The Wall

By Nitika Reddy

NATO ANNIVERSARY

“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 Jewish Museum: “Forced Into Exile”

By Jesse Crane

IMG_8764After a sunny morning walking through downtown Berlin on the Holocaust History Tour with Carolyn Gammon, we ate a long lunch and then headed over to the Jewish Museum. As we gathered together on the upper floor of the museum, our group sat in a large circle in the middle of an empty room with slanted red, white, and steel walls. The introduction to our workshop was given by Fabian Schnedler. From the beginning, Fabian made it clear that the Jewish Museum was not a Holocaust museum. Museum visitors were there to talk about the history of Judaism, including the 2,000 years of Jewish history before the Holocaust. Fabian explained to us that “this is a museum about life, not death” and that the museum is meant for us to ask ourselves, “What is Jewish culture?” Similarly, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Sabine Offe argues that the Jewish Museum emphasizes the importance of new collective memories about German Jews in order to gain a rich understanding of the role of a Jew in Germany, both in the past and today.

Jesse IIAs Fabian left us, we became acquainted with Muirgen, our enthusiastic workshop leader. Our workshop, “Forced Into Exile,” focused on the feelings of fleeing, the spaces involved in the Holocaust, and how those feelings and spaces impact our bodies and evoke emotions. She also urged us to re-conceptualize how we viewed the Holocaust in relation to the experiences and perceptions of German Jews. One of our activities included organizing various laws by year in order to understand Holocaust as a process.

IMG_8769Murigen laid our 8 cards with dates and handed out 8 cards with Nuremberg Laws to match these dates. As a group, we struggled to match the laws with the right dates. These Laws were each different. For example, “Jews are obliged to wear a yellow star” and “It is forbidden for Jewish children to attend a German school.” Murigen explained to us that the Nazis were originally trying to “bully” the Jews enough until they left Germany. This reminded me of “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich” by Marion Kaplan. Kaplan explains how the experiences of Jewish students grew worse and worse until they finally left the constricting German schools in order to go to Jewish schools where they felt comfortable and supported. This had me thinking about how the decision to leave everything you had ever known behind and how bad things would need to get before making that decision. Would I have left? Would I have stayed? I still wonder what I would do.

Murigen highlighted these questions parallel to the election of Hitler as Chancellor in the Third Reich. At first there were misunderstandings of who was really Jewish and who was really Aryan. At the time, German Jews often felt more German than Jewish or anything else, and suddenly their identities were conceived within the dominant social discourse as exclusively Jewish. The active creation of definitions by the Nazis for Aryan and Jew brought me back to Maisha Eggers‘ “Knowledge’s of (Un-) Belonging.” When discussing “moving inward,” Eggers discussed how Black Germans had define themselves in order to shape their movement and gain strength within their goals. In Nazi Germany, the government was took this power and was able to define all groups in the Third Reich and how they are meant to function in society.

IMG_8770After this exercise, Murigen led us we downstairs to gain a better understanding of spaces in Nazi Germany for the Jews and to demonstrate to us the way in which the museum contributes through its architecture in forming this understanding. As we ventured to the basement, we wandered into an unusual space. It was an industrial, off-kilter, narrowing hall with no right angles and no color. There was no familiarity. We discussed how we felt and as we moved through the halls, we continued to see changing dimensions. As we looked towards the ends of the hall, we saw separate halls that broke off to light and halls that broke off to darkness. Every space had a sharp turn, and it was difficult to center myself. We decided to go towards the light, and as we reached the door, we entered into the Garden of Exile. I believed that the Garden would be a centering relief from the angular halls we had just walked through. My assumptions were wrong.

JesseThe Garden of Exile consisted of long tall concrete rectangles with foliage off the top. It had tilted cobblestone floors. Some of the students in our class said it made them seasick, and others felt claustrophobic. Overall, this Garden of Exile after the sharp hallways didn’t feel much better. As we reflected on this as a group, we finally began to understand how Jews were stripped of their spaces in this world, whether it was home or in exile, nothing felt “normal.”


JesseJesse Crane is a pending Colorado College graduate from Bethesda, MD. Jesse graduated in May, but as a transfer student, she was required to do one more credit in order to fulfill her Sociology degree requirements. She saw Berlin as the perfect opportunity to take an amazing final college course and study abroad. Like many CC students, Jesse loves being outdoors—whether it may be skiing, hiking, or taking her dog for a walk. On the weekends, she spends her time practicing yoga and cuddling with her dog Lily. While Jesse loves things like reading, chai tea, and playing cards, waking up early and jogging are things that you will probably not see Jesse doing often. Jesse is grateful and excited to have the opportunity to take one final class abroad at Colorado College and can’t wait to share her experiences with everyone.

