Site Seeing (and Thinking, Analyzing, Understanding, etc.)

By Willa Rentel

Willa 5With a blanket of grey sky over our heads, light rain hitting our cheeks, and remnants of a less than adequate night’s sleep on our faces, the FemGeniuses boarded a tour boat docked on the Spree River. As the ship began to creep forward, it quickly became clear to me that this tour would be unlike many of the critical and socio-political tours we have been lucky to take during our time in Berlin. As we glided down the river, passing under bridges and being urged to take notice of buildings on the banks, I felt a bit frustrated by the passive site-seeing our guide facilitated due to his failure to attach any sort of critical lens to his comments on the various sites and buildings we passed. What frustrated me further was the idea that some of the tourists that surrounded me might not have the opportunity to understand the plethora of narratives I have been lucky to learn about on this trip. If this is the only information about Berlin they are being presented with, they’re bound to have a more-than-skewed and less-than-full understanding of the social, political, and cultural history of this politically-charged city.

Willa 3“On our left, the TV Tower, which houses a wonderful restaurant with spectacular views of the city!” I found myself waiting for the guide to shine light on the socio-political meaning behind this tower, which, according to Simon Arms, stands as a symbol of the legacy of political history in Berlin. A tower so socially and politically charged that East Berlin graffiti artist Tower created his pseudo-name with it in mind. “Tower, as in the communist TV tower; Tower, as in the skyscrapers that dominated the skyline of almost every major city—built not only for the people who lived there, but for the egos of the people who ran them” (3), Arms writes. Next, we were urged to direct our eyes to a building known as The Palace of the Republic, once the site of the German Democratic Republic parliament, now home to various restaurants, hotels, and auditoriums. I chuckled at the thought of such a shift in function of this building. Could it be yet another representation of the development of Germany’s political past, evidence of a shift toward a German capitalistic society during the last half-decade? Disappointingly, the guide failed to present any critique or delve past the functional importance of the structure.

Willa 3The boat also passed the Jewish Center, a building hidden peaking through a gap in the buildings well beyond the riverbank. As the guide directed our gaze to the center, stating not much more than the name, I thought of Sabine Offe’s interpretation of the critical functionality of Jewish museums in “Sites of Remembrance?  Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany.” She argues that Jewish museums “are places of remembering. Or, rather, they are sites that have been established intentionally to make people remember, institutions representing collective memory […] the result of political decision making, even in those cases where they came into existence by seemingly quite individual motives” (79).

Willa 2As the guide pointed out the Moltke Bridge, I was not taken in by the architecture of this beautiful red, brick structure, but by the graffiti that covered the concrete on either side of it. I considered what this graffiti was communicating to its viewers, what political and social message it was sending, and how it represented an act of resistance. Because of this, I was reminded of Jonathan Jones’ article wherein he writes of the importance of the first graffiti on the Berlin Wall, Thierry Noir. Jones writes, “This scar running through a city had provided 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” (1).

11202116_973927834298_748751754440202050_nAs our pace began to lessen and the boat slowed to a stop on the bank of the river, I began to question what frustrated me so about the tour, why I felt so unfulfilled by the site-seeing experience I would have once been happy to enjoy quietly from my seat. Yes, the buildings were beautiful, the architecture of the bridges we passed under was intricate and admirable, and I loved being on the water, but after three weeks of critical examination of Berlin’s past and present through exposure to a breadth of narratives, passive enjoyment of buildings around me felt impossible. I couldn’t seem to quiet the corners of my brain that were begging for an acknowledgement of the socio-political implications of these sites, and I can thank this course for that.


WillaWilla Rentel is from Croton, New York, and will be entering her second year at CC this coming fall. She is planning on majoring in Sociology and absolutely loves people and good conversation. The Sociology class she took 5th block of last year focused on the growing income gap in America revealed to her an interest in majoring in the field. An avid thrift shopper, Willa loves searching through racks of clothing to find great, quirky gems. Willa loves music and is constantly altering her playlists on Spotify. She prides herself on being open to most any genre, but currently loves listening to The Talking Heads, Al Green, FKA Twigs (and most everything in between). Willa really, really loves strawberries. She also loves lying in hammocks, the smell of lilac flowers and swimming (in the ocean and ponds particularly). Her favorite television show of the moment is Broad City, and she is currently making her way through season two with impressive speed. Willa has a strong passion for social justice and feminism and would like to use her degree to pursue her passion further.

