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.

 

The Anne Frank Museum and It’s Place in Contemporary Germany

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

By Liza Bering

Nestled in the Hackescher Markt and located in one of Berlin’s many hotspots, the Mitte area, we hurried to the Anne Frank Museum to experience its current exhibit, “Anne Frank: Here and Today.” Growing up, I had read The Diary of Anne Frank, and had taken a certain fascination with her, so I was eager to see what the museum had to offer. Earlier this week, we read “Site of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany” by Sabine Offe, which gave me a new critical lens to view the Anne Frank museum as an institution as well as a physical site and how the contemporary museum contributes to the collective memory and the collective guilt of the Holocaust. I came into this tour prepared to learn more about Anne Frank while also using a critical lens to see how the museum functions as a Jewish museum in contemporary Germany.

Before unpacking the museum content, I would like to share, briefly, what we learned about Anne Frank. Anne Frank, born June 12 1929, is famously known for her diary that surfaced after her years of hiding from Nazis and has since been translated in over 67 languages. The museum focuses on Anne’s life while also providing the history of Holocaust, which our guide, Joscha Jelitzki, described in detail, as well. Born in Frankfurt, Anne grew up with her parents Edith and Otto Frank and sister Margot. The family was constantly having to assimilate to German culture while still remaining Jewish. Jelitzki noted that German Jewry in Anne’s early life was focused more on “being German” rather than “being Jewish.” More specifically, he stated, “Becoming German often meant leaving behind Judiasm.” As Hitler came in to power and the Jewish identity became more and more marginalized and controlled, Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 where her young life was molded and assimilated yet again to the Dutch culture and language. After Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Anne and her family, along with four other close friends seeking safety from the Nazi’s, went into hiding from 1942-1944 until they were eventually reported to the police and taken away.

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

Anne had always felt what I would describe as misunderstood, using a diary given as a gift to her as an outlet to express herself and her feelings. Her diary quickly became her best friend. During her time in hiding, Anne figured that her diary could serve as a historical artifact in the future and infused her passion for writing into her diary by even editing and revising it while simultaneously continuing to fill its pages for what would eventually reach millions of readers all over the world. After being captured and arrested by the Nazis, the Frank family was taken to a local camp in Amsterdam before eventually being transferred to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Germany, where they were separated. Anne and Margot were then taken to another camp called Bergen-Belsen, where Anne’s young life ended in 1945 just a few weeks before Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the Allies.

While I was looking, listening, and reading the old photos, artifacts, and explanations, another article we read earlier this week about reflections from women of the Holocaust came to mind. In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden uses her vast knowledge and experience with women of the Holocaust to bear caution to her readers and argue that the language used to describe or recount women of the Holocaust’s experiences must be purposeful and unique to the survivor itself. Anne’s story demonstrates that every survivor has a different story, and we must not generalize or compare her story with others, because when doing so we lose meaning and the significance of the story and its uniqueness. Along these lines, I am curious how Anne Frank’s story, a famous one, is used to understand and learn about the Holocaust. How does it shape the reader’s ideas of the Holocaust? How did it affect the lives of the people, both Jewish and non-Jewish at the time? Her story is important, but we also must remember that it does not serve as a reflection for everybody who was a victim of the Holocaust.

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

As Offe argues, Jewish museums are “an effort to gain access to a different memory of Jews and non-Jews in Germany,” meaning that while used as crucial sites of remembrance, Jewish museums are also places of collective memory and guilt. The Anne Frank Museum is geared towards educating younger local students, but is also visited by other adults, tourists, and students and therefore is, in my opinion, more of an educational experience rather than being completely focused on remembering both Anne Frank and the Holocaust. This made me think: If this museum is being used for young educational purposes, how do the depictions and explanations contribute to both the collective memory and collective guilt surrounding the Holocaust now? How is the information subjectively transposed into the minds of its visitors? Joscha explained that often most students come with the questions: How did Hitler gain so much power? Why did Germany become to anti-Jewish? Questions and answers that may be asked and found in the museum focus on the story of the Holocaust, Hitler, and of course Anne Frank; however, what I find interesting it that it provides little information on what it meant to be Jewish during that time and what it means now as the assimilation and marginalized status of Jewish Germans continues today. I believe that there is a way to use the past to understand and show acceptance in the future. The critical lens I took away from Offe’s article makes me question the use of Jewish museums in contemporary Germany as tools to express collective guilt and memory rather than understanding and giving space to Jewish Germans today.

