Some Final Thoughts on the 2017 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Zlevor)

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

By Annie Zlevor

Throughout this trip, I encountered many difficult questions that I have been struggling to answer. After three weeks of exploring Berlin, meeting with local activists, visiting museums, and attending walking tours, I find myself only a little closer to understanding their answers. More often than not, my experiences have left me with new questions, wishing I could spend more time in Berlin. On my final day in the city, I would like to consider these questions and reflect on how my recent experiences have allowed me to more critically examine them. I hope to apply what I have learned in the course and continue furthering my understanding of identities, forms of oppression, and memorials.

First, I want to consider our navigation of identities and subjectivities. How do we see ourselves and acknowledge how others see us? This question has helped me reflect more deeply on my own positionality and how society chooses to perceive it. In the spaces I have been welcomed into during this trip, it was important for me to understand how my own experiences exist in relation to the experiences of others. Having a greater awareness of this has better enabled me to listen critically and appreciate the narratives people share. Therefore, I discovered that my primary role ought to be that of a curious listener. This blog serves as an extension of this curiosity and as an ongoing attempt to understand the marginalized communities of Berlin and my role in it.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

After speaking with local activists, I began to question how and when people decide to confront forms of oppression and when they choose to affirm or challenge stereotypes. These questions reminded me of our “Rethinking Masculinities” panel and our discussion with Post-War Generation Black German Women. Spending time with Black and Turkish activists in Berlin has allowed me to better understand how individuals chose to deal with racism and sexism. While each experience is unique to the individual, it was clear that in their navigation of public space, they are never divorced from activism. As Musa Okwonga plainly stated, “You’re Black all the time in Berlin.” And although it is the Afro-German’s right not be discriminated against and exhibit self-determination, they must to spend their life in opposition to racism. They are not getting paid to spend their time confronting oppression, yet the burden so greatly lies on them.

How people choose to confront different forms of oppression also reminded me of our discussion with Salma Arzouni about their work with Gladt and SAWA. I felt that Salma consciously and efficiently navigated what needed to be achieved in their own fight against racism and sexism. Although it is exhausting work, it seems as if they effectively prioritize their goals when trying to combat oppression in a community. As someone who works day and night to support queer communities in Berlin, Salma has to carefully decided how to spend their time. They described the sacrifices they had to make in order to achieve their short-term initiatives. For example, instead of spending their time arguing with the local government at the risk of receiving cuts to Gladt’s government funding, Salma decided to temporarily halt a particular kind of political activism. For the sake of Gladt, Salma now chooses to spend that time helping queer people secure a permanent place to live. While this achievement might not seem monumental to some, it is life-changing for those people who now have a place to sleep at night.

Memorial in Schöneberg (Mills)

Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]

Additionally, after visiting many museums and memorials, I hope to gain a greater understanding of how certain histories have been told. I personally need to take more time to consider who writes these stories. More specifically, I want to understand the implications for those who speak for themselves and those who are being spoken for. Also, it was important for me to learn more about what groups of people were involved in the creation of Jewish memorials. I was curious if Jewish-Germans often gave input on their construction and who decided what to include in it. As Sabine Offe writes in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “We do not know whether individuals, confronted with the obligation to remember, do indeed remember what they are supposed to” (79). However, while some forms of remembrance can be more accurate than others, figuring out a way to accurately commemorate an event such as the Holocaust is beyond complicated and nearly impossible to accomplish. As a result, I am reminded of the importance of looking at historical sites more critically. This causes me to further question how we decide to honor a community that is not monolithic. For instance, I hope to better understand how a memorial can erase the individual experiences of a population. As R. Ruth Linden describes in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” a generalized representation of a group of people “fails to be accountable to lives that are actually lived: situated in bodies with limited means of making sense of…world-historic events in which they participate as…cultural subjects” (27). As a result, this adds another layer to the complexities of memorials and how people choose to represent communities. I hope that we more often attempt to honor the experiences of individuals since it can be easy to erase these differences when trying to honor an entire group.

Unlike most of the Jewish memorials, there were two important instances during our trip where I noticed groups of people deliberately telling their own story: the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (FHXB) Museum and the Roma and Sinti Historical Walking Tour. The FHXB Museum exhibit was a collaborative piece that the local community came together to create. They directly told the history of the district where generations of their own families grew up. I felt this participatory exhibit was representative of strong community relationships and also much more effective in the telling the histories they chose to portray. Additionally, the Roma and Sinti walking tour did much of the same work. The Roma high school students who led the tour self-organized and researched all the material presented. Further, when I asked the students what their parents thought about the tours they were giving, they responded, smiling: “Our families are very proud.” The energy and passion the students exhibited on the tour I feel could have been easily lost if non-Roma and Sinti people led it.

Roma and Sinti Memorial (Zlevor)

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]

Lastly, after three weeks of listening to and engaging with marginalized people in Berlin, I am left wondering how I can take what I have learned out into the world. Firstly, I hope to do this by recognizing the importance of going beyond academic work. While reading and discussing articles and books are beneficial in developing a basic understand of the material, the practical application of Feminist and Gender Studies outside the classroom is a hard-fought war. By spending time both inside and outside the classroom, I feel as if I can most effectively support marginalized communities and become more consciously aware of their situation. As Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti describe in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” if people understand the complexities of human relationships, this subsequently “drives them toward solidarity with outcasts and emboldens them to a collective struggle against the oppressors” (89). I feel my future goal must be to join this collective struggle. By knowing my place and understanding my own identity in relation to others, I feel as if I can do this and support marginalized groups in their fight against forms of oppression.

Cheers

Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis

2017 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Click here to view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see even more pictures and videos!

#FemGeniusesInBerlin 2017: Our First Two Days” by Hailey Corkery
Taking Down The Wall of Religious Intolerance: Jewish History in Berlin” by Olivia Calvi
Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni: Representation in Political Social Work” by Nora Holmes
The Anne Frank Museum and It’s Place in Contemporary Germany” by Liza Bering
The Told and Untold Stories of Berlin: A Walk-Through History” by Talia Silverstein
Navigating White Spaces: An Intersectional Analysis of Activist Work by Men of Color” by Ryan Garcia
Africa in Wedding: Germany’s Colonial Past” by Jannet Gutierrez
A Young Jew’s First Week in Berlin” by Nikki Mills
A Permanent Home for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s History: The FHXB Museum” by Annie Zlevor
The Porajmos: The Hidden Narratives of the Roma and Sinti” by Hailey Corkery
Writing Ourselves into the Discourse: The Legacies of Audre Lorde and May Ayim” by Nikki Mills
A Day in Amsterdam: Seeking the Voices at the Margins” by Olivia Calvi
‘Nobody Flees Without a Reason’: A Walk Through Berlin’s Queer History” by Ryan Garcia
Memorialization: The Past in the Present and Why it is Important Today” by Liza Bering
ADNB des TBB: Intersectionality and Empowerment in Anti-Discrimination Support Work” by Nora Holmes
Mauerpark: Graffiti as Art” by Jannet Gutierrez

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here


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.

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.