Mauerpark: Graffiti as Art

Berlin Massive (Gutierrez)

Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez

By Jannet Gutierrez

On the tram ride to Mauerpark, our second to last “official” group activity, I noticed that a pretty substantial percentage of the Berlin Wall was still up. This area seemed to serve as a tourist attraction; I saw several tour groups being led from one area of the wall to another. It was interesting to see that in the places where the wall wasn’t present, there were poles that had served as foundation for the wall. This really seemed to reinforce Berlin as a physical symbol for World War II. Mauerpark, German for “wall park,” was a former part of the Berlin wall. The majority of the park, now covered in trees and grass, actually used to be inside the “death zone” of the border. Now its serves as the venue for picnics, concerts, and a weekly flea market.

In order to get to the section of the wall we were going to be painting, we had to walk through the park and up a small incline. As we reached the top, a strong smell of spray paint greeted us. This part of the wall in Mauerpark, right behind a soccer stadium, serves as a place where all kinds of people can express themselves creatively. Our instructor Pekor talked to us before we began. He is the Vice President of Berlin Massive, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing Berlin youth with cultural and political education. He talked a little bit about the criminal stigma surrounding graffiti. Personally, he doesn’t see it as a criminal action. Instead, he described graffiti as a way to reclaim the city. However, graffiti in the whole of Berlin is illegal, and we were surprised to learn that it sometimes carries a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail! This itself is pretty difficult to believe, considering how rich Berlin is in its graffiti culture. Our conversation with Pekor ended with his statement that Berlin was “getting a little boring” regarding graffiti art, which he attributed to gentrification, a large concern we’ve been exploring in this class. I can definitely see how gentrification can have such a large impact on graffiti culture. The need to have “picture perfect” buildings, free of any markings that might signal “trouble,” causes more strict enforcement of graffiti regulations. However, considering the push back from the community that gentrification has been getting, I think that Berlin will long continue to be a large influence on street art culture.

Ponchos

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

To begin our workshop, we first had a small rundown of what we were going to write (Dirty Work!) and how we should handle the spray paint. We put on our protective gear—ponchos, masks, and gloves—and we each picked a letter to do. After a demonstration and a quick practice run, we each drew a quick outline of our letter. It was really great to see how different each of us drew our letters. Some were simple and understated, while others were done with a flourish. After that, Pekor came around and outlined our letters with black. We were then able to add details to our letters and color them in. We finished our masterpiece by having Pekor add finishing touches that really made it look professional.

According to Jonathan Jones in “Thierry Noir: The First Graffiti Artist Fired Up by the Berlin Wall,” the Berlin wall froze time. He claims it was “the most visible and symbolic anguish of the Cold War.” I could definitely feel this when passing by the parts of the wall with no graffiti on our way to Mauerpark. The bareness and austerity of the wall really gives a sense of anxiousness and isolation synonymous with the Cold War. As Pekor noted, graffiti—especially on the Berlin Wall—is a strong and poignant way to reclaim a space and avoid feelings of impotence that could have been felt because of the Wall. To go along with this, nothing in this particular part of the Berlin Wall is permanent—all the art will get painted over. The actual wall has become more paint than wall. In fact, on parts of it, one can see the layers and layers of paint underneath. Although this is melancholy in the fact some of the art will never be seen again, there is also something optimistic about this. Because nothing is permanent, the possibility for change is always present. The fact that thought-provoking art will never be seen again is also beautiful in its own way. The non-permanence and ever-changing characteristic of this area is also reminiscent of Berlin graffiti artist Linda’s Ex. He appeared on the Berlin graffiti scene and, according to Simon Arms in “The Heritage of Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Scene,” had “success because he communicated with and responded to his audience almost every day.” Similarly, Mauerpark converses with societal issues and events. Because it is a space reclaimed by the people of the community, they have the ability to express their own views on a society that is always changing. This is why starting dialogue using an easily accessible medium—in this case street art—is so important.

