This podcast—led and produced by Kai Mesman-Hallman—provides some final reflections on the Block 4 2017 section of Hidden Spaces, Hidden Narratives: Intersectionality Studies in Berlinwith Professor Heidi R. Lewis. Throughout the block, the #FemGeniusesinBerlin have taken walking tours, visited museums and cultural centers, and met with activists and artists in the city to conduct situated examinations of how the identities of marginalized people and communities in Germany (especially in Berlin)—such as Black Germans, Turkish Germans, migrants, refugees, victims of Neo-Nazi terrorism and police brutality, and LGBTQI communities—are constructed, particularly how these constructions are dependent on racism, heterosexism, colonialism, imperialism, and other forms of oppression. Additionally, we examined how these communities resist, reject, revise, and reproduce these narratives as they construct their own subjectivities.
Kai is a junior at Colorado College majoring in Psychology, and is originally from San Diego, CA. She is especially interested in consciousness and the ways our brains’ processing and collecting information can shape our beliefs and thoughts. She spends her free time with her dog and watching conspiracy theory videos.
Joining Kai in her discussion are Uma Scharf—a Baltimore, MD native and junior at Colorado College majoring in Neuroscience, and Drew Ceglinski—a Bath, ME native and junior at Colorado College majoring in Geology.
Block 4 2017 FemGeniuses in Berlin Podcast Index:
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This podcast—led and produced by Maya Littlejohn—examines our session with Peggy Piesche, Maisha Eggers, and Katja Kinder of Generation ADEFRA. In the mid-1980s, a group of Black women activists were brought together in Berlin by self-described “Black lesbian mother warrior poet” Audre Lorde (1934-1992) and inspired to found the initiative ADEFRA: Black Women in Germany. Additionally, historian and founding member Katharina Oguntoye “points to the complexity of the task of not only bringing together previously relatively isolated Black women in Germany with their sometimes very differently developed vital interests, but also to keep them together in the long run.”
Photo Credit: Maya Littlejohn
Maya Littlejohn is a junior at Colorado College majoring in Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies and minoring in Political Science. She’s originally from Brooklyn, New York. During her free time, Maya is involved in the President’s Council and works for Attorney Jarrett Adams at the Innocence Project. On her good days, you’re likely to find herin a sunny spot sketching and binge watching MSNBC.
Photo Credit: Maya Littlejohn
Joining Maya in her discussion are D. Adams—a Memphis, TN native and junior at Colorado College majoring in Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies, and Atiya Harvey—a Washington, DC native and a senior at Colorado College majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies.
NOTE: The featured image photo credit also belongs to Maya Littlejohn.
CORRECTION:Farbe bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out) was co-edited by Katharina Oguntoye, May (Opitz) Ayim, and Dagmar Schultz.
Our last Friday morning was especially colorful. The FemGenuises met in a familiar setting, Mauerpark, for a Graffiti workshop with Berlin Massive. Our instructor, Pekor Gonzles, gave us a little history lesson before we began. Mauerpark translates to “Wall Park,” so called because the site was formerly part of the Berlin Wall, specifically its Death Strip. “Right here was where you got shot,” Gonzales recounted about the once heavily-guarded area. Today, the Mauerpark is one of the city’s green spaces, very popular with young people. We had experienced this for ourselves the Sunday before, lying in the field next to the Mauerpark Flea Market, where we saw lots of people our age laughing, playing basketball, and picnicking in the grass. Often, performers take advantage of the laid-back setting, and the amphitheater’s karaoke draws large crowds every Sunday afternoon.
Graffiti is now legal on this remaining strip of wall, which is covered in bright, beautiful designs that change from day to day. Still, while Berlin has come to be known for its graffiti, Gonzales explained that it is still considered a young movement. The oldest people he knows who participate are around forty-five. This is because modern graffiti, popularized in the subways of New York City in the 1960s, did not really appear in Berlin until the late 1970s. He also tells us that graffiti culture has always been competitive, with artists writing over each other striving to create the largest, boldest tags. But it has also been inclusive. Anyone with talent can have their works recognized. For example, as Simon Arms writes in “The Heritage of Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Scene,” the first graffiti artists in Germany “weren’t ‘real’ Berliners, but outsiders: draft resisters, anarchist punks and Turkish migrants. They either opened businesses or formed squats and, with no resistance from the West German government, began turning walls into monuments to their own thoughts and beliefs.”
