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.

#FemGeniusesInBerlin 2017: Our First Two Days

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

By Hailey Corkery

After a long ten hours (or more for some) of travel, we had finally arrived in Berlin. The new city greeted our jet lag and fatigue with cool temperatures and pouring rain as we stepped off the plane. The ten of us, a group of Colorado College students with varying degrees of interest in Feminist & Gender Studies, gathered after claiming our bags, most of us meeting for the first time.

After a while of driving through streets of mostly earth-toned buildings, looking especially drab due to the weather, the van eventually pulled up to a bright orange structure: The Happy Hostel. At our temporary home, we met our professor, Heidi R. Lewis, and course associate, Dana Maria Asbury. Over the next three weeks, they will be taking us through many different tours and activities in order to teach us about how identities of marginalized people are constructed in Germany.

Once we settled into our new temporary home, we fought the urge to sleep by starting our required readings and films. Of the six analytical pieces, two really resonated with me: Sabine Offe’s “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany” was one of them. Here, Offe discusses how Jewish museums are used as both physical sights and institutions for their visitors to access the memory of Jewish relations in Germany, as well as for German visitors to deal with secondhand guilt. These ideas were very new to me and were especially intriguing due to my Jewish heritage. I had always been on the other side of the conflict, related to a victim, rather than being a part of the “guilty” third-generation. Because of this, I only thought of Jewish museums as places of mourning and remembrance. I had never thought about how museums serve as places for very different things for those affected (a place to remember what happened to them or their loved ones) and those who are or feel responsible (a place to deal with secondhand guilt).

Another piece that was particularly memorable to me was “We Don’t Want To Be the Jews of Tomorrow”: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11” by Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann. This work discusses the inter-ethnic relations between minorities and immigrants—specifically Jews and Turks—in Germany, which I was not previously informed about. This reading forced me to think about how unaware Americans generally are of other nations’ inequalities and power relations. Our country is very focused on itself, and our media is filled with mostly American politics, stories, and events. Many other countries, however, are informed about most of the issues occurring in America. This reflects extremely poorly on the U.S., and makes me question our media’s priorities regarding the distribution of information.

The two films also had an impact on me, especially The Holocaust: What the Allies Knew. This documentary analyzes World War II, and presents evidence of the allies’ early awareness of genocide, examining why they often did not do anything to stop it. Though I had learned about World War II in high school, the curriculum never mentioned anything about the allies’ prior knowledge of concentration camps. I found this information extremely shocking and disturbing, and I also reflected a lot about how it is rarely discussed. A lot of history that casts a country in a bad light is not included in our schools’ curricula, which is problematic because it tells a false narrative and continues to add to the cycle incorrect information being fed to the American people.

Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

After doing some work and resting at the hostel for a while, the group got together to look for food. We hopped on the (somewhat confusing) public transportation and headed toward a neighborhood called Kreuzberg. While exploring the area to find a restaurant, we stumbled upon a large crowd of people listening to live music. We got closer to see what it was for, and discovered that we had ended up at Berlin’s Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures). The carnival included multiple stages, bars, activities for children, and dozens of food stands filled with cuisine from around the world. It also featured a parade that celebrated different cultures, which we, unfortunately, did not get to see. Despite missing out on that, we spent our first night exploring the festival, eating amazing food, and getting to know Berlin and its people a little better (while also getting to know each other).

The next day we traveled to Heidi’s flat to discuss our expectations for the course. Though most students’ hopes for the class were similar to those of Heidi and Dana and each other, many people had at least one personal learning experience they wanted to get out of the class. One talked about how their goal was to learn more about queerness and the white washing of the LGBTQIA+ community in Germany. Another wished to find out more about racism in Germany and how it manifests itself in Berlin, which led us to discuss global racism and how Americans and United States media are so focused on their own country that many people from the U.S. are unaware of inequalities and events occurring elsewhere. My biggest expectation was to learn about what it’s like working for a non-profit organization when we visit some during the course, since I have interest in the field.  We also talked about our expectations for Heidi and Dana. We let them know that we expect them to be understanding and supportive both regarding the course and not.

