The Power of Our Own Spaces: A Conversation on Colonialism and Belonging with Iris Rajanayagam, Melody Ledwon, and Mona El Omari

By Baheya Malaty

IMG_0673As we emerged from the Rehberge U-Bahn station into the blinding sunlight, it dawned on me that this would be the last time we walked together to Each One Teach One (EOTO), the organization which has been kind enough to allow us to use their space for several of our sessions. Today was our hottest and fullest day yet here in Berlin. Between the nearly 90 degree temperatures and the three class sessions, I wasn’t sure how my energy level would hold up as I walked to our last session. But even as I walked, the heat and exhaustion slowing my every step, I felt a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Contrary to any of our previous sessions here in Berlin, this one would be a space for people of color (POC) only. POC spaces have been critically important to my mental health and well-being. Beyond that, though, POC spaces have also inspired me greatly and provided me and people whom I care about with the opportunity to really thrive in community together. In the past, POC spaces have been brilliantly creative, passionate, and supportive. Despite my exhaustion, my expectations were high.

IMG_0676And needless to say, I was even more blown away and inspired than I thought I would be. At EOTO, we were met by the Director of the organization, Melody Ledwon, as well as our two presenters, Iris Rajanayagam and Mona El Omari. Originally from an area heavily populated by Turkish and Arab migrants in West Germany, El Omari moved to Berlin and began working with Der Braune Mob, a Black/POC media-watch organization. As a Jordanian Muslim queer woman, she became involved in feminist and queer Muslim self-organizing throughout Berlin. For Rajanayagam, her involvement with political activism began when she moved to Berlin ten years ago. Her search for a space in which she could both conduct her activism and feel comfortable as a woman of color led her to become involved in self-organizing. Additionally, she wrote her Master’s thesis on colonial continuities in Germany with an emphasis on refugee and asylum policies.

Within the first five minutes of the session, Ledwon referenced a theme that would remain critical to our discussion: the notion that people of color are constantly forced to defend their right to “come together on their own terms.” We are always told that we are self-segregating, that we should focus on becoming more “integrated,” met with blank expressions when we explain why it is important for us to come together in our own space. However, as El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon articulated, POC spaces are absolutely critical to our empowerment, our learning, our community, and our creativity. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak OutAudre Lorde writes, “To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other’s vision as well as the weaponries born of a particular experience. First, we must recognize each other” (ix). One tactic of white supremacy has been the intentional fracturing of communities of color, as well as the erasure of Brown and Black cultures and histories. For people of color, then, coming together on our own terms allows us not only to build community, but also to determine a collective vision, a way to move forward. Along these lines and regarding her work with Der Braune Mob, El Omari spoke of the importance of going beyond work that is strictly reactionary. Not only does the organization critique the presentations of Black people and people of color in the media, but it also creates an archive of alternative media and news articles in order to encourage people of color to write their own stories and to break the silences of the mainstream media. A critical part of her work at Der Braune Mob, then, has always been asking the question: What do we as POC communities do to empower ourselves? Mona explains that focusing on this question afforded her the opportunity to reflect, think, and develop visions for the future on her own and with other people of color.

As we continued to unpack the importance of people of color having the opportunity to assert a space, our discussion turned to the legacies of colonialism on the notions of inclusion, belonging, and citizenship in Germany. When Germany began its colonization of Namibia, German law stated that if you had a German father, you were German. As the rape of Black women by white men as well as sexual relations between Black people and white people created an increasing population of mixed-race babies, the German government decided to change the law. Now, if you had a “drop of Black blood, you could not be German.” Thus, the notion of German-ness as whiteness was born. The notion of Germany as a nation-state with colonies reinforced the binary between whiteness and blackness, German-ness and foreignness: the nation-state of Germany was white, and its colonies were Black. To this day, the law of (white) blood reigns supreme in Germany. For example, El Omari provided the example that if your great-great-great grandfather lived in unified Germany before the Second World War, but was in fact a white Polish citizen, you as a white Polish citizen would be able to obtain German citizenship. On the contrary, people of color who were born in Germany but lack a German passport can be deported from the country in an instant. Thus, in order to be German, one must be white. Similarly, in the introduction to Winter Shorts, Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo discuss the problematics of the prevalence of the term “people of a migration background” in Germany. More specifically, Otoo writes,