Because graffiti is largely anonymous, it can be used as a sort of secret code between the artist and her community. Thierry Noir is thought to be one of the first to do this, using the Berlin Wall as a canvas for his cartoonish creations. Influenced by classic painters such as Pablo Picasso, as well as pop-culture icons like Lou Reed and David Bowie, Noir left colorful, blocky images that represented the resistance to the dark shadows cast by the Cold War. Noir and Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet began painting in April 1984 and continued without pause until “the fall” in November 1989. In “Thierry Noir: The First Graffiti Artist Fired Up by the Berlin Wall,” Jonathan Jones writes, “The end of the Wall in 1989 was a sunny day for humanity. But in its monstrous strangeness, this scar running through a city had provided artists, novelists, musicians and film-makers with a dark subject matter and surreal inspiration so often lacking in the safe, consumerist world of the postwar democracies.” Traces of his work are still visible at the East Side Gallery of the Wall.
Graffiti has historically reflected the fringes of a community, voicing their concerns and forcing the minorities in control to listen to the majority. The goal of this re-purposed stretch of the Berlin Wall was to “make something against racism and for equality,” Gonzales told us. He added, “We are trying to create something accessible to everybody to improve the city.” Since street art originated in the inner city, it has a long multi-cultural background and has often contained anti-racist messages, used to transform spaces from oppressive to liberating for the people within. Its non-traditional form gives it more room for innovation than other art forms as well as inviting deep contemplation. Along these lines, according to Arms, modern street artist Mein Lieber Prost, “positions his characters to look like they are taking in their surroundings, laughing aloud at something happening right at that moment. It is natural, then, on seeing Prost’s characters pointing at them, for people to wonder what the joke is, asking themselves: is it me? Each character forces passersby to question their surroundings and (hopefully, if they don’t want to leave paranoid) to find a satisfactory answer.”
After hearing the history of street art in Berlin, it was thrilling to try it for ourselves. Gonzales gave us a brief tutorial on how to hold the cans of spray paint, and cloaked in protective ponchos, masks, and gloves, we went straight to work. Although I do think I improved by the end of the session, graffiti is much harder than it looks. Getting a clear, straight line requires a swift, steady hand that always knows exactly where to go next. Gonzales’ talent and style after years of experience was fascinating to watch. When showing us how to make a letter he drew a magnificent “S,” shrugged and said, “This is just the classic kind of flourish an artist would add to a letter, but I’m sure you can get more creative than that.” Afterwards, he outlined the entire background in thirty seconds. Each of us had our own letter to design and lots of background to fill in. Without trying, our piece came together as a rainbow of color.
For our design, the FemGeniuses semi-ironically decided to paint the phrase “Stay Woke” adorned with a hash tag and two large exclamation points to give each student their own letter or symbol to paint. Behind the rainbow letters are purple clouds and rain, a tribute to Prince, who died this past April. His legacy as a musician, defying traditional conventions of race, gender, and sexuality, is one we were all excited to honor. Underneath the clouds are pieces of a broken island with the ground underneath revealed to be multi-colored. We never discussed the exact symbolism of the piece, but it lends itself to the interpretation of the passer-by. On either side are the designs of Chase and AJ Lewis, two emerging artists with very different styles. The design turned out beautifully, in large part thanks to Pekor’s finishing touches, and we were all in awe of the result. To think, the FemGeniuses of 2016 have our own section of the Berlin Wall! By next year, the message will be entirely painted over but the layers of paint remain a part of the wall itself along with so many others.
