie, Ivy is ready to experience Berlin through its food and drink when she’s not in class. You may find her taking walks through sunny streets, seeking out farmer’s markets and green, open spaces.