Currently, the exhibit is one that compares teens of today with Anne Frank. The exhibit is controversial in that it attempts to compare narratives, which may be detrimental to the importance and personal space of each narrative. This runs the risk of erasing value and meaning for both parties. While it can be somewhat convincing to the younger audiences that attend the museum, it was mostly not convincing to the FemGeniuses. During an activity, we divided into small groups and analyzed different aspects of the exhibit looking to answer questions presented by Joscha, which included: Who is represented? Who is not? What are the inequalities you observe? What is the design like? What is convincing? What is not? Shortly after, we presented and concluded that while the exhibit might seem like a good way to help put things into perspective, it sometimes traffics in racist undertones and problematic comparisons. Joscha, a independently contracted guide for the museum, even agreed. What does this say about the attention and collective memory that is being presented in Jewish museums in Germany today? Furthermore, this has both Heidi, Dana, and I wondering and looking to further explore the way in which history is presented and infused in German schools (or even other countries’ curricula). Just like Anne during her time of assimilation in both German and Dutch societies, young people today are easily “moldable,” and must be presented with history without perpetuating imperialism, racism, sexism, colonialism, etc. that so often lead to the rigidity of thought.

Photo Credit: Liza Bering

I would like to thank Joscha and the Anne Frank Museum for having us and providing us with a rich dose history, while also providing a critical analysis of the curation of museums exhibits and how they impact its visitors.


Liza Bering is a sophomore at Colorado College hailing from Des Moines, Iowa. She is planning on majoring in Geology and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Feminist and Gender Studies. She plans on combining the three different disciplines in way that with impact others on more than just a shallow surface level. When she isn’t studying (or touring Berlin with her fellow FemGenuises) you may find her checking out street art, walking around Berlin’s beautiful city parks, or getting lost on the subway.

Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni: Representation in Political Social Work

By Nora Holmes

It’s only been four days since the 2017 FemGeniuses arrived in Berlin, and we’re not yet used to the patterns of short, unexpected rain showers that occur so frequently in the city. We are, however, learning more about Berlin public transport, and were successfully able to navigate a few buses and U-Bahns to arrive at the ADNB des TBB office this morning for a discussion about Gladt and SAWA with Salma Arzouni. Still, the afternoon was also a circular discussion that weaved through privilege, whiteness, migrant and refugee trauma, and the political nature of this hard work.

Salma began the discussion by situating their work in the context of various organizations. Gladt is a cross between NGO and non-profit organization—they require funding, some of which is necessarily from the government, but they do not seek any profit from their work. This work is centered around assisting non-white, LGBTQ+ of Color individuals of migratory history. Though Gladt mostly started for individuals from Turkey living in Berlin, their scope has broadened over the past twenty or so years. Then, provides LGBTQ+ migrant or refugee individuals the tools and assistance they need to successfully navigate the private housing system.

Arzouni II (Lewis)

L to R: Jannet Guitierrez, Julia Konuk, Salma Arzouni, and Ryan Garcia [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

SAWA is intentionally made to help migrants of color who identify as LGBTQ+, because so much of the system works against people at those intersections. The housing process in Berlin is massively bureaucratic—if you don’t speak German or English, your ability to navigate this process alone is significantly impaired (not to mention all the classic negative stereotypes that surround people of color and/or queer individuals being so present in the power dynamics between housing owner and potential tenant). SAWA works to teach these individuals about the process, giving them the tools to navigate it with autonomy, but also with personal support. As Salma emphasized, this project is critical for LGBTQ+ migrants’ survival and success in Berlin.

From there, we flowed into an exploration of the importance of the representation and visibility of queer individuals of color. Overwhelmingly, many organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community are run by white cisgender gay men. These groups generally have the most influence and are generally given the most funding. This way of giving power to those organizations supports a homogenization of queer identity, and is an explicit erasure of the rich variety of the queer community. This conversation reminded me of “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany” by Jin Haritaworn, who argues that “sexual assimilation is performed as a repetition of Muslim unassailability” (76) and examines how the visibility of queer communities is centered on people that are “white, young, non-disabled, non-trans, male…and assimilable” (77). Certainly, these exclusive norms do a particular kind of violence to those who don’t fit the ideal. Regarding Salma’s work specifically, we focused here on underlining migrant identities of non-dominant religions, races, national locations, trans and non-cis-male identities; these identities are validated by Gladt because it is run by others of those identities. Gladt provides people who are usually otherwise lacking one with a space overwhelmingly occupied by individuals like them, a problematically rare but welcome and highly necessary sight for Gladt’s clients.

