Some Final Thoughts on the 2015 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

By Breana Taylor

KwesiBerlin has surprised me. This is a city rich in history, and I do not only mean history specifically focused on World War II. The course has focused, in part, on problematizing the limited popular narratives about Berlin and Germany, and has exposed my classmates and I to the histories, herstories, cultures, and politics of marginalized groups, such as Black Germans, Jewish Germans, Turkish Germans, LBTQIA folks in Germany, and other groups and how their experiences and relationships with Berlin and Germany are often absent from general narratives. We have taken numerous tours learning about Berlin’s Queer history, Jewish History, African history (particularly along the streets of Wedding), and more. In addition to tours, we have met with multiple intellectual activists like Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo, Asoka Esuruoso, Sandrine Micossé-Aikins, Noah Sow, Noah Hofmann, Dr. Maisha Eggers, Sharon Dodua Otoo, and many others.

Like other countries across the globe, Germany wishes to distance itself from racists and oppressive actions committed within its own walls and by its own people. As Heinz Ickstadt points out in “Appropriating Difference: Turkish-German Rap,” Germany is a country with multiple cultural layers. It is a country in which Black Germans, Asian Germans, Latino Germans, and more do exist and not all in small numbers. Still, Ickstadt argues, “It will probably still take some time until Germans fully understand how much their own culture has been enriched by these developments.” He further questions, “Is it a transitional phenomenon bound to disappear with the next generation of fully integrated Germans with Turkish names? Or will it be kept in place by a global tendency toward a bicultural existence?” (21). This is an unavoidable transition that Germany is approaching. And while German as an identity is growing and evolving to include many of the aforementioned marginalized communities, it is still not an inclusive term, even for marginalized people who were born and reared in Germany. Along these lines, Jasmin Eding argues, “Today we have to deal with a dominantly white society that now calls itself multi-cultural although we are viewed strangely if we identify ourselves as Black. We are also still struggling for visibility as well as Black consciousness within our own ranks” (2). Similarly, listening to Noah Sow speak gave us incredible insight regarding the distinctions between Black German and Afro-Deutsche.

GraffitiAs we learned from Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz, Turkish-Germans have also resisted similar challenges through their relationship with Black American culture through hip hop as means of expressing themselves. Generationally for the Turkish community in Germany, one’s citizenship is affected by whether or not one is born in Germany and when one person’s parents came to the country. Hence, when coming of age, many feel they have to choose between two citizenships, two identities. Because many young Turkish Germans were born in Germany, they consider themselves German. Unfortunately, the German identity has restrictions and limitations on what is actually German, and Turkish-Germans are often not treated as German. The idea of being German and what it means is evolving, but German often still means White German.

As the class came to an end, we concluded with a dinner at Maredo Steakhouse, enjoying a full course meal and good company. We laughed and spoke about what it has meant to be abroad and experience new things with all the phenomenal people on the trip. Though it may have seemed overplayed, it was still greatly appreciated. This was an amazing class thanks to the vision for the class provided by Professor Heidi Lewis, including the help of her colleague Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and our interactions with the rich herstories/histories of Berlin.

Group Photo2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.

Introducing the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Finding Their Presence: A Women’s Perspective Tour of Berlin” by Nia Abram
I’m My Own Flower: Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo on Intersectionality, Resistance, and Belonging” by Jazlyn Andrews
Understanding Black Studies in Germany (w/ Dr. Maisha Eggers)” by Meredith Bower
Beware of the Green Spaces: A Jewish History Tour (w/ Carolyn Gammon)” by DeAira Cooper
The Jewish Museum: Forced into Exile Workshop” by Jesse Crane
#BlackLivesMatter All over the World: Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh” by Samantha Gilbert
What is Racism?: A Discussion with Sandrine Micossé-Aikins” by Jade Frost
Student Resistance: Germany in the 1960s” by Mackenzie Murphy
Where You Reside?: Postcolonial Performance in Berlin w/ Salma” by Lyric Jackson
I Am not Your Idea of Me (w/ Sharon Dodua Otoo)” by Thabiso Ratalane
‘Not So Tangible but Still Real!’: LesMigraS and Intersectional Anti-Violence Work in Berlin” by Spencer Spotts
Jasmin Eding and ADEFRA: On Self-Definition and Empowerment” by Willa Rentel
Stories of Blackness with Asoka Esuruoso and Noah Hofmann” by Breana Taylor
Dismantling Structural Racism: Kwesi Aikins on Politics in a Postcolonial Society” by Nia Abram
Consumption of Culture: A Trip to the KENAKO Afrika Festival” by Jazlyn Andrews
Ignorance Is Never Bliss: Our Turkish Tour Experience” by Meredith Bower
Freedom Summer, Selma, & Federal Civil Rights Legislation: Black History in Berlin w/ Rebecca Brückmann” by Jesse Crane
‘I Want You to Listen to My Story!’: An Afternoon with Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz” by Jade Frost
Misrepresenting a Colonial Past: The Africa in Wedding Tour with Josephine Apraku” by Samantha Gilbert
What It Is and What It Ain’t: Tour of the Neues Museum” by Lyric Jackson
Breaking Down Barriers: A Discussion with Noah Sow” by Mackenzie Murphy
A Visit to Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand” by Thabiso Ratalane
Resistance through Art: The FemGenuises Do Graffiti with Berlin Massive” by DeAira Cooper
‘Hier ist’s richtig!’: Creating and Dominating Queerness in Berlin” by Spencer Spotts
Site Seeing (and Thinking, Analyzing, Understanding, etc.)” by Willa Rentel

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here

IMG_9349While studying at Colorado College, Breana Taylor realized that feminism is a passion of hers, which is convenient, because she recently decided to declare her major in Feminist & Gender Studies. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Breana is no stranger to traveling or to being around lots people. Having grown up in a large family and with a father in the military, she enjoys being exposed to new environments and the experiences that come with being in new places. During her down time, she enjoys reading, stand-up comedy, and listening to movie soundtracks. Feminism has brought nothing but good things to her life, such as new perspectives on women, race, and gender, and how to think critically about these things and more. Being a member of the FemGeniuses is such an honor, and she cannot wait for the opportunity to grow in her knowledge on feminism across the globe!