A Visit to Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand

By Thabiso Ratalane

IMG_9324The weather was overcast today, and the clouds looked menacing. It was, however and thankfully, not a walking tour day. After a hearty lunch at Golden Rice, the FemGeniuses took to the Ubahn—destination Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (the German Resistance Memorial Center). There, we learned more about the heroic efforts of those Germans that chose to sacrifice their lives in order to see an end to the horrible Nazi regime. The priority and the urgency of the importance of commemorative narratives in the city focus primarily on museums and remembering the Jewish lives lost. Along these lines, Sabine Offe claims that they “tell the story of those murdered, and tell it in the country of the perpetrators.” The German Resistance Memorial, on the other hand, serves to celebrate German figures that worked fervently to oppose the Nazi regime, because the horrors of that époque seem to sometimes outweigh the heroic efforts of those that resisted. Tucked away at the historical, seemingly less touristy area of Berlin on Stauffenbergstraße, the center gave me a sense of the collective shame that the Germans typically feel regarding matters of the Holocaust.

IMG_9331We walked into the center from the courtyard, which we later learned was the site of the assassination of the two important figures that made an attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life: Claus von Stauffenberg and Georg Elser. Sylvia, our guide, told us that the resistance was multi-faceted. There were multiple groups of people and organizations that resisted the Nazi regime. These groups might not have necessarily shared the same philosophies, but they all had a common goal. For example, the curation of the center was organized around these groups, which included students, labor unions, artists, scholars, and people of the various religious faiths.

IMG_9320Sylvia made a point to let us know that the place was not a museum, but rather a historical site. I found this distinction important because of the other many museums around the city that are curated for the remembrance of Holocaust victims. I am of the opinion that this was a deliberate move so as not to take away from museums that acknowledge the many atrocities committed against Jews, perhaps motivated, as Offe points out, “a notion of guilt handed down to the second and third generations of a nation, the large majority of which was involved in and supported a system responsible for the mass murder of European Jews.”

nRegarding the role of women in the resistance, the first question asked before the tour began, Sylvia responded and confirmed that the roles that women played were limited, but pivotal. Women hid Jews from Nazis, gave food to the hungry, prepared stamps and couriered letters for distribution, risking their lives in the meantime. One important woman she pointed out was Liselotte Herrmann, who distributed leaflets against Nazism before Hitler came into power. She fled Humboldt University to the south of Germany to escape persecution and continue her work after Hitler came into power. She was caught, tried, and sentenced to death for investigating Germany’s militarism in an exposé article.

IMG_9328As Sylvia pointed out, in trying to garner as much support as conceivably possible, the National Socialist Party attempted to fool everyone into thinking they were socialist. However, many people didn’t realize that Hitler’s socialism relied heavily on discrimination and segregation. The party did get the support it needed, but soon received strong opposition as their motives became clearer. Along these lines, Sylvia explained the important role of churches during the Third Reich. She mentioned that the resistance remembrance was named “resistance of the Christian faith,” because of the churches’ involvement in Hitler’s government. The church had multiple roles to play; they both supported and opposed Nazism. Regarding support, the church was more willing to accept the Nazi regime, because it was anti-communist. This ensured the longevity of the church within the state. What they opposed, however, was the integration of the church into the state. The euthanasia program, a program to kill disabled people, homosexuals, and the so-called weak, also motivated some priests into protesting the government. Some priests did this openly, writing letters. Bernard Lichtenberg, for example, helped stop the program because of the power he had.

IMG_9326Students also played a paramount role in the resistance. As Michael Schmidtke points out, “Many students were also concerned about another reform plan of the Great coalition, that of the ‘emergency laws’” (79). Further, he writes, “President Paul von Hinderburg used them in 1930 and 1933 to create a government independent from parliament, after the democratic parties had lost the majority, and this had made it easier for Hitler to assume dictatorial power in 1933” (79). This led to the movement of the White Rose: students writing letters and pamphlets to people in how they can passively resist the regime. While we could not examine the entire 18-section exhibition of more than 6,000 photos and documents showing the diversity of German resistance, we got a holistic picture of the resistance from the groups that we toured.