The expectations mentioned were not solely about the academic course; some regarded the experience of travelling abroad with a group. There was a discussion about sharing space, both with the citizens of Berlin and the members of our group. Multiple people mentioned an extremely important factor: discomfort due to privilege. As Americans, no matter how oppressed each of us may or may not be back in the States, we automatically have a certain privilege in Germany. For example, most of us do not know German, but most Germans know English. As Americans, we can walk into places of business and other German spaces speaking English with few problems, if any at all; we will most likely be able to communicate with the employees without even trying to speak their first language. This privilege we have as Americans, as many different privileges often do, may make us feel guilty or uncomfortable while we are here in Berlin. Another causation of our discomfort as Americans comes from being stereotyped by Germans due to the current political climate in the United States. We may at times feel extremely guilty; the looks or attitudes Europeans give us may convey that they think we personally agree with the decisions President Trump has made. This discomfort is and will be a challenge for us to deal with, but everyone in the group agreed that it is something we need to and will embrace in order to fully appreciate our experiences here.

Photo Credit: Ryan Garcia

A few hours after class ended, we met Heidi and Dana at the Berlin Fernsehturm, also known as TV Tower. We were given the amazing opportunity of eating dinner in a restaurant towards the top of the structure. This restaurant was inside of a revolving sphere that rotated 360º per hour. This movement, along with the large windows by our tables, allowed us to see a bird’s-eye view of Berlin from all angles. Though the weather was rainy and cloudy, the city was still visible and spectacular to see from so high up. I have never been to Berlin before and honestly did not know much about it before arriving here, so this gave me a better sense of both how the city is laid out and how beautiful it really is. Our group was unfortunately split up between two tables, but it was nice to get to know half of the group a little bit better over an incredible meal.

After this dinner and every other activity from the first few days, I feel like I know everyone extremely well considering the amount of time I have known them. The beginning of this trip has been so fun and rewarding, and has only made me more excited for what is to come!


Hailey is a rising sophomore at Colorado College from the Washington, D.C. area. She plans to major in Sociology and minor in Feminist and Gender Studies. At CC, she is part of Students Against Sexual Assault (SASS) and Ellement, an all-women acapella group. This is her first course with Heidi and first time in Berlin, and she is extremely excited for all the learning and exploring to come with this experience.

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Wannsee Lake, Theorizing Race and Racism, and the Carnival of Cultures: Our Second Weekend in Berlin

Lake

Melissa and Casey on the Wannsee Lake Beach

Our second weekend in Berlin was eventful but also relaxing, which was deliberate. I planned to wake up late (but still early) on Saturday to go to Wannsee Lake with some of the FemGeniuses. However, I (thankfully) didn’t wake up until 11 am, and didn’t leave for the lake until 1 pm, arriving around 2 pm. Melissa, Kadesha, Casey, Stefani, Ximena, and Nicole had already arrived and had taken quite a few dips in the lake already. I bought a slushie and sat on the beach only to enter the water a short while later to watch Melissa, Kadesha, and Casey go down the slide a few times. The water was nice, but I didn’t get too wet. I really came mostly for the pedal boats.

Boating

Nicole and Kadesha on the Pedal Boat

Nicole, Kadesha and I waited about 30 minutes for our chance to ride—Melissa, Ximena, Stefani, and Casey opted out, but we had so much fun! It was so relaxing, even with the pedaling! I can’t wait to come back next summer and pedal boat with Tony, AJ, and Chase! We rented the boat for an hour but only boated for about 30-40 minutes, but we all could honestly see how someone would spend a whole hour out on the water wading around with the other boaters, the ducks, and the swans—yes, swans!