 

Arzouni I (Lewis)

L to R: Salma Arzouni, Dana Asbury, and Nikki Mills [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

The white-washing of queerness is a global issue. We certainly have this problem in the United States, and while there are critical differences between American white-dominated queer spaces and German ones, they both revolve around the same/similar problems stemming from white privilege. For example, the white and Western concept of “coming out” as an authentication of queerness, and the “rainbow culture” of gay performance are all ways in which white privilege exerts its control and prevents valid visibility of other ways of being LGBTQ+. These white-dominated notions of the acceptability of queerness necessarily exclude ways of being by migrant queer individuals, a problem that Salma addresses in their “advising social work” with Gladt. Along with their colleagues, Salma emphasized to us that they work to ensure the maintenance of a safe space with certain authority in order to uphold the variety of their communities of practice. Though here we focus on the identities of individuals who work with Salma and Gladt, homogenization is a dangerous concept across the board. As R. Ruth Linden notes in  “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” there is a tendency “to privilege the experiences of one group […] while turning our gaze away from other groups” (24). Like Haritaworn, Linden underlines the problems we talked about in our discussion regarding the use of “universalizing, foundational, and ‘natural’ terms” (29).

 

Though our conversation was rich with varied topics surrounding specificities of the refugee crisis in Berlin, we even pushed it out of the ADNB des TBB office and into extended time on Heidi’s apartment balcony. One of the areas of conversation that struck me the most was hearing Salma talk about the heavy politics of activism and how that interacts with their personal life. While it is a nonprofit group, Gladt does depend on a certain amount of governmental financial aid; when Gladt or its employees say or do something too blatantly against government policies or ideas, they toe a fine line. Going too much against the government may result in threats or realities of a loss of funding, but going too much with the government and their ideas can occasionally rub against Gladt’s morals or policies. People in positions like Salma are forced to prioritize and make deliberate choices in the types of work they do—this is an exhausting process and, because this type of work requires heavy personal emotional investment and care, burning out is a far too common phenomenon.

Arzouni III (Lewis)

L to R: Salma Arzouni, Jannet Gutierrez, Julia Konuk, Liza Bering, and Talia Silverstein [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]

Salma was incredibly transparent with us regarding the difficulties of doing this type of work in the real world, which I found to be exceedingly valuable. They talked about how school can only teach students the theory and ideas, but absolutely nothing except practice will truly teach students about how to effectively work in the field of social work for LGBTQ+, migrant/refugee, and various other oppressed/marginalized groups. Salma emphasized the point that to work in a field like theirs means “you really have to feel a deep connection to the work.” She continued, “You really have to want to be there [and to really do things],” if you want to make any sort of change. As a student, it was striking to so tangibly hear from someone so invested and hardworking in the field of “activist” social work. Salma did us the benefit of not sugarcoating their opinions and not beating around the bush; they made it very clear how difficult work like theirs is, but not in a “you’ll never succeed” way and more in a “get ready if you want it” mindset. My individual experience as a student of Feminist in Gender Studies has certainly told me about work like Salma’s, but the reality of the work becomes suddenly much more immediate when you see it in-person.

To me, that’s one of the main reason the FemGeniuses in Berlin choose to take the class each year—to have these conversations about our area of study that make it so much more palpable and realistic. Meeting with Salma during the first week was a powerful way to start the block, but we had to cut the conversation there because we were already late—we had an Anne Frank Museum tour that afternoon. As Salma told us, this work is time- and emotion- and energy- consuming, it is hard, it is necessary, it is ongoing, and it will certainly continue.


Photo Credit: Nikki Mills

Nora Holmes is a rising senior at Colorado College, and is on track for a major in Organismal Biology and Ecology and a double minor in Feminist and Gender Studies and Human Kinesiology. She enjoys getting moderately lost in Berlin and using a paper map to navigate her way home. Don’t remind her mom, but though Nora grew up in Connecticut, she feels very much at home in the mountains of Colorado. She spends most of her time playing rugby, in the climbing gym, or debating the merits of different brands of peanut butter with her housemates.