In the evening we gathered at the docks for our final farewell cruise. Dressing up, for the first time since our group dinner on the first Monday of class, gave the whole trip the kind of circular feel that I relish, and everyone seemed relaxed and happy once again. On the boat, we talked, laughed, and reminisced in between a few facts delivered intermittently by the automated tour’s loudspeaker. Over fruity summer cocktails, we watched the sun go down and cool breeze set in, and I relished the bittersweet feeling of knowing I’d never be in Berlin for the same reason or with the same people ever again. I thought back to some of my favorite moments:
Heidi and Amanda doing the cupid shuffle in front of the Berlin TV Tower the first night;
the exhilaration on the first Friday of listening to the women of Generation ADERFA 2.0 poeticize their experiences;
crowding around long tables, postponing the confusion of trying to pay for a large group meal entirely in cash;
Having met so many brave, intelligent, passionate people in the last few weeks, I am inspired to try to be more heroic in my own life. On this trip I’ve learned that fighting oppression requires determination and the ability to think critically about one’s society but most of all it requires heart. Building communities out of compassion and empathy is essential for the well-being of humanity and ourselves. I leave Berlin knowing that my experiences here and the people I’ve made connections with will fuel a lifetime of activism.
2016 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index: Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.
To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here.
Claudia Harrison is a senior Classics–History–Politics major from Washington, D.C. Her second day of college, she decided to spend the next four years trying to understand all of human history and thought. While she’s still actively failing at this task, she believes taking her first Feminist and Gender Studies class this summer may be a step in the right direction. In her free time, she can be found reading obsessively, over-analyzing TV shows, and boring her friends with useless facts about everything.
Waking up this morning was surprisingly not as difficult as I had thought it would be. I willed myself to stay awake yesterday despite all of the naps I almost took while riding the U-Bahn. As I reflect on my first week in Berlin, I am baffled by how much history and how many narratives I have been given the privilege to hear and learn about. I was particularly excited for today’s class, since we were going to learn more about Generation ADEFRA 2.0. ADEFRA, an organization based in Germany that was created in 1986 by six Black lesbian German women, focuses on the empowerment of Black women. According to Jasmin Eding in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” the word ADEFRA means “’the woman who shows courage’ in the Ethiopian language, Amharean” (131). In a few words, the organization enables Black women to explore what it means to be Black in a predominantly White German society. The organization has had a tremendous impact on various Black communities in Germany, and I was excited to engage in dialogue with three of its most influential members.
Upon our arrival, Cheanna, Amy, and I were warmly greeted at the door of Begine by Peggy Piesche. Piesche is a Black lesbian women who was born and raised in East Germany, staying, as she put it, “until the bitter end.” Peggy works in education, more specifically in Literature Studies, European Studies, and Diaspora Studies,, among other subjects. As we sat down, the entire class began to trickle into the room. Then came Dr. Maisha Eggers. Eggers was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. She migrated to Germany where she does social work and various forms of education, such as Gender Studies. Finally, Katja Kinder joined our group. Kinder is from Berlin, where she works as a conflict mediator and counselor. She is also a founding member of ADEFRA. With the addition of a couple more chairs, we all sat and began to simply talk to one another.
Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers were all brought together through ADEFRA. As they began to talk about their involvement with the organization, each of these individuals expressed a lack of language they felt before they found ADEFRA. ADEFRA flourished into a safe space for Black women and gender non-conforming individuals. They each emphasized how vital it was and continues to be to come together as a collective and work from a creative space in order to define who they are on their own terms by creating safe spaces, sharing knowledge and experiences, and articulating these knowledges and experiences. For example, both Piesche and Kinder shared with the group how, as lesbian Black women, they had to come out in many ways. Additionally, Eggers expressed how difficult it was for her believing she was one of few Black woman in Germany. ADEFRA became a space in which they could begin to create language that allowed them to define and explore their intersectional identities. Kinder recalled during the inception of ADEFRA how members searched the street for Black women, handing out hand-made flyers and encouraging these women to attend meetings by word of mouth.
