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Our First Weekend in Berlin

In planning this course, I decided to include mandatory activities in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays so that the students and I could have our weekends “free” to explore the city. I did tell the FemGeniuses about most of the things I had planned in case they wanted to join me for some things. So, on Saturday, I planned to visit the Berlin Dungeon. The problem is that I didn’t pay attention to the fine print on the tickets, so I didn’t know that we shouldn’t wait in line for the English tour. So, we ended up missing it and had to come back on Sunday. That meant that I spent most of Saturday hanging with Celine.

Celine Pergamon Museum

Celine at the Pergamon Museum

First, we visited the Pergamon Museum. Even though Celine grew up in Berlin, she’s been enjoying some of our official tourist activities, because we both are learning a bit more about the “official” narrative of Berlin. This is importance, since we both are also invested in studying and teaching narratives that are often silenced in these spaces. Along these lines, we thought we may have invented the discipline Critical Tourism Studies, but I see now—after a quick Google search—that this already exists. Haha. The Pergamon Museum was full of lots of fascinating things that were “excavated” by Germans from various places and during various times. At one point, the woman in my headphones said something like, “This room is full of items from various times and various places in order to give you an idea of what a mansion might look like.” I thought that quite odd, but also quite telling about the ways in which Africa—the entire continent, of course—is still often constructed as a place outside of time or specificity. I didn’t take copious notes, but see pictures here!

OTA Kitchen

Stefani, Melissa, and Beril in their New Kitchen

On Sunday, the FemGeniuses moved from their two separate apartments into one. This is the apartment I planned for them live in for the entire course, but I booked them too late and had to separate them for the first week. I think they’re all glad to be together, and of course, the apartments are just as beautiful as they are when Tony and I visited them in November.

OTA Bedroom

Melissa and Kadesha in their New Bedroom

While the Zehdenicker Straße are a bit further from the classroom, they’re also a bit closer to me, and while the Greifswalder Straße students are a bit further from me, they’re also a bit closer to the classroom. So, this is really the ideal location.

Brunch

The FemGeniuses at Café Hilde for Brunch

We also had a group brunch at Café Hilde, which was really nice.

Berlin Dungeon

Heidi, Casey, Kadesha, and Kaimara after the Berlin Dungeon Tour

Later, Casey, Kadesha, Stefani, Blaise, Melissa, Kaimara, and I went back to the Berlin Dungeon, which is “a 60 minute journey into 700 years of Berlin’s horrible history.” Yes, 700 years in one hour. I got the sense from visiting the website that this was a semi-scary, amusement-park type place, but it was scarier than I thought. People jumped out at us in scary costumes. We were “trapped” in a maze of mirrors. A butcher locked us in a dark room where fake knives poked us in our chairs. Yes, it was something else. At one point, we entered a mock courtroom in which Stefani was put on trial for “murdering the fashions” in Berlin. That was pretty funny, but I think Stefani felt a bit strange being put on display. I think my son will enjoy this when he comes, but I think my daughter will be having none of it. Haha. I would share pictures, but we weren’t allowed to take them inside.

RfR

Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz (Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla)

Later that evening, I met Celine’s family and we walked around Kreuzberg for a bit. We also visited the Roses for Refugees at Oranienplatz, which is organized by AfricAvenir International, AFROTAK TV CyberNomads, Berlin Postkolonial, Bühnenwatch, glokal, Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, and Tanzania-Network. Roses for Refugees has been happening every evening at 6 pm from April 13 until June 21 in order to express solidarity with and show support for refugees. On this day, Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz (Sesperado Lyrical Guerilla) read poetry and a short story. At one point, he read, “Sometimes our brain races away from our soul.” Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about what this means for those of us committed to justice. I often find myself asking my students and myself to listen and to be compassionate—to not let our brains run away from our souls—as we think about ways in which we can try to change the world.

RfR III

Police Conducting Surveillance of Roses for Refugees

During his reading, I turned slightly to my left and noticed two police vehicles conducting surveillance of the park. I asked, “What are they doing here?” and Celine responded that they sit there 24/7, in shifts, watching the park, policing the refugees and their comrades. She told me that folks who sleep in the park aren’t allowed to have blankets and that the police will arrest and deport anyone who doesn’t abide by this and/or other unjust laws. This, of course, reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” It seems, then, that police and government in Berlin, similar to what I know about the police and government in the United States, has allowed their brains to run away from their souls.