Berlin Massive II (Gutierrez)

Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez

Mauerpark reminds me of the East Side Gallery, where artists took back the Berlin Wall and the freedom that was lost in its building. Many artists were commissioned to paint something on a section of the wall that wasn’t destroyed. This is an interesting fact because, according to Arms, more traditional artists “argue that street art derives its power from being on the margins of society; only from the outside can they address problems within it.” By commissioning many artists to participate in something like this, graffiti no longer resides on the margins of society. In fact, the tours about the graffiti of the city truly illustrate how Berlin has built a culture around street art and graffiti. While other cities choose to be strict about graffiti, I feel like Berlin has definitely embraced this alternative culture.

However, if we agree with the traditionalists view of street art as getting its power from being on the edge of society, we can extend this to more than graffiti. For example, this idea of being an outsider as a positive thing that can be powerful and create change is echoed in Jürgen Lemke’s “Gay and Lesbian Life in East German Society Before and After 1989.” Here, he writes, “Being gay is an opportunity, under certain provisions of a dictator- ship it can be the door to resistance” (34). A major theme of this whole class has been just that—empowering marginalized groups so that they can embrace agency and create change for themselves. We clearly saw this when we spoke with Salma Arzouni about her work with Gladt and SAWA during the first week. We also saw this when we met with Celine Barry who works for the ADNB des TBB. Instead of being told what to do, marginalized people who work with these organizations are empowered to choose how they want to deal with a situation.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging what a unique and incredible experience it was to be able to make our mark, as transient as it was, on Berlin for the short time we were here. Self-expression is such a powerful tool that some people take for granted. It is incredible to have been here in Berlin, where people didn’t have even have the luxury of such kinds of self-expression just 30 years ago. It truly illustrates the need to take advantage of situations like this in order to be able to hear and appreciate as many voices as possible.

Berlin Massive III (Gutierrez)

Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez


Gutierrez

Jannet Gutierrez, class of 2019, is a Neuroscience major at Colorado College. She is also planning on minoring in German, having studied German all throughout high school. After going to Germany for the first time in 2014, she became interested in German culture, especially the diversity of large cities such as Berlin. At CC, she works for the Theater Department and plays the violin in the orchestra.

A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins

Jannet Gutierrez and Olivia at “I Amsterdam” [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

By Olivia Calvi

Having spent two weeks in Berlin really delving into the hidden histories of the city, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the voices we were hearing. Our class has been fortunate to meet some of the people who hold those quiet narratives, the narratives that some people never get the chance to hear. But being in Berlin has really called my attention to the voices we are not hearing. When someone thinks of Germany, they have learned to think of the Holocaust. Within each memorial lies the narrative of the collective memory that the Germans share in commemoration of the lives that were lost. I heard continuously about the guilt that the Germans experience, but it was not until I visited Amsterdam this weekend that I really felt like I had heard the individual voices of those afraid to speak for themselves. Perhaps at the time, I just wasn’t listening closely enough.

My day started very early in the morning, 4 am to be exact, as my classmate Jannet and I rushed towards Hauptbahnhof Central Station, worrying we would miss our train to the airport. Our train had, in fact, been delayed. From there, we got lost, we missed train stops, we endlessly and obliviously walked in the wrong direction, and we had to ask people for help. Through all of the chaos, I could not help but think of how excited I was to explore a new place—a new culture. Once in Amsterdam, we did some classic tourist things, like take a picture in front of the “I Amsterdam” sign, but we also indulged in local cuisine by eating Stroopwaffels—a yummy waffle dessert that everyone should try. Still, in the back of my head, I knew I was blogging about this weekend, and I kept thinking I had to do something that would have strong connections to our coursework. As it turned out, the locations I intentionally sought out were where I found the narratives I had been seeking.