Tipica

Casey and Melissa Sharing at Tipica

An hour or so later, Melissa, Kadesha, Casey, and I had dinner at Tipica, which was pretty good. Stefani, who left the lake early, and Blaise also joined us. I had a pretty awesome Mexican Fizz drink—not sure what was in it—and some nice beef tacos. Yummy to the tummy, indeed, but definitely not cheap. Haha! Still, I was full enough to go back to my apartment and get some good shut eye.

Hatef

Hatef Soltani of CrossPoint

I woke up a bit earlier on Sunday to meet with Nadine Saeed of the Oury Jalloh Initiative, along with Hatef Soltani and Mahdiyeh Kalhori of CrossPoint, in order to discuss racism and justice in the U.S.. Nadine also invited Beril to discuss racism and justice in Turkey. I was honored that we were invited by Nadine to be part of this documentary, because I’ve become more committed to transnational theoretical, pedagogical, and artistic activism (not in that order and inextricably linked, at least for me), and talking with her has been a large part of that deeper commitment.

I spoke at length about Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Marissa Alexander in order to communicate the necessity of intersectional analyses and activism. As a theoretical activist, I find it troubling when, especially within “liberal” and “progressive” communities, people denigrate theory in an effort to communicate the necessity of action. For instance, sometimes my audiences, including my students, grow frustrated when they ask what they can “do” to affect change, and I respond that theorizing is one of the most important things that can be done in response to injustice.

Nadine

Nadine Watching CrossPoint TV

Theory is simply a way of thinking about, understanding, and explaining the world. And it’s my contention that theory killed Trayvon Martin and Oury Jalloh. This same theory sentenced Marissa Alexander to 20 years for self-defense. Of course, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. And the police killed Oury Jalloh. And the United States legal system sentenced Marissa Alexander. However, those murders and that sentencing would not have been possible without white supremacist heteropatriarchal theories about Black and Brown bodies and lives, theories that suggest that these bodies are not worthy of love, affection, and protection, theories that suggest that these lives don’t matter and that they’re not worth saving. George Zimmerman began to name himself as Latino, especially during and after the trial, but that still does not exempt him from this theoretical framework. Only this kind of thinking would allow Zimmerman to see Trayvon Martin as inherently dangerous and violent because of his gender, his race, and his clothing. Only this kind of thinking would allow someone to see Marissa Alexander as anything other than a victim during her trial.

Beril at Oury Jalloh

Beril at Oury Jalloh

I was also quite interested in Beril’s narrative about her own struggles as a young Turkish woman studying in the United States. I was particularly intrigued by her relatively recent realization that uniting in struggle is one of the most important ways in which we can fight injustice, because isolated and disjointed communities are a strong tactic of those that are invested in our subjugation. I also appreciated learning more about the struggles Turkish communities face, especially pertaining to migration and the demonstrations last summer in Gezi Park. I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome of this conversation, because all of the CrossPoint videos I have watched—earlier today and since returning to my apartment—have been terrifying and powerful.

Carnival

Carnival of Cultures 2014

After the interview, Celine and I went to the Carnival of Cultures to watch some of the parade. The Carnival is held from June 6-8 around Pentecost, and is organized by Philippa Ebéné, Executive and Artistic Director of the Werkstatt der Kulturen. Celine and I had fun taking in some Caipirinhas and talking about politics, as we love to do with each other, but we couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming sea of white faces at the parade. Black attendees were scant, and so were Black participants in the parade (at least the short part we saw). Both of us are fully aware that there are plenty white folks in many parts of Africa, but we also wondered why there were few Black African folks marching in decidedly African parts of the parade. I don’t know enough about the Carnival or the parade or Berlin or Germany—and we only stayed for a few hours—to provide a salient analysis of the “goings on,” but I am interested in learning more about the history of the Carnival, which is more than 60 years old, and its relationship with the culture of Berlin, including all of its migrant communities. Along these lines, I was made aware of some racism that Philippa has faced while planning the Carnival, and I’m eager to learn more about the role that has played in the organizing process. Perhaps I’ll write more about this next summer…lots to ponder.

Me at WannseeUntil next time,

Heidi