ThabisoThabiso Ratalane is a rising senior from the city of Maseru in the Southern African enclave of Lesotho. She dabbles in French and International Political Economy major divisions at Colorado College. Thabiso is passionate about fashion, linguistics, politics, writing, and social justice for minority groups around the world. Thabiso idolizes Anna Wintour; she finds her strong will, tenacity, efficiency, and passion for what she does admirable, and regards Wintour as a champion for female empowerment. Thabiso’s passion for minority groups and how they navigate social spaces that alienate them made this course and Berlin a perfect fit to spend her first month of the Summer.

What It Is and What It Ain’t: Tour of the Neues Museum

By Lyric Jackson

Photo 1Full of an assortment of lunch and energy-filled beverages, my classmates and I made our way towards the Neues Museum to experience the Egyptian and Papyrus Collection. After a factual and enlightening tour of the African Quarter in Wedding with Josephine Apraku, we entered the museum with opened minds and malleable ideas. As Sabine Offe points out in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” museums are expected to portray one or two things and collect and give shelter to a cultural heritage but to also obscure and make a society’s heritage invisible. Offe argues that museums turn into “ambivalent places, established to transform collective guilt and banish it from memory and thereby enhancing its commemoration” (78). I would have to agree that museums are used for the erasure of murders, enslavement, and other forms of domination in order to perpetuate the “look how far we’ve come” complex. It’s difficult trying to focus on the progression of a society when it is built on the subjugation of various communities. The role of the museum is to protect and preserve the pieces “explorers” collected or stolen. The problem with museums is exemplified when the historical narratives they disseminate are sugar-coated and served with a polished spoon.

Photo 7While roaming the bottom floor, I came across a family burial of three children and a mother known as Lady Aline. Tuning into the translating headset, I noticed the automated narrator adding a little sugar to the colonization of ancient Egypt. Lady Aline’s family was said to be an example of the “intermingling of ancient Egyptian tradition and Roman individualism.” The entire recording gave listeners the idea that Romans accepted the culture in honor of Egyptian traditions, when in actuality, Egyptian culture was robbed and exploited. We should also be critical of the terms paired with each group discussed in this description. As Sharon Dodua Otoo points out in “Reclaiming Innoccence: Unmasking Representations of Whiteness in German Theatre,” referencing the work of Marcus Garvey and Noel Ignatiev, “Whiteness works by creating a club, the membership of which is conferred only to certain individuals at birth without their consent” (59).

Photo 8As I continued roaming, I was graced with the “hottest commodity” of the museum, the headliner in every brochure—the bust of Nefertiti. Students (from another course) circled around her, attempting to sketch the divine beauty of the queen. However, the plaque discussing Nefertiti, “the beautiful one has come,” only focused on the appearance of the queen, and made it known that she took the “traditional feminine role.” It primarily focused on the idea that Nefertiti was King Akhenaten’s counterpart. However, the plaque also noted that he valued her influence on the people and her unique ideas to better the kingdom. Still, most observers see Nerfertiti as spectacle of beauty, not as a prominent queen. Maisha Eggers raises the importance of narration in “Knowledgs of (Un-) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in German” when she writes, “Narration creates and conserves normalcy, dismantling legitimized and historicized dominant knowledges requires counter-narration,” Eggers explains the vitally of narration when trying to properly record history (7). Along these lines, history should be told with complexity and contradictions, in its most accurate forms.


LyricReigning from the central quarters of Arkansas, Lyric is a Psychology major with a minor in Feminist & Gender Studies. Known for her risk-taking character, she decided to attend Colorado College without visiting the campus once. When she’s not hypnotized by the tunes in her headphones, she spends time writing rhymes and short stories. Her number one priority is to make her family proud and comfortable. On a broader scale, she would like to intertwine her Psychology degree with media in order to start change in the Black community’s mindset. She would start with writing for TV shows to alter the images of Black characters and begin to create highly-ranked, all-Black casted shows that represent various images of Black women. Lyric is extremely grateful for the opportunity to travel abroad, and looks forward to more experiences.

The Jewish Museum: “Forced Into Exile”

By Jesse Crane

IMG_8764After a sunny morning walking through downtown Berlin on the Holocaust History Tour with Carolyn Gammon, we ate a long lunch and then headed over to the Jewish Museum. As we gathered together on the upper floor of the museum, our group sat in a large circle in the middle of an empty room with slanted red, white, and steel walls. The introduction to our workshop was given by Fabian Schnedler. From the beginning, Fabian made it clear that the Jewish Museum was not a Holocaust museum. Museum visitors were there to talk about the history of Judaism, including the 2,000 years of Jewish history before the Holocaust. Fabian explained to us that “this is a museum about life, not death” and that the museum is meant for us to ask ourselves, “What is Jewish culture?” Similarly, in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” Sabine Offe argues that the Jewish Museum emphasizes the importance of new collective memories about German Jews in order to gain a rich understanding of the role of a Jew in Germany, both in the past and today.