Our first stop for these narratives was, of course, the Anne Frank House. Our class had been to the Anne Frank Museum in Berlin, and I wanted to be able to compare the two. However, my admittedly poor lack of planning led us to a line that stretched a few blocks, so we had to be content with just seeing the outside. By this point, Jannet and I had met up with one of her friends who had visited the museum before and was able to tell us some of what she remembered. She pointed out the nearby church tower, and told us Anne would write about the bells she could hear from down the street. She told us about a tree in the backyard that Anne could see from the window where she was hiding. A couple of years ago, the tree was found to be dying and was cut down. This was very controversial, because the tree played a huge part in Anne’s narrative.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

Without going inside, I could be sure that the museum does a very good job of accurately sharing her story, but what I couldn’t be sure about is if there are other narratives being shared. For example, we went to the museum in Berlin, we discussed whether or not memories of Anne’s story, while incredibly significant, had the power to overshadow the stories of other Holocaust victims and survivors. Our stop this weekend at the Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam made me feel as though that were true. The museum exhibit was comprised of objects and artifacts, as well as twelve interviews with Jews covering history in Amsterdam from the 1900s to present day. One of these interviews shared the stories of Jewish women whose parents died in the Holocaust. One woman described growing up as a Jewish youth in isolation, because there really were none of her people left: “We all experienced Judaism growing up, but we all experienced it in different ways.”

This quote called me back to the conversation we had just a day prior during our panel with Black German women of the Post-War generation. Then, we had the chance to speak with Marion Kraft, author “Coming in From the Cold: The Black German Experience, Past and Present.” Here, Kraft writes that in post-war Germany, “many mothers were ‘convinced’ by German authorities to have their children adopted by African-American families.” Our conversation led the panel of women to tell us how they and their friends experienced this separation of family and isolation first hand. None of them could answer the question of how the adoption process impacted the lives of Black German children, because no one narrative would be the same. The Jewish Museum was a reminder that we should not think of the world in generalizations, because that is how individual voices are forgotten.

Another of these interviews was of a Jewish man who appeared to be in his mid-70s. He spoke of how when he returned from the camps, nothing was left in Amsterdam to remind him of his home. He would go to flea markets each week, hoping to find a book from a familiar time or a photo of his father. Every week he returned to the market because his sole hope was that he could somehow be reconnected to his family. The sad fact is it took a lot for me to find this museum and hear this man’s story. I had to actively seek out these narratives, because they are held at the margins. In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden questions the validity of the way the Holocaust seems to be remembered in Germany by calling on people to look to the margins. More specifically, Linden questions “how our understanding of who the women of the Holocaust were, and how they lived, has been misshaped by fixing our gaze on the vortices of power and destruction, away from the margins.” It seemed to me that so much of the collective memory in Berlin focuses on those Germans who feel guilty for what their ancestors have done. Linden is right that many people don’t act as though we want to hear the stories of the marginalized—instead collective memory provides a space for the voice of the oppressed individual to be ignored.

The Jewish History Museum in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

Linden is not the only one who thinks women have been left out of the Holocaust narrative. Some writing on a wall in the Museum referenced three Jewish women who had a huge impact on emancipation for Jews in Amsterdam before the war. I sat down to hear the interview as I did all the rest, expecting to hear more about the accomplishments and successes of these women—to hear their stories. Instead, the interview was of a white man. I then clicked on the photos and documents section in hopes these women would be talked about. Only two of these women were pictured. The other four photographs were of white men. One of the women we spoke with during the aforementioned panel was activist and co-founder of ADEFRA, Jasmin Eding. In “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” Eding describes the purpose of her organization: “We are working on our vision to make ADEFRA a place for empowerment for women and their children, a place of comfort, a place to learn and grow, a place to heal.” ADEFRA and Linden aim to achieve what, in my opinion, the Jewish History Museum could not accomplish: substantial and intentional representation of women, of those who identify as LGBTQ, of Sinti and Roma—persecuted groups at the margins of the Holocaust.