Rfr II

Roses for Refugees

One of my new comrades in Berlin, Sharon Dodua Otoo, is an instrumental force for Roses for Refugees, and when I posted a short video of Mutlu reading his work in the park, she asked if the FemGeniuses would be interested in reading poetry on Wednesday night. In honor of the late Maya Angelou’s life, we’ll read from her work. In doing so, I hope that we remember more wise words from Mutlu—“Not because they’re evil but because they’re people.” It seems that part of the human condition entails denigrating, subjugating, marginalizing, victimizing, and hurting each other. Not because they’re evil but because they’re people. Not because we’re evil but because we’re people. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only other way to live is to fight, to resist. To know that we will live…fighting, resisting. To know that we will die…fighting, resisting. With a heavy heart, Celine and I—with Celine’s friend Ana—joined Melissa and Kaimara in order to attend an event honoring the life of the late Stuart Hall at the Balhaus Naunynstraße. I actually wasn’t aware of this event—Melissa found out about it after doing some research on Grada Kilomba—so I didn’t require the other FemGeniuses to attend. Also, I decided to let Melissa blog about it, so you can read more about it when I post it tomorrow or Wednesday. So for now, I’ll just end writing that I am truly honored to be here in Berlin learning so much and having an opportunity to also share my own knowledge. It really is helpful to know that we are not alone in the struggle.

More to come!

Heidi

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The FemGeniuses Are in Berlin

Students

Well, FemGeniuses family, we made it!

I arrived in Berlin on Saturday, May 24, and all of the FemGeniuses (pictured L to R: Nicole, Stefani, Kadesha, Melissa, Casey, Ximena, Blaise, Kaimara, and Beril) arrived yesterday—Sunday, May 25. Kaimara arrived around 8 am, and we were lucky that their apartment was available so that she didn’t have to roam around all day waiting for check-in. She did want to walk around a bit and get some air—which makes sense after her 8-9 hour flight from Chicago—so we walked to get some breakfast.

We ate at the Nalu diner, a place I found online a few weeks ago. I wanted to try it because I’m a sucker for eggs, bacon, French toast and thangs for breakfast, and that’s what they have on the menu. I ordered the aforementioned with some orange juice—delicious!—and Kaimara ordered pretty much the same thing except she ordered regular toast—she says it was delicious! Fun fact. The diner is named for a breakfast place one of the owners visited in Honolulu, where he spent time growing up in the 80s, called “Eggs and Things.” But “Nalu,” which actually means “surf,” is just an easy name to say in German, English, and Hawaiian.

By the time we went back to their apartment, Blaise had almost arrived. Once her driver parked, she almost killed some bikers by opening her door right in the bike lane. We only laughed because no one got hurt. She didn’t see the bikers because she claims she was so happy to see me. I was happy to see her, too.

After we got settled, we went to get Blaise’s currency exchanged—her hard-headed self didn’t heed my advice to do that in the TXL airport in Berlin. I was going to get mine changed at the airport in Newark, but the man was trying to hustle me and I wasn’t having it. To be honest, though, I didn’t even heed my own advice. I forgot to change my currency at TXL, and had to go to the city to get mine changed, too, after I arrived the day before. Haha.

BBQ Duck from BBQ Kitchen

BBQ Duck from BBQ Kitchen

During the non-exchange of the currency process, we ate some lunch at the BBQ Kitchen. I had BBQ duck—delicious!—Kaimara had pommes frites (French fries), and Blaise had some potatoes and thangs. I also had this great apple juice spritzer that was so light and refreshing! Let me also point out something I learned about Berlin when Tony—my husband—and I visited last November. They do NOT play about wasting condiments. You get one serving, and if you want more, you pay extra. No handfuls of ketchup at McDonald’s. Pretty smart, actually. Meanwhile, it was good getting out and about, even though we didn’t get the currency, because I was able to show them some things about getting around in the city.

After this, Blaise and I took her bags to her apartment. We walked for almost 30 minutes, which was silly because we could have taken a tram. That was my fault. Haha. Still, we were able to do some bonding, and I could point out some things about the area and give her some more tips about local travel. She’s super smart and has been picking up on all that really quickly. We had to stop by the main office to get the keys, which made us about 15-20 minutes late meeting Stefani and Kadesha, who were on the same flight from Denver to Berlin. Of course, they had to fuss me out. They’re so resourceful, though. When Blaise and I arrived at the main office, Nathan—the manager (who’s been SO helpful to me since I started planning this trip months ago)—told me, “Your students found some of our other residents and gave us a call! I told them you’d be there in about 10 minutes!” How’d they manage to do that without using their own phones? They buzzed almost every apartment in the building until they found someone to help them! Gotta love my FemGeniuses! I should also mention that they fussed me out even more because their (very beautiful) apartment is on the 5th floor, and there’s no elevator/lift! Haha!

Melissa & Ximena hadn't arrived yet. :(

Melissa & Ximena hadn’t arrived yet. 🙁

I wasn’t able to stay long enough to greet Casey, because I had to go back to my apartment and get ready for our dinner at Käfer GmbH and tour of the Deutscher Bundestag, where the German Parliament meets for business. Fancy, huh? I’m not even gonna tell you how much dinner cost! But it was so very nice! It’s so prestigious that I had to send along our full names and birthdates so they could check our identification before we went through the security system.