Jesse IIAs Fabian left us, we became acquainted with Muirgen, our enthusiastic workshop leader. Our workshop, “Forced Into Exile,” focused on the feelings of fleeing, the spaces involved in the Holocaust, and how those feelings and spaces impact our bodies and evoke emotions. She also urged us to re-conceptualize how we viewed the Holocaust in relation to the experiences and perceptions of German Jews. One of our activities included organizing various laws by year in order to understand Holocaust as a process.

IMG_8769Murigen laid our 8 cards with dates and handed out 8 cards with Nuremberg Laws to match these dates. As a group, we struggled to match the laws with the right dates. These Laws were each different. For example, “Jews are obliged to wear a yellow star” and “It is forbidden for Jewish children to attend a German school.” Murigen explained to us that the Nazis were originally trying to “bully” the Jews enough until they left Germany. This reminded me of “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich” by Marion Kaplan. Kaplan explains how the experiences of Jewish students grew worse and worse until they finally left the constricting German schools in order to go to Jewish schools where they felt comfortable and supported. This had me thinking about how the decision to leave everything you had ever known behind and how bad things would need to get before making that decision. Would I have left? Would I have stayed? I still wonder what I would do.

Murigen highlighted these questions parallel to the election of Hitler as Chancellor in the Third Reich. At first there were misunderstandings of who was really Jewish and who was really Aryan. At the time, German Jews often felt more German than Jewish or anything else, and suddenly their identities were conceived within the dominant social discourse as exclusively Jewish. The active creation of definitions by the Nazis for Aryan and Jew brought me back to Maisha Eggers‘ “Knowledge’s of (Un-) Belonging.” When discussing “moving inward,” Eggers discussed how Black Germans had define themselves in order to shape their movement and gain strength within their goals. In Nazi Germany, the government was took this power and was able to define all groups in the Third Reich and how they are meant to function in society.

IMG_8770After this exercise, Murigen led us we downstairs to gain a better understanding of spaces in Nazi Germany for the Jews and to demonstrate to us the way in which the museum contributes through its architecture in forming this understanding. As we ventured to the basement, we wandered into an unusual space. It was an industrial, off-kilter, narrowing hall with no right angles and no color. There was no familiarity. We discussed how we felt and as we moved through the halls, we continued to see changing dimensions. As we looked towards the ends of the hall, we saw separate halls that broke off to light and halls that broke off to darkness. Every space had a sharp turn, and it was difficult to center myself. We decided to go towards the light, and as we reached the door, we entered into the Garden of Exile. I believed that the Garden would be a centering relief from the angular halls we had just walked through. My assumptions were wrong.

JesseThe Garden of Exile consisted of long tall concrete rectangles with foliage off the top. It had tilted cobblestone floors. Some of the students in our class said it made them seasick, and others felt claustrophobic. Overall, this Garden of Exile after the sharp hallways didn’t feel much better. As we reflected on this as a group, we finally began to understand how Jews were stripped of their spaces in this world, whether it was home or in exile, nothing felt “normal.”


JesseJesse Crane is a pending Colorado College graduate from Bethesda, MD. Jesse graduated in May, but as a transfer student, she was required to do one more credit in order to fulfill her Sociology degree requirements. She saw Berlin as the perfect opportunity to take an amazing final college course and study abroad. Like many CC students, Jesse loves being outdoors—whether it may be skiing, hiking, or taking her dog for a walk. On the weekends, she spends her time practicing yoga and cuddling with her dog Lily. While Jesse loves things like reading, chai tea, and playing cards, waking up early and jogging are things that you will probably not see Jesse doing often. Jesse is grateful and excited to have the opportunity to take one final class abroad at Colorado College and can’t wait to share her experiences with everyone.