Taking Down The Wall of Religious Intolerance: Jewish History in Berlin

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

By Olivia Calvi

This morning we had the opportunity to explore some of the hidden histories of Berlin with a woman named Carolyn Gammon took us on a walking tour about Jewish history throughout East Berlin, and opened our eyes to why the waiter at the restaurant taking our order seems to have a bit of resentment for us. We’re people whose President wants to build a wall. A wall that will divide families and fulfill greed for power driven by hatred and discrimination. Of course, what is becoming our reality existed for the Germans generations ago. And they are still feeling that guilt and recovering from that hate. Over seventy years after the Holocaust ended, recently built Jewish museums and memorials ensure that it is something the Germans will never forget.

Along these lines, one of the first things Carolyn pointed out to us while walking were little brass plaques in the ground, each representing a German Jew that was murdered during the Holocaust. Carolyn informed us that these small squares were usually placed in front of the house where the individual lived as a ritual of commemoration. Along these lines, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Sabine Offe suggests that these memorials were placed because of the guilty feelings passed down through the generations. People are told they can shine these plaques with their shoes as a sign of respect so that the brass does not turn brown and the names of the deceased can still be clearly read. These memorials lie throughout most of the city.

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

Next, Carolyn took us across the street to the Burning Book memorial. It is a piece of glass that covers a hole in the ground. When you stand to the side, you see bookshelves that have enough space to hold the 20,000 books that were burned. When you stand on top of the memorial, you can only see the reflection of yourself. I viewed this memorial as a warning to future generations to really take a look at who we are and the destruction we have the ability to cause. Next to the glass lies a plaque was a quote from Heinrich Heine, which translates to “if you start burning books, you will end up burning people.” It’s far too reminiscent of the books being banned in the U.S. and the textbooks riddled with creationist ideas that teach young teens that abstinence is the only form of sex education. Religious and political censorship leave children uncertain of their past or their future. I can’t help but think the fundamentalist right is well on its way to burning the people of the U.S.

This extreme religious intolerance is what led us to the most humbling part of our tour: a Jewish cemetery torn down by Nazis with only a few salvaged tombstones remaining. When the Nazis occupied East Berlin, they saw to it that every synagogue was burned and every cemetery destroyed. We learned that in Germany, the term Nazi is not used because it is too short and “sweet.” Germans only refer to them as National Socialists, because the German word is extensive and has a connotation of disgust. The cemetery sits on a street that was referred to as Tolerance Street before the Nazis occupied the area, because of the open dialogue and shared space between the Jewish and Protestant communities. When the Nazis invaded, the street became known as Death Street. Carolyn made it very clear that the plaques located at the cemetery use strong language in German, because referring to the deaths as killings instead of murders would be doing an injustice to the Jews whose lives were lost. Since the community has come back together, it has regained its original name. Under Nazi rule, communities were forced to come together against anti-Semitic groups. Along these lines, in “We Don’t Want to Be The Jews of Tomorrow: Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11,” Gökçe Yurdakul and Y. Michal Bodemann examine the Turkish and migrant groups that helped lead initiatives against anti-Semitism and demonstrated to show their solidarity with Jewish Germans against Nazi terrorism. Similarly, the people of East Berlin who called that community home refused to stand for the intolerance and instead chose solidarity.

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

Just down the street from the cemetery is a school founded by and named for Jewish German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn who strongly believed in religious tolerance and had a dream to create a school where Jews and non-Jewish students could study together and learn from each other. The school, established in 1778 and reopened in 1993, currently enrolls students of all religions. Those from non-Jewish backgrounds take Hebrew and Judaic studies, learning from a young age what it means to be open-minded and accepting of a community different from your own.