The Salad

The Salad

For starters, we ate an elaborate salad—buffalo mozzarella with farm tomatoes with old balsamic and basil pesto. For dinner, we ate pink-fried beef filet with white asparagus, new crop potatoes, vegetable-vinaigrette, and Hollondaise sauce.

Fried Corn-Fed Chicken Breast on Asparagus Risotto with Braised Red Wine-Shallots, White Mushrooms, and Buerre Blanc

The Chicken

Blaise doesn’t eat red meat, so she ate fried corn-fed chicken breast on asparagus risotto with braised red wine-shallots, white mushrooms, and Buerre blanc.

Strawberry Tartlet with Sour Cream Ice Cream and Woodruff Sauce

The Strawberry Tartlet

And for dessert, we all ate a strawberry tartlet with sour cream ice cream and woodruff sauce. DELICIOUS, I tell you. And didn’t I tell you it was fancy? Just look at these pictures. Hmph—my FemGeniuses are sho ‘nuff spoiled.

Deutscher Bundestag Dome

Deutscher Bundestag Dome

Now, I should tell you that the only reason I could tell you all the names of this stuff is that I only just now deleted the reservation email. It’s so fancy that they have a limited menu, and I had to order everything in advance. Yaasszz, hunty.

Reichstag

Deutscher Bundestag

After we ate and looked around the building—while Blaise took these pictures—we headed back to the apartments and tried to get some rest. But let me say a little bit about these apartments. First of all, they’re extremely beautiful. At first, I was looking for hostels—thinking that’s the typical way college students do study abroad courses. However, my colleague Gail Murphy-Geiss told me that she found apartments for her students studying in France this past spring, and I am really glad she made that suggestion. While I was conducting research, I found the most beautiful apartments that were suitable for accommodating large groups of people—the Old Town Apartments. And after Tony and I visited them this past November? We fell in love! I’m not going to tell you where the students are staying exactly, but if you click that link (above), you can see the beauty for yourself—they look just like the pictures. I swear.

Frauenkreise Berlin

Frauenkreise Berlin

The great thing is that I’m staying nearby in an independently owned apartment that I love. And all of our apartments, near Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, are also close to our classroom space at Frauenkreise. Please check out their website by clicking the link—they are doing some great work, and Gabriele “Gabi” Zekina has been tremendously great to me since we first connected last fall online. We’re all within a 5-minute walk of the nearest grocery stores, and our apartments are equipped with stoves, ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, and cooking utensils so that we all can balance eating out with eating in. Things couldn’t have worked out better in this regard, and I must say that my students will be staying at Old Town each and every time I’m able to teach this course, which will hopefully be every year for the rest of my natural life.

Kaimara

Kaimara

Last, I should say that I couldn’t be happier with this inaugural group of students enrolled in my first study abroad course. I say that because five of them have taken a class with me more than once, so we know each other pretty well. Kaimara took her first Feminist & Gender Studies (FGS) course, Intro to Feminist & Gender Studies (Intro), with me last spring, and she also took Feminist Theory (Theory) with me this past spring. She’s going to minor, which couldn’t make me happier.

Blaise

Blaise

Blaise also took her first FGS course with me, Intro, which was actually her first college course ever. It was also the first time I’d taught a First-Year Experience (FYE) course at Colorado College (CC) during the fall semester in 2011, so our history together has some real significance for us both. She also took my Theory course. She’s also minoring in FGS (majoring in Biology), and she’s going to graduate next spring, so I’ll probably cry. Haha.

Melissa

Melissa

Similar things can be said about Melissa. She also took the same FYE course I taught with Blaise. She was also in the same Theory course. The difference is that Melissa also took me for Black Feminist Theory this spring and has decided to double-major in FGS and Psychology. She’s also graduating next spring, and I’ll probably cry again. Haha.

Kadesha

Kadesha

Kadesha also took me for FYE, Intro, during the fall semester in 2012. She also took my Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) course this past fall. She decided to major in FGS recently, and we’ll be working together on a college-funded research project this summer after our time in Berlin! Clearly, she—like Melissa—is ushering in the next generation of Black feminists in a flame way!

Stefani

Stefani

Stefani also took my FYE course, Intro, this past fall. She then took me again for CWS with Kadesha again last fall. I keep saying that I must be getting better at teaching FYE—a really hard first course for college students—because she’s the first student that took me that soon after the FYE. Most of the students can’t deal with me again for at least a year! Haha! Stefani’s a superstar, though, so I gotta give her credit!

Casey and Nicole

Casey and Nicole

Finally, Casey, Nicole, Beril, and Ximena are taking me for the first time here in Berlin.

Beril and Ximena

Beril and Ximena

I wholeheartedly welcome them into the FemGeniuses crew, and hope they’ll take many more classes with me before they graduate!

As for our time in Berlin, keep reading and following us during our journey! Today, we went on a walking tour, and Melissa is in the process of finishing up her blog about that experience as I write! Stay tuned, and be well!

Heidi

Heidi

Best,

Heidi