I have to start by saying that the five-year anniversary of the course started out with a bang for a few reasons:
It’s the first time the course has been full. In fact, we exceeded the maximum enrollment limit of 16 by one student;
two of my students were able to secure funding to come conduct research—Judy Fisher, Feminist & Gender Studies Major ’20, 2019-2020 TriotaPresident, 2018-2019 Shannon McGee Prize winner, and Fall 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin alum came to conduct transnational studies of American Indigeneity; and Mekael Daniel, Feminist & Gender Studies Major ’20 and 2019-2020 Triota Vice President came to conduct transnational studies of Blackness;
and we were joined by my niece-cousin-boo from Memphis, TN, Kelsey Nichole Mattox, who turned 18 and graduated from high school recently. So, her presence was especially meaningful. In fact, she had never gotten on an airplane until she traveled here, excitedly letting us know, “I decided to go all the way!”
Judy and Mekael arrived the same day I did, and we trekked to Radebeul (near Dresden) to attend the Karl May Festival so Judy could observe, think about, and examine Native American participation in predominantly white festival culture in Germany, as well as white Native American hobbyism. Imagine the raised-eyebrows of every single one of my friends and comrades in Berlin when I told the about this—haha. Judy and Mekael also went to the Great Indian Meeting at the El Dorado theme park in Templin the following weekend to continue Judy’s work. Shoutout to my colleague, Dr. Santiago Ivan Guerra (Associate Professor of Southwest Studies at Colorado College), for introducing Judy to the significance of hobbyism in Germany, illustrating the collective efforts necessary for critical theory work.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that it’s been a while since the #FemGeniusesinBerlin were so full of #BlackGirlMagic (2015was the last time, to be exact), and I couldn’t have been more excited about that. One adorable and powerful manifestation of that was Avi(a) leading several rounds of “Deep Truth, Truth,” a game that allowed her to bond with her classmates, especially her roommates, but also with Dana and I one day during lunch. “Deep Truth, Truth” starts with someone asking another person if they’d like to share a deep truth or what one might refer to as a “regular” truth. A “regular truth” could be anything from sharing your favorite color to a song that you hate; however, a “deep truth” is usually something that one might not share in a group like this, because lots of us don’t know each other well enough to be comfortable with that kind of vulnerability. Then, once the person being questioned decides what kind of truth they want to share, the questioner asks a question. After the question is answered, the person being questioned then gets to ask another person in the group a question. I got to ask and answer twice (one truth and one deep truth), and learned a lot about the students that day. Neat stuff.
In “short,” the2019 #FemGeniusesinBerlin were such a great bunch even though we most certainly hit a few snags along the way. Here are some (definitely not all) of the most memorable moments:
The weather hitting 90F degrees, something I’m pretty sure never happened in years past, and doing so several days each week.
Bella’s cube bear.
Mekael, Judy, and I being photographed by a stranger (with consent) at the Karl May Festival and finding the very poorly-filtered but very cute photograph on social media (posted with consent).
Lauren’s RBF and fierce modeling skills.
Avia’s phone fan and ridiculous pranks.
Zander playing Captain Save ‘Em, and gettin’ hollered at all along the way.
Nicole being almost entirely silent then shakin’ up the space with the loudest, most hilarious laugh you ever did hear.
Vang asking to sit on our roof (which would most certainly result in his untimely death), asking about transporting beer back to the U.S., telling us he got “hemmed up by 12” (which turned out to mean he was approached by some ticket-checkers on the subway and allowed to continue his trip with a mere warning…side eye), telling folks about sex stores, and gettin’ hollered at for almost every single thing all along the entire way.
Discussing the advantages and risks of comparative analysis.
Dr. W. Christopher Johnson, Assistant Professor of History and the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto and husband of our Course Associate Dana Asbury, coming for a visit and joining us for a few sessions.
I could go on and on and on. I will never forget this group. Such a great summer through it all, which led to my new phrases: Must be June. Must be Berlin.
2019 FemGeniuses in Berlin Podcast Index: Click hereto view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to see more pictures and videos!
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:
Click hereto view a slideshow, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see even more pictures and videos!
This podcast—led and produced by Kayla Adams—examines our tour of the “Queer City: Stories from São Paulo” exhibition with Caro at the Schwules Museum*. According to exhibit curators José Gabriel Navarro, Todd Lanier Lester, Raphael Daibert, and Dr. Kevin Clarke, “Queer City” interrogates the following questions, to name a few, “How does the co-existence of these highly diverse groups work in São Paulo, in the past and today? How affected are they by racism, how free are they, and what possibilities of expansion do they have, in a time when Christian Evangelicals gain more and more political power in Brazil and use that power to shut down exhibitions about queer art, as happened in September 2017? What can we learn from a range of urban processes—social movements, artistic interventions and otherwise—about the building of a future queer community? Who are the protagonists of the current Brazilian LGBTIQ* movement, and how are they different from those of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as seen in the documentary film São Paulo in Hi-Fi by Lufe Steffen? Why does São Paulo have a state funded Museum for Sexual Diversity since 2012 that’s directly modeled on Berlin’s Schwules Museum*? And why is Saint Tibira do Maranhão the first indigenous queer martyr of Brazil?”
Photo Credit: Kayla D. Adams
Kayla D. Adams is a junior, as well as a first-generation college student at Colorado College. She* is from Memphis, TN, and studies Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies and intends to pursue a Feminist and Gender Studies minor. She* is currently a Resident Advisor, participates in numerous club organizations, and was the recipient of The Taizo Nakashima Emerging Leader Award in her first year.
Photo Credit: Kayla D. Adams
Joining Kayla in her* discussion are Kendall Stoetzer—a junior from Denver, CO majoring in Sociology with a minor in Art Studio, and Drew Ceglinski—a Geology major and German minor from Bath, ME.
NOTE: The photo credit for the featured image also belongs to Kayla D. Adams.
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.