As a religion major with the goal of a career as either a prison or military chaplain, there is really nothing I “geek out” about more than churches and religious places of worship. I was glad, then, when our tour took us to a Protestant church that was one of the only remaining buildings from medieval Berlin. Inside the church there is a donation box for an initiative between the Jewish, Islamic, and Protestant communities in Berlin. The initiative is called House of One, and they are raising money to build a religious center that can hold services in all denominations—a great opportunity for people who seek a shared community of multiple religious belonging. I think faith is one of the most interesting things about humanity, because people build shrines and monuments in honor of gods they believe will bring them salvation or peace in this life. I was raised Unitarian Universalist, a liberal faith denomination that does not have a specific dogma but instead is committed to building community and ministry around issues of social justice. While I identify as agnostic, I believe a person’s beliefs, religious and otherwise, tell you most everything you need to know about a person. It is only when religion is misused and becomes combative that a strong sense of religious belonging brings destruction instead of beauty.

Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi

On that note, I was intrigued to learn that on September 13, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the congregation on Tolerance Street in East Berlin. That day he preached: “No man-made barrier can erase the fact that God’s children lie on both sides of the wall.” I don’t know if I believe in MLK’s God, but I do believe in his sentiments. The 7th and last principle my faith is based on discusses the significance of the interdependent web of life. We are not all the same, and we most certainly do not have the same religious beliefs. But we are all human. Trump’s ideas to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and his attempted ban on Muslims are blatantly racist. As Carolyn told us, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently opened Germany’s doors to one million refugees—an economically advantageous choice that Trump was quick to call a catastrophic mistake. Along these lines, in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women In The Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden brings to light the words of Van Maanen: “It seems to me that the history of the Holocaust, like all of history, is a collection of stories […] the stories we write, tell, or paint about Holocaust victims and survivors, and the plots we give these stories are mirrors of our own era.” As students, we learn about history so that we don’t make the same mistakes, but Van Maanen’s words point out the problem with America: we don’t pay attention to the mistakes of others. It is going to take a lot of work and admission of guilt to mend America’s mistake, and if one thing is certain, there will always be work to do. At least for the time being, I’m happy to be in a country that can actually call itself a democracy.


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.

Challenging the Discourse of the “Ally”

By Cheanna Gavin

Snapchat-6863880461254982180As I got ready this morning, I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that our time in Berlin would be coming to an end in the next few days. However, I was excited for the upcoming day, which would be busy and filled with exciting encounters. Our day started off at ADNB des TBB, where we discussed the work they do in counselling and empowering people of color facing discrimination. Through reflection of our time in Berlin thus far, I see that there have been common themes among almost all the groups we have met, and that the communities we have been in are all webbed together in one way or another. These common themes include colonialism, empowerment, and community building/networking. After our morning session, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin for our convergence class with Dr. Jule Bönkost and Josphine “Josy” Apraku, who we met on Tuesday during our “Africa in Wedding” tour. Accompanying us to the course entitled “Bündnisarbeit Intersektional Gedacht” was also Dr. Derrais Carter, Assistant Professor of Black studies at Portland State University.

On Tuesday, Apraku told us that we would be discussing “allyship,” so I was eager to learn how they believed allyship has developed in Berlin and how it relates to our ideas of allyship in the U.S. During class, we started with an introduction of the course. It was an undergraduate Gender Studies class studying a German discourse of discrimination, how many forms of discrimination work together and the terms of allyship in relation to discrimination. They then opened up the floor for the German students to ask us questions and vice versa. Early on, the German students mentioned that they are not allowed to mainly or only study Gender Studies. For their undergraduate studies, they must have a trans/interdisciplinary approach, and need other focuses in addition to Gender Studies. For their graduate studies, they are able to focus on Gender Studies, but it is very difficult to enroll in graduate programs. This was the first of many examples that arose in the class demonstrating the inaccessibility of different feminist discourses not only in academia but in society in general. I believe this inaccessibility contributes greatly to the blissful and intentional ignorance around colonialism and racism in Berlin.

Snapchat-9062728769128009395After several minutes of dialogue, we split into smaller groups to get better acquainted with one another, as well as to have more intimate and inclusive conversations. In my group, the topic of how we got introduced to feminism came up. Something common among the German students was that this course introduced them to many of the aspects and terms of discrimination, racism, and colonialism in Germany. Along these lines, in Winter Shorts, Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo theorize,

“People invest more effort into denying racism than in dealing with it because facing the purpose for which institutional racism is constructed, is painful. Racism is a rationale to distribute social benefits by ethnicity. So, resisting racism brings members of socially dominant groups into a situation of discomfort for no immediate benefit” (13).