Beware of the Green Spaces: A Jewish History Tour

By DeAira Cooper

IMG_8761It’s Hump Day! The week is almost over, and you would think that we’d recovered from jet lag by now, but it seemed to be at its peak today. We took a three hour walking tour about Jewish history and the Holocaust with our amazing tour guide Carolyn Gammon. One of the first points that Carolyn made, which I found to be very interesting and surprising, was that there are no memorials for Black victims of the Holocaust in Germany. The Black experience in Germany had been written out of history until about thirty years ago, which is fairly recent. In “Knowledge of (Un-) Belonging,” Maisha Eggers writes, “The term Afro-deutsch (Afro-German) was coined in 1984 by Audre Lorde (1934–1992) together with a group of Black women activists in Berlin. This is considered the moment at which the Black movement in Germany was born.” (3) As far as Black race relations go in Germany, they still have some work to do seeing that there is only one Black man serving in parliament out of about 300 people. Carolyn then went on to make a very important thought-provoking point; claiming that whenever going on a tour, we should always have in the back of our minds the question, “What am I not seeing? What is the information being withheld or in the literal sense has been taken out the picture?” Throughout the tour, I constantly found myself referring back to these questions.

IMG_8759According to Gammon, the anti-Semitic discrimination of Jews dates back to over 800 years ago when Jews occupied “Jew Street,” because they weren’t accepted by the rest of the German population. Their only jobs involved working for the Royal Court because they were excluded from all other jobs. They also couldn’t own land and had no access to permanent rights to citizenship. Anti-Semitism actually stemmed from antagonism towards monotheism, and Judaism is one of the three main monotheistic religions along with Christianity and Islam. The introduction to this new way of thinking about religion was problematic for the Romans and Greeks, who, historically, had participated in polytheistic thought.

IMG_8748One important figure in Germany’s Jewish history is Moses Mendelssohn, a Jewish modernist who believed strongly in tolerance, strength, and equality for all regardless of religion. Mendelssohn gave the parable of the ring when asked about which monotheistic religion was the greatest. This parable was about a father with three sons having to choose which one of his sons would take his inheritance. Instead of just giving the ring to one of his sons, he decided to duplicate the ring twice so that each son would have a ring not making one of them worth more or better than the other. Once each son received their rings, they were confused that each of them had a ring and had to find a way to lead their families together in harmony. This parable is symbolic, because it shows that neither of the three monotheistic religions are better than the other and that it is possible for those practicing these religions to live with one another without discrimination or a hierarchy.

IMG_8746Mendelssohn also quotes, “beware of the green spaces,” which is significant, because most green spaces in Berlin probably have a significant story behind them in that many used to be a cemetery, synagogue, or house. Many Jewish museums exist because of these spaces. As Sabine Offe writes in “Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “On a pragmatic level, the existence of the majority of museums is linked to the fact that former synagogues, Jewish schools, or houses formerly owned by Jews that had survived the pogrom in November 1938 and the war were ‘rediscovered’ during the 1970 and 1980s” (79). The story behind the Jewish cemetery we saw on our tour really struck me, because it was destroyed by the Nazis. Not only did they destroy the cemetery, they also excavated the graves. Even the deceased Jews couldn’t live in peace. Still, Mendelssohn’s legacy lives on today at the Moses Mendelssohn high school, which teaches Jews and non-Jews together and teaches them about Judaism and tolerance. In “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich,” Marion Kaplan writes, “Because children spend so much time in school, unprotected by family, Jewish children continually met face-to-face with the repercussions of Nazism there.” (42). This high school gives hope that one day Jews and non-Jews will be able to live in peace with one another and learning from each other.

IMG_8745I can definitely say that my peers and I were very surprised by most of the information we learned today. We’ve all studied the Holocaust in our school systems, but never in the context of where it took place. Today, we walked the same streets that the murdered Jews and other victims of the Holocaust walked. It’s mind-blowing to think that people were being killed in those streets and taken out of their houses. That reminds me of one last comment Carolyn made today, “Everyone was part of the Holocaust via a perpetrator, bystander, or victim.”


DeAiraDeAira Hermani is a Chicago girl living in Colorado. She is an Anthropology major and double minor in Theatre and Race & Ethnic Studies. She enjoys acting and doing comedy, and performs all types of comedy, including short and long-term improvisation, short skits, and sketches. She also writes a lot of her comedic sketches and monologues, and enjoys singing. You can often find her harmonizing with her friends or just creating new music. She’s just a down-to-earth lady always looking for the positives in a world full of negatives. She tries to stay optimistic at all times, and because of this, you’ll probably find her with a group of people making them laugh.