Thirty years later, the room I now sat in, still remains a safe place for these Black women of Germany. As they shared their stories, I felt incredibly privileged and honored to have been invited into the physical meeting place where ADEFRA holds their meetings. Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers recounted the challenges of being Black in a White society, particularly during the 1980’s. Along these lines, Kinder also explained how the building next door remains a living space exclusively for lesbian women. Over the course of the past week, we have continually heard about the isolation that many Black Germans experienced, especially in 1980s Germany. While I could in no way begin to comprehend what it must have felt like to grow up being completely isolated, I can identify with the need for a safe space. At a predominately white institutions, such as Colorado College, many of my peers who identify as women of color and I have found it tremendously difficult to claim a safe space that is our own. I never imagined how emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting isolation could be. On that note, Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers stressed the importance of coming together collectively. As Eggers stated, “If you are dealing with oppression…there is no way you are going to do that in a place of isolation.” Thus, collective spaces play an important role in the creation of languages. Through these created languages, marginalized groups are able to define themselves and their experiences. However, with the creation of language comes the danger of it being consumed by mainstream culture. Along these lines, Kinder warned, “It is not me anymore as soon as it goes mainstream.” Thus, these safe spaces are imperative to members in communities to connect with one another and keep these languages and images of themselves. In this way, a collective and creative space can lead to collective reflection. Further, as ADEFRA continues to thrive, it has become a multi-generational organization. Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers lovingly call themselves the “queer aunts” of ADEFRA.
We later delved into a conversation about heteronormativity, a creation of colonialism. Piesche discussed how queerness has been “cannibalized” by the white world, which replaces itself as the original. People of color, who identify as queer, are then looked at in surprise because we come from “backward” cultures, when, in reality, Eggers pointed out how these intersectional histories have always been here. Here, I was reminded of Eggers explanation of the difference between sharing knowledge and sharing information. In “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Eggers writes, “Referencing knowledges that are being produced away from (and outside of) the hegemonic center of the West is a further advance in the project of decolonization” (13). There has been an erasure and white washing of queer histories within communities of colors, which has worked to further silence us. As the “queer aunts,” Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers explain how ADEFRA is a “collective archive of queer Black knowledge.” They conveyed how it is important for them to allow for younger generations to find themselves on their own however, they also expressed the want to be there for them to share their language and experiences.
As the dialogue carried on, the group began to speak about how identity and knowledge is articulated. Both Piesche and Eggers shared how writing themselves into existence and reading it is crucial to a community. For Eggers, reading about how other black women dealt with their oppressions helped pull her out of her isolation. Writing makes her feel that is no longer alone. Piesche stressed the importance of not just looking at different genres but also different formats of writing is important, such as poetry. However, Kinder didn’t express these sentiments; “No I don’t have to be in any book, I don’t want to be in history…we exist, period.” She critiques the articulation of knowledge and identity through books as limiting. “We have so many books, but we still have all of this oppression…we need to think about much more than just books.” Though Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers had different standpoints on this topic, they emphasized that storytelling and sharing experiences is, nonetheless, powerful. In “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,”Eggers also explains,
Sharing knowledge is perceived to entail a deeper commitment than merely consuming information. It involves engaging deeply with the power-critical analyses produced in everyday contexts. Within a critical pedagogy of decolonization, access to alternative knowledges can deeply influence action and the direction of social movement work (13).
ADEFRA’s activism is based on creating an informal, easy-going space where Black women and gender non-conforming individuals can meet each other where knowledge is shared rather than information. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes, “In the interest of all of our survivals and the survival of our children, these Black German Women claim their color and their voices” (xiv). ADEFRA plays a crucial role in the community for Black German women and gender non-conforming individuals.
Sadly, the class had to come to an end. I leaned back in my chair dazed by how incredible the conversation had gone. Meeting with members of ADEFRA and hearing their narratives was surreal after having read about them. As I said goodbye and headed down the stairs, I couldn’t help but think about collectivity and creativity. There are days when I think I can do everything on my own; I am strong. But what is so wrong about coming together? I thought of the ways in which I identify and how I think and move in creative ways. Kinder said, “Whatever is normative kills us because we live in a creative space.” Identity should be defined on your own terms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on your own.
Alejandra Hernandez is a rising junior majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track, and is planning to attend medical school. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love reading and dancing to Latin music. While in Berlin, she is excited to explore and learn about different cultures and communities.