The phrase “person of a migration background” seems to suggest that you can see or hear whether a person is of “foreign” descent or not. However “person with a migration background” is a euphemism. It is rarely used to describe certain white non-Germans—I think white US Americans for example do not feel addressed by it. On the other hand, people who were born and raised in Germany, and who do not look white, are often labeled as having a “migration background.” (15-16)

IMG_5741Hence, if you are not white, you do not really belong in Germany. You are a “guest worker,” a refugee, an asylum seeker, or a visitor. El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon all testified to the fact that most people assume they cannot be German because of their color. They spoke to constantly being asked questions such as, “Where are you really from?” and “When are you going back?” In fact, a few years ago, El Omari was taken off the voter registration list, because a German government official saw her name and automatically assumed that she could not be German with a name like hers. Additionally, the police began to search for her, because they assumed that she was an “illegal” migrant, and when she protested, German authorities explained, “You must understand, we thought a person with a name like yours could not be German.” In Showing our Colors, May (Optiz) Ayim speaks to notion that her identity as Afro-German is read as unintelligible and not really German:

You planning to go back?
What? You’ve never been to Papa’s country?
What a shame…Well, if you ask me:
A background like that, it sure does leave its mark
Me, for example, I’m from Westphalia
and I think
that’s where I belong. (138)

IMG_5745The notion of belonging as a person of color in Germany is a very complicated one. On the one hand, because German-ness equals whiteness, people of color are excluded from the German identity. Still, as our session with these three amazing women came to a close, I could not help but see some silver lining to the situation at hand. This is not to excuse the erasure and exclusion of people of color in Germany or to say that it is justified or to glorify it in any way. Rather, I wish to emphasize the ways in which German people of color have been able to establish spaces together on their own terms and develop a collective vision for the future. As today’s session with El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon taught me, the power of POC spaces is incredible. Not only do they function as ways through which to heal and build community, but they also offer us radical liberatory possibilities. POC spaces allow us to create and exist within a space on our own terms. Colonialism has taken so much from people of color; people, land, resources, cultures, and histories have all been destroyed and erased. Thus, the act of people of color creating and gathering in a space on their own terms is radical in and of itself; it represents the reclaiming of our bodies, our histories, and our cultures. Perhaps most importantly, as Melody taught me today, POC spaces allow us the opportunity to thrive together.


MalatyBaheya Malaty is a rising junior at Colorado College studying Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies and Feminist and Gender Studies. As co-leader of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Feminist Collective (FemCo), they are passionate about challenging Zionism and engaging in creative activism in solidarity with Palestine using a feminist lens. They are known to many of their friends as “Dad,” due to their superb barbecuing skills, knowledge of sports, classy button-up shirts, and their general Dad sensibility. Their dream is to one day develop a program through which students of color can travel to Palestine and learn about the occupation through a comparative, transnational, and feminist lens. Their alternative dream is to become a stay-at-home Dad.

Our Second Weekend in Berlin

By Amanda Cahn

Cahn IFriday morning, during our walking tour in the heavy rain, half of the group decided to get phở for lunch to warm us up. We took the metro to Kreuzberg, and tried to walk under the restaurants’ awnings in the fruitless attempt to stay wet instead of soaked. Unfortunately, we arrived a half-hour before the restaurant opened. Not wanting to wait in the rain, we started our second weekend off with drinks and olives at the Knofi Feinkost restaurant and deli. A half-hour later, we moved to Green Rice for phở. We were already halfway through our meal when we realized there was a large photograph of a naked woman hanging right in front of us, demonstrating how conditioned we are to seeing women’s bodies used as decoration.