I believe this exemplifies the importance of courses like these to provide knowledge of these discourses to populations who normally do not have access to them.

However, we must keep in mind that we are privileged to even have access to these spaces in academia. One student spoke of how she had not heard of and had no knowledge of Farbe Bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out) until this class. Through different sentiments, it was clear that the available scholarship and discourses on feminism that they had been exposed to was very white. We also discussed how they had engaged in little to no discourse of colonialism or racism, because it is believed that racism ended after the Nazi regime, and there is “conscious amnesia” of anything that happened before. In “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” R. Ruth Linden discusses how such a narrow framework “privileges the experiences of one group […] while turning our gaze away from other groups” (24). Privileging one narrative over another or generalizing one narrative for entire groups is extremely problematic. Not only are voices being silenced, but they are being erased completely.

Snapchat-4249857101675199255This is not only a problem in scholarship, but in aspects of allyship, too. People in dominant groups tend to talk for and replace the narratives of the oppressed groups, even when trying to help. This is apparent when dominant groups become the spokesperson of movements that are not for them. Allies need to realize that the members of oppressed groups are capable of examining and addressing their oppression. In addition, if someone calls themselves an ally, there needs to be a trust that is built that demonstrates that allies will show up if and when oppressed groups need them. Students from both the U.S. and Germany discussed how silencing narratives is one of the many difficulties/challenges faced through allyship.

Allyship, when looked at from a U.S. and German perspective, tends to have negative connotations. The discussion around allyship was supposed to start with possibilities and opportunities that may come from allyship. Yet, in the large group, as well as in my own smaller group, we struggled to find “benefits” of allyship. In addition, there was confusion between the term allyship and the German translation which is bündnisarbeit. As understood by the students from the U.S., allyship was seen as an individual practice. The German students, on the other hand have a more institutional understanding of allyship. Personally, I don’t like the word ally. I feel it has become sterile and fosters superficial support. For example, in “Accomplices, Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex,” Indigenous Action Media writes,

“[Non-profit capitalists] build organizational or individual power, establishing themselves comfortably among the top ranks in their hierarchy of oppression as they strive to become the ally ‘champions’ of the most oppressed. […] Where struggle is commodity, allyship is currency. Ally has also become an identity, disembodied from any real mutual understanding of support. The term ally has been rendered ineffective and meaningless.”

When fighting these struggles, it is imperative that actions speak louder than words. Even as people or women of color, we must acknowledge the power we have and what we can do with that power. If we focus solely on our oppression, we face becoming what we are fighting against.

Snapchat-3150015239727894670Through our discussions of allyship, the conversation integrated into one about community and relationships. Instead of calling oneself an ally, the communities we are working with should decide to call us allies from the work we do and the trust we build. To take it a step further, instead of focusing on allyship, we should focus on our relationships with people. Along these lines, Dr. Carter discussed how we need to be in community with the people we care about and want to thrive. This is similar to the foreword to Farbe Bekennen, in which Audre Lorde writes,

“This book serves to remind African-American women that we are not alone in our world situation. In the face of new international alignments, vital connections and differences exist that need to be examined between African-European, African-Asian, African-American women, as well as between us and our African sisters. The first steps in examining these connections are to identify ourselves, to recognize each other, and to listen carefully to each other’s stories” (xiii-xiv).

Not only do we need to be in community with each other as women of color, but we need to be in community with various oppressed communities. By being in community with each other, we are able to build relationships and trust among one another.

As the class finished and final thoughts were shared, I realized how empowerment plays a huge role in allyship and fighting discrimination and forming and maintaining communities with others to strengthen each other. As Dr. Cater said, “There is no right way to survive. Sometimes we need to sit and take it in. We need to remind ourselves that the world doesn’t exist on our terms.” We need to share the knowledge we gain in these spaces with those who do not have the privilege to be in these spaces and/or have access to these terms and scholarship. We need to empower ourselves and each other by challenging and deconstructing the idea that others hold the power instead of one’s self.


GavinCheanna Gavin is a rising Junior at Colorado College from Denver, Colorado. She is majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and potentially minoring in Human Biology and Kinesiology. She is on the Pre-Health track and planning to attend Physical Therapy School. Cheanna loves playing sports and is ecstatic to be a FemGenius in Berlin, as she can’t wait to explore and learn about different German cultures.