I’m My Own Flower: Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo on Intersectionality, Resistance, and Belonging

By Jazlyn Andrews

Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

As we left the apartment this morning, it was clear to see that we were all still recovering from a long, jet-lagged journey. We struggled to keep our eyes open and our bodies upright on the U-Bahn,  but luckily the fight to stay awake ended once we got the opportunity to meet our Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo. Preferring to use her second first name—taken from a missionary’s wife who worked with her grandfather—Lahya’s bountiful energy was infectious, and soon we were so enthralled by her life story that we couldn’t help but to stay engaged. A self-identified artist and author of her autobiography, Kalungas Kind, Lahya uses her professional experience and creativity to find low-budget marketing options for African entrepreneurs. First introducing herself by telling us the meaning of her names, one thing became very clear: Lahya’s personal narrative is very political. At one point in the conversation, she questioned, “If I’m so intersectional, where do I belong?” Perhaps the meaning of her last name can lead us to the answer. Aukongo means “we’re all together,” a belief that is a driving force behind her personal and professional life.

Lahya's African Grandmother Magdalena

Lahya’s African Grandmother Magdalena

During the Namibian civil wars with South Africa, Lahya’s mother was so horribly injured during a bombing that killed between six hundred and one thousand people, that doctors flew her to Germany for critical medical attention. Born shortly thereafter on September 13, 1978 in Berlin, her delivery wasn’t without complications. Lahya suffered injuries while in the womb, and was unable to move one side of her body. Still thankful for the medical care she received at the German hospital, Lahya’s mother chose her first name to be Stefanie after one of the nurses who helped deliver her. Her third name, Ndeshipewa, means, “I appreciate others and others appreciate me.” Despite the short time for recuperation, Lahya’s mother was sent back to a refugee camp in Angola a mere sixteen months later. Lahya was taken in by a white German foster family that showered her with love, exclaiming, “It wouldn’t matter if you were purple! We’d still love you!” Still, she felt as though her Blackness offered her a wisdom that no one in her predominately white childhood could give her. Similarly Marion Kaplan’s, author of “The School Lives of Jewish Children and Youth in the Third Reich,” writes, “Jewish children who attended Jewish schools lived a dual existence: safety in school and danger outside.” Lahya, too, lived a double life: one scrawled out in her journal and another on the streets of East Berlin. Afraid that any sign of her discomfort would be reason enough for her to be sent back to Namibia, Lahya would always be smiling, but could only find consolation when letting her voice flow through her artistic expressions. Only through her writing could she find the freedom she desired to express her intersectional experiences in such a homogenous setting.

Lahya's German Family

Lahya’s German Family

We spent much of the class discussing the ways in which her perceptions of Black identity were shaped by the white culture that engulfed her. Forced to view Namibia through the dominant white lens that constructed controlling images of Africans as primitive, Lahya had to navigate and create her own sense of belonging and home. While able to distance herself from the controlling images of her far-away relatives in Namibia, Lahya was unable to escape her markers of Blackness. She described to us the first time she realized that she was different from her white peers after having been suspected of stealing at her school. Even though she never stole anything, and even had witnesses vouch for her, her bag was searched every day after school from then on. As Sandrine Micosse-Aikins and Sharon Dodua Otoo argue in the introduction to The Little Book of Big Visions: How to be an Artist and Revolutionize the World,­­­ “In predominantly white contexts, Black artists need to take the dreams, needs and visions of our communities into account and, by doing so, we often develop strategies to disrupt dominant normalities inspired by racist, sexist, homo- and transphobic worldviews.” At the age of fourteen, her father in Namibia wrote to Lahya saying it was time for her to come “home.” Her return was welcomed with wide-open arms and joyful singing outside the airport doors. After meeting her family and experiencing her culture for the first time, Lahya decided to use the platform that writing gave her to resist such controlling images by sharing her story.

The FemGeniuses with Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

The FemGeniuses with Stefanie-Lahya Ndeshipewa Aukongo

Her autobiography explores her nuanced, intersectional identity as a Black Queer disabled woman, forcing the reader to make connections they may never have had to consider and to see how they all come together. Autobiographical texts like this are imperative to subverting what Maureen Maisha Eggers describes in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging” as “oppressive and paternalistic connotations of Blackness” and opening up “a field for creative critical positionings.” Through her book, Aukongo is able to assert her sense of belonging to multiple positions, embracing her differences while affirming her identities.


Jazlyn Andrews hails from Grinnell, IA, so she is a pro at navigating corn mazes, driving tractors, and tipping cows. When she isn’t out in the fields, she enjoys majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and minoring in Race & Ethnic Studies at Colorado College. On the weekends, she likes to binge watch House of Cards, obsess over her corgi, Biscuit, and be goofy with friends. When she’s less lazy, she likes to go for runs, have solo dance parties to “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae, and listen to music outside in the sun. Her future plans include finishing up her final two years at school, then hopefully either moving back out to Seattle, WA to pursue a writing career or attending graduate school to extend her studies.