Cahn IIThat evening, the whole group took the metro back to Kreuzberg, where we had dinner and drinks at Ta’Cabrón Taquería and Que Pasa and went dancing at Havanna to celebrate Alejandra’s birthday. Unlike the majority of the nightclubs we’ve visited, Havanna did not play electronic dance music (EDM). Upstairs was primarily bachata; although, it switched to reggaeton later on in the night. Downstairs, there was an active salsa room, as well as another room playing mostly hip-hop and R&B, which is advertised as “Beautiful Black Sounds.” It is important to note that the other rooms are not referred to as “Latino Sounds” or any other similar label. Furthermore, many of the songs were not even by Black artists. The way in which the music is uniquely racialized is problematic, especially when the majority of the people in this room were white (or white-passing), suggesting the music is racialized primarily for marketing purposes.

Cahn IIIOn Saturday morning, a German friend of mine arrived at the apartment, bearing coffee for the both of us. Because it was sunny and still early, Chris and I walked around the city for a while before heading to the Boros Collection (Sammlung Boros), a contemporary art exhibition in an old Nazi bunker (Reichsbahnbunker). Forced laborers constructed the air-raid shelter in 1942, and it was referred to as an M1200 because it was intended to shelter up to 1,200 people, but it ended up sheltering around 3,000. We could still see the artillery damage on the exterior of the building, because in 1945, the Red Army used the bunker to house prisoners of war. Since WWII, the bunker has been used in quite a variety of ways. In 1949, it was used as a textile warehouse. In 1957, it became known as the “Banana Bunker” because imported fruit from Cuba was stored there.

Cahn IVCurrently, there are three pieces on display, all by Berlin-based artist Alicja Kwade, which particularly interested me and are quite relevant to this course. In a small room visible from the lobby but blocked off with a chain, an organized stack of shining gold bars sits elevated and illuminated. However, the bars are actually coal-plated in gold leaf. Upstairs in another small room, precious gems sit protected and illuminated within an elevated glass case. These are stones Kwade took from the streets of Miami and had cut and polished. The last piece is in another small room, but it is dark and the floor faintly reveals its past life as a bathroom. Kwade shattered a mirror, outlined it, then used the outline to cut this steal and position it as the mirror had shattered. All of these pieces problematize how we decide what is valuable and what is not. Along these lines, in the introduction of Winter Shorts, editors Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo refer to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness.” Burnley explains, “Du Bois wrote about the way double consciousness comes into being for us as Black people, because society sees us through a largely negative filter of assumptions and prejudices. Double consciousness is about both aspects: how we see ourselves as individuals or as a group and how society sees us” (10). Kwade’s work not only reflects the two aspects of the double consciousness, but also the filters that are used to manipulate which lives the mainstream society deems valuable.

Cahn VIn the afternoon, we were craving Thai food, so we took the metro to Charlottenburg and Chris showed me a little slice of heaven in Preuβenpark, also known as Thai Park. Exiting the flowery trail, we came upon a sea of umbrellas, shielding the vendors from the sun or drizzle, whichever one cared to pass by. There had to be at least fifty vendors, many who actually cooked the food right there in front of the customers after they ordered. Of course, I noticed that most of the vendors were Asian, whereas most of the customers were white. In Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak OutMay (Opitz) Ayim notes, “Turkish kabob, Greek gyros, Italian pizza, Indian and African teas have long since become a regular part of everyday life in the Federal Republic. Nevertheless the people who have made these and other enrichments possible through their contribution to cultural diversity are regarded with caution” (136). While Showing Our Colors was published in 1986, Germany may still be in much of the same situation. This also reminds me of the chorus of “Gold” by High Klassified,

They say melanin is in
I just can’t see why
‘Cause you love our style, ‘cause you love our skin
‘Cause you love our food but there ain’t no love within.

Cahn VIIThat night, half of the group went out for sushi and drinks at Le Coq D’or in Friedrichshain. Afterwards, everyone decided to go back to the apartment except for Nitika and I. On our way to Newton Bar, we were approached by a group of people on the metro and a couple of guys started asking us where we are from. For the first time during our stay in Germany, they did not take “the United States” for an answer. They said, “No, but where are you really from? You guys look Latina.” Nitika is Indian, and I am Indonesian, so when they said that we looked Latina, it only emphasized what we already knew: they wanted to know why we have brown skin, not where we come from (whatever that even means). Ayim describes an all too familiar sentiment, “No matter where I go, I know some guy is going to say something to me—especially at parties: ‘Well, where do you come from?’” (151). Again, we see that for the “Other,” not much has changed.