During the panel, I asked, “Do people in Berlin feel as though they need to put all of their energy into one minority movement, or do they spread their energy around?” I know tensions about dispersing energies exist in the U.S., because of the fear that nothing will ever get done. I wanted to know how these conversations were being handled in Germany. One of our guests, Judy Gummich, responded that “it needs to be a balance of both.” She went on to say that people are so focused on their own interests, they forget about the interconnectedness that exists between minority groups. When people are only focused on the larger picture and getting things done, they forget to listen to the individuals who need their voices to be heard in order to heal. They forget it is in their own interest to help each other in their fight towards justice and equality for all. The larger narratives of collective memory and of the oppressor distract from the individual stories that have the power to change perspectives—those are the narratives that we need to seek out because they are so easily forgotten.


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.

 

Africa in Wedding: Germany’s Colonialist Past

Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez

By Jannet Gutierrez

Germany has had a very controversial history of violence and racism, the most well-known arguably being the Holocaust. However, the theory of white Germans as being the “master race” existed even before the National Socialists (Nazis) came to power. Our tour of Wedding, led by Josephine Apraku, truly shed light on the history of racism in Germany and revealed a commonly untold narrative by specifically focusing on German colonialism in Africa. This tour, which began at the intersection of Ghanastraße and Swakopmunder Straße, examined the history of German colonialism especially in the context of the street signs located around Wedding. A quick outline of Wedding: this part of Berlin consists of twenty-two streets and one square. The houses around Ghanastraße were meant to be nice and affordable housing for individuals and families with low incomes, but as Josephine pointed out, many people with higher incomes now live there. The streets in Wedding, especially around Afrikanische Straße, have names that are connected to German colonialism; for example, the first and second streets named were titled after the first and second colonies that were occupied by Germany—Kameruner Straße (Cameroon) and Togostraße (Togo).

Due to the lack of discussion about the colonialism period here in Germany, I was surprised to learn that Germany was the third largest colonizer in Africa. They had colonies in Africa and parts of Asia. As Josephine explained to us, one main reason for Germany to want to become a colonizing power was its increasing population. Germany felt the need to cater to their growing population and expand. This led to the colonization of places such as Namibia, of which Josephine talked about in more depth. For instance, she mentioned the influential role white German women played in the settling of Namibia. On the surface, they were sent to bring ethics and German morals (tugend) to the colony. They also had more freedom economically and politically. However, disturbingly (yet unsurprisingly), they were primarily there to ensure the birth of white babies. In other words, they were there to prevent the mixing between white Germans and Namibians and to preserve the “purity” of German whites. This feeling of competition led the German women to be hostile towards the African women, who they viewed as opponents. These white women felt and expressed no solidarity with those women in Namibia. This was very powerful for me to think about, because white women in the colony, although having more freedom than their counterparts in Germany, were still oppressed. However, instead of helping, they contributed to the oppression of African women, and by doing this, they contributed to their own oppression as well. Of course, there were still some Black babies being born. Because of this, as Josephine recounted, in 1907, the German government passed a law that refused German citizenship to anyone “with a drop of Black blood.” This same racist belief was also prevalent in Nazi Germany. As Marion Kraft points out in “Coming in from the Cold: The Black German Experience, Past and Present,” “Racial politics during World War II and the postwar years, in particular, have reinforced the notion of a racially homogenous society” (2). There was a strong belief that German was a race, as well resistance against mixing of races. This belief was clearly also seen, and perhaps even began, in the colonial era.

Because of the occupancy by Germans and the harsh treatment of the Namibian people, colonialism in Namibia was soon met with resistance. German soldiers responded this resistance by taking Namibian land and sending Namibians out to the desert. The ones that did not die from starvation or dehydration were brought back and put into a concentration camp. Although not meant to be death camps like the infamous Auschwitz during the Third Reich, these Namibians faced hard labor and a low food supply. As many as 60% of the population died from these harsh conditions. What was even more difficult for me to hear was the fact that after the death of some of the prisoners, the women would be forced to take sharp glass and cut the skin of the corpses away from the bones. The bones would then be taken to different universities and used for experimentation and for studies that attempted to prove scientific racism. This ideology, similar to ethnology, “attempted to link physical characteristics with intellectual and cultural ones,” as May Ayim notes in “Racism, Sexism, and Precolonial Images of Africa in Germany” (7). For me, this was reminiscent of eugenics. This is especially true when taking into account the attempted prevention of the “mixing” between white Germans and Namibian natives.