Beware of the Green Spaces: A Jewish History Tour

By DeAira Cooper

IMG_8761It’s Hump Day! The week is almost over, and you would think that we’d recovered from jet lag by now, but it seemed to be at its peak today. We took a three hour walking tour about Jewish history and the Holocaust with our amazing tour guide Carolyn Gammon. One of the first points that Carolyn made, which I found to be very interesting and surprising, was that there are no memorials for Black victims of the Holocaust in Germany. The Black experience in Germany had been written out of history until about thirty years ago, which is fairly recent. In “Knowledge of (Un-) Belonging,” Maisha Eggers writes, “The term Afro-deutsch (Afro-German) was coined in 1984 by Audre Lorde (1934–1992) together with a group of Black women activists in Berlin. This is considered the moment at which the Black movement in Germany was born.” (3) As far as Black race relations go in Germany, they still have some work to do seeing that there is only one Black man serving in parliament out of about 300 people. Carolyn then went on to make a very important thought-provoking point; claiming that whenever going on a tour, we should always have in the back of our minds the question, “What am I not seeing? What is the information being withheld or in the literal sense has been taken out the picture?” Throughout the tour, I constantly found myself referring back to these questions.

IMG_8759According to Gammon, the anti-Semitic discrimination of Jews dates back to over 800 years ago when Jews occupied “Jew Street,” because they weren’t accepted by the rest of the German population. Their only jobs involved working for the Royal Court because they were excluded from all other jobs. They also couldn’t own land and had no access to permanent rights to citizenship. Anti-Semitism actually stemmed from antagonism towards monotheism, and Judaism is one of the three main monotheistic religions along with Christianity and Islam. The introduction to this new way of thinking about religion was problematic for the Romans and Greeks, who, historically, had participated in polytheistic thought.

IMG_8748One important figure in Germany’s Jewish history is Moses Mendelssohn, a Jewish modernist who believed strongly in tolerance, strength, and equality for all regardless of religion. Mendelssohn gave the parable of the ring when asked about which monotheistic religion was the greatest. This parable was about a father with three sons having to choose which one of his sons would take his inheritance. Instead of just giving the ring to one of his sons, he decided to duplicate the ring twice so that each son would have a ring not making one of them worth more or better than the other. Once each son received their rings, they were confused that each of them had a ring and had to find a way to lead their families together in harmony. This parable is symbolic, because it shows that neither of the three monotheistic religions are better than the other and that it is possible for those practicing these religions to live with one another without discrimination or a hierarchy.

IMG_8746Mendelssohn also quotes, “beware of the green spaces,” which is significant, because most green spaces in Berlin probably have a significant story behind them in that many used to be a cemetery, synagogue, or house. Many Jewish museums exist because of these spaces. As Sabine Offe writes in “Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “On a pragmatic level, the existence of the majority of museums is linked to the fact that former synagogues, Jewish schools, or houses formerly owned by Jews that had survived the pogrom in November 1938 and the war were ‘rediscovered’ during the 1970 and 1980s” (79). The story behind the Jewish cemetery we saw on our tour really struck me, because it was destroyed by the Nazis. Not only did they destroy the cemetery, they also excavated the graves. Even the deceased Jews couldn’t live in peace. Still, Mendelssohn’s legacy lives on today at the Moses Mendelssohn high school, which teaches Jews and non-Jews together and teaches them about Judaism and tolerance. In “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich,” Marion Kaplan writes, “Because children spend so much time in school, unprotected by family, Jewish children continually met face-to-face with the repercussions of Nazism there.” (42). This high school gives hope that one day Jews and non-Jews will be able to live in peace with one another and learning from each other.

IMG_8745I can definitely say that my peers and I were very surprised by most of the information we learned today. We’ve all studied the Holocaust in our school systems, but never in the context of where it took place. Today, we walked the same streets that the murdered Jews and other victims of the Holocaust walked. It’s mind-blowing to think that people were being killed in those streets and taken out of their houses. That reminds me of one last comment Carolyn made today, “Everyone was part of the Holocaust via a perpetrator, bystander, or victim.”


DeAiraDeAira Hermani is a Chicago girl living in Colorado. She is an Anthropology major and double minor in Theatre and Race & Ethnic Studies. She enjoys acting and doing comedy, and performs all types of comedy, including short and long-term improvisation, short skits, and sketches. She also writes a lot of her comedic sketches and monologues, and enjoys singing. You can often find her harmonizing with her friends or just creating new music. She’s just a down-to-earth lady always looking for the positives in a world full of negatives. She tries to stay optimistic at all times, and because of this, you’ll probably find her with a group of people making them laugh.