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The “Alternative City” Tour

By Blaise Yafcak

Boros

Boros Bunker

On Friday afternoon, we met Rob, the tour guide, at the Brandenburg Gate and embarked on an “Alternative City” tour of Berlin. Rob started us off with a brief history of Berlin. He told us that the Berlin Wall went up around West Berlin and that the mayor wanted people to move to West Berlin because the city was poor. So, the mayor enacted a law eliminating national service if you lived in West Berlin, which attracted “the punks and artists.” After the wall came down, many people moved from the West to the East because it was cheaper to live in the latter.

Stencil Art

XOOOOX Stencil Art at Boros Bunker

After this introduction, we got on the U-Bahn and began our tour of street art and gentrification. We began in the neighborhood of Mitte, a “punky” neighborhood, according to our tour guide. The first building we looked at was one that had been a Nazi air raid shelter during World War II. The bunker then became a make-shift prison during the time of de-Nazification, and then ended up in the East when the wall went up. The building was then used as a storage facility for dried and exotic fruit, primarily bananas. The building changed hands many times, and eventually, many years later, it was rented out for techno parties—patrons of the club said that the building still smelled of bananas. About ten years ago, a man named Christian Boros purchased the bunker, built his house on the roof, and used the bunker to house his personal art collection. Visitors can now come and view Boros’ art collection in the old bunker.On the outside walls of the bunker, we got our first introduction to Berlin street art. According to Rob, Berlin was a breeding ground for street art since the city boasted the longest wall in the world (actually, the Great Wall of China measured over 5,000 miles in length, while the Berlin Wall was only about 70 miles). Nonetheless, Berlin does have quite the collection of street art or “guerrilla” art, as Rob called it. One prominent artist, Mr. Six, has taken it upon himself to paint yellow sixes on the corners of as many buildings as he can. There were many theories as to why he painted the number six: six means failing in the German school system, so he may paint the number on broken down buildings that are failing; six also sounds a bit like sex (haha!). However, Mr. Six finally provided an explanation as to why he has chosen the number six—he wants to make the internet faster. As of now, Mr. Six has painted over three quarters of a million sixes on buildings, and has been arrested over seven hundred times.

Astronaut

Astronaut / Cosmonaut by Victor Ash in Kreuzberg

Rob then showed us what gentrification looks like in Berlin in the form of a small courtyard in the center of a building filled with cafes and shops and a small park. He took this chance to briefly explain some of Berlin’s laws: in Berlin, if you occupy a building for more than three months, you own said building; prostitution legal here; and when it’s hot, Berliners head to parks in East Berlin and take all their clothes off. It was unclear whether this was truly legal or not, much like smoking in public spaces. Apparently, there is a ban on smoking in outdoor restaurants and similar spaces; however, such places still provide ashtrays at tables, and it’s hard to sit outside and not get a face full of smoke from the Berliner sitting at the next table over. Street art is also illegal in Berlin. There is a maximum penalty of three years in prison for creating street art, but more likely, the artists are simply fined and ordered to remove the art. There is an anti-street art team comprised of 21 individuals who go around the city and paint over street art. However, they paint over the art in random colors that do not match the original color of the building, making a convenient frame for the next batch of street art.

Rob then introduced us to the “stumbling stones.” These are small bronze colored stones set in the cobblestones in front of buildings. The stones were created in the 1990s by an artist named Gunter Demnig as a way to commemorate those killed during the Holocaust. Demnig believes that a person is only forgotten once their name is forgotten, so these stones are ways of keeping the names alive. The stones are placed in the ground outside of houses where victims of the Holocaust resided, and state their name and brief information about when the person lived in the building.

Babies

Street Art by BLU

We then moved on to the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, where we saw more street art, including a large painted astronaut and BLU’s mural of a baby made of babies eating a baby. Apparently, the latter is meant to represent the world coming together, but it looks more sinister than that.

The tour finished at the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall, located just over the river on the East side of Berlin. This portion of the wall is heavily decorated, as artists were invited to come decorate the wall and are still doing so. The art changes every few months, and is currently quite colorful. We, then, got some ice cream after our 3.5 hour tour, and then headed home to rest.

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Blaise IIIBlaise is a rising senior at Colorado College studying Biology and Feminist and Gender Studies. She likes road trips, coffee, and Harry Potter.