Apraku II (Gutierrez)

Clockwise from Top Left: Ryan Garcia, Annie Zlevor, Josephine Apraku, Liza Bering, Hailey Corkery, Nora Holmes, and Talia Silverstein [Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez]

In “Afro-Germans after 1945: The So-Called Occupation Babies,” Ayim defined racism as “an ideology that empowers one group to dominate economically, politically, and socially and to impose its own standards on others” (82). This is clearly seen happening in Namibia and other parts occupied by Germany and other imperial countries. I was hesitant to compare the racism in the United States to the racism in Germany for fear of minimizing or even invalidating the distinct experiences of Black Germans and Black Americans. However, it could be valuable to compare the reactions and ways that the countries themselves deal with historical and contemporary racism. Mainly, it was interesting—and very disappointing—to see how both countries on a “state” level, although acknowledging slavery and colonialism (usually to what I would consider a “small” extent), have failed to fully engage how the past has influenced racism today. For example, there are parallels between the controversy surrounding both the display of the confederate flag in the U.S., and the controversy of the street names in Wedding in Berlin.

There have been several initiatives to change the name of the streets—especially those like Petersallee and Lüderitz Straße—to names that commemorate Black individuals. However, because many residents are conservative and against the changes and because there are different opinions of what to change the street names to, this has not yet been accomplished. Josephine cited two reasons as to why it was hard to find alternative names for streets. For the changes to appease everyone, the jury discussing the potential changes has decided that white Germans would have to be able to easily pronounce the names of the people that the streets would be dedicated to and also that those people for whom the new streets would be named have to be internationally known. Considering the very western-centric view that many people in the world unquestioningly have, filling just these two criteria with Black activists has proven to be quite a challenge.

Still, there have been some initiatives to change the street names that have been successful, at least to an extent. For example, Josephine told us the story of Petersallee, named after Carl Peters, well known for his violent racist attitudes and behaviors during colonialism. However, it was rededicated to Hans Peter, who was known for helping Jewish people during the Third Reich. It is interesting that the narrative of colonialism—a narrative that strongly needs to be told—is cloaked behind the narrative of the Holocaust. I have noticed that the city of Berlin itself is in a way almost a monument to the horror of the Holocaust and the strong conviction that something like this can never happen again. And yet, conversations about colonialism have only recently begun to take form in mainstream society. In fact, an example of the disparity between which events Germany (many of its residents and the government) is both willing and unwilling to acknowledge in the public view is our last stop on our tour. Josephine showed us a plaque with information about German colonialism. There was graffiti present on one side of the plaque, some of which were partly covering a few words. Josephine mentioned that the government cares for the plaques that commemorate the Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust, so there is clean-up of any graffiti that might be present. However, this plaque is funded privately, and so does not get the same treatment.

Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez

I want to conclude by noting that today, the influence of German colonialism is present in Namibia. Out of two million Namibian citizens, the 20,000 that are of German descent own 80% of the land. Also, the German language is commonly spoken there. However, despite the violent past of Germans in Namibia, the German government has failed to offer reparations for the Namibian people. Some argue that they already pay Namibia in the form of aid. However, that is not the same as acknowledging a violent colonial past. It is important for Germany, both the government and the German people, to acknowledge their role in colonialism and to strive towards a united Germany in which violence and discrimination against people of color is no longer an issue. In that way, Germany and the United States are very much alike.


Photo Credit: Jannet Gutierrez

Jannet Gutierrez, class of 2019, is a Neuroscience major at Colorado College. She is also planning on minoring in German, having studied German all throughout high school. After going to Germany for the first time in 2014, she became interested in German culture, especially the diversity of large cities such as Berlin. At CC, she works for the Theater Department and plays the violin in the orchestra.