CahnAmanda Cahn is from Portland, Oregon and a rising senior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist and Gender Studies and a minor in Spanish. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights and has worked with Planned Parenthood teaching sexual education in public high schools, as well as analyzing statistical data from their various sexual education programs. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with friends.

 

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 Arzouni” 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!

Student Resistance: Germany in the 1960s

By Mackenzie Murphy

Student Revolution of 1968 IOn Monday morning, after having coffee at Heidi’s apartment and catching up after a fun weekend, we went to meet our tour guide Nadav Gablinger. On the first stop of the tour, Naday lead us through the doors of a German university and out into a courtyard. We all sat down and listened as he explained to us that we were sitting at the location that was home to the Student Movement of 1968. This was a movement that was headed by the Baby Boomer generation. Nadav explained that in 1960, the media began to cover the trials accusing Nazis of war crimes in relation to their involvement at Auschwitz. This was the first time that many of the students attending the university had heard of the types of atrocities that occurred under the Nazi rule during WWII. They responded with outrage—why was this history, which was so recent, never taught to them? The students began to push back against the school system, demanding that the entire history of Germany be taught. Students also began to push against the ideology of the school, which at this point seemed less like a place that encouraged learning and more like a well-oiled machine meant to get students in and out of the system as quickly as possible, as to generate the most profit. Many members of the school’s administration were former Nazis themselves, so this just furthered the wary nature of the students. As a result, the students were stripped of their ability to communicate with professors and those in charge. It became increasingly apparent to the students that they were functioning under an authoritarian rule, with only the illusion of democratic freedom.

Student Revolution of 1968 IVAs Michael A. Schmidtke points out in “Cultural Revolution or Cultural Shock? Student Radicalism and 1968 in Germany,” a larger picture began to form revealing that “a gap existed between [Germany’s] democratic ideals and the undemocratic culture” (79). Hence, there was a growing tension between the students and the authorities. Students became more at-risk living in West Berlin during this time of conflict, and could be arrested for things as simple as wearing ripped jeans and having long hair. Eventually, this growing tension lead to the formation of the Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund (SDS), an opposition group outside of the German Parliament. According to Schmidtke, the SDS was “one of the most important groups in the protest movement” (80), as their goal was to not resist the authoritarian institution but go “through it and change it.”

Student Revolution of 1968 IIWe continued the tour by walking to spots where the students had performed sit-ins and other forms of protest. We eventually found ourselves standing in front of Deutsche Oper, West Berlin’s opera house. This was the point when the movement came to its height. A demonstration was held in protest of the visit of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Benno Ohnesorg, a German student, was present at the demonstration with his pregnant wife. When the protest turned violent, Benno and his wife fled the scene to seek protection. They ran down the block as a police officer followed them. They cut a corner and continued down an ally way and into a courtyard where Benno was then shot in the back of the head by the police officer. Bennos’ death sparked debate within the student community and across the world. Today, there is a statue (Relief Der Tod des Demonstranten [The Death of the Demonstrator] by Alfred Hrdlicka) outside of the Opera house commemorating the police brutality that was occurring during the time of the movement and the death of Ohnesorg.

Student Revolution of 1968 VIThe students in Berlin also decided to attack the Bild newspaper headquarters in response to the police brutality. Bild, a very large publishing company, had been printing papers throughout the Student Movement portraying the members of SDS and the movement leaders as terrorists. Bild’s mass media influence had large effects on the way the public constructed a narrative of the movement. As Jin Haritaworn points out in “Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of ‘Homophobic Hate Crime’ in Germany,” the misrepresentation of the group as terrorists “converted police into the main patron” in the public’s eyes (73). This allowed for Ohnesorg’s perpetrator, Karl-Heinz Kurras, to escape any type of punishment.  Instead of appearing in the media as oppressors of people fighting for freedom, police were seen as heroes protecting Germany from the student terrorists.

Student Revolution of 1968 VThe next and last stop on our journey was to Rudi-Dutschke-Straße, named after one of the most prominent leaders of the movement. This is also the street where Bild publishing headquarters is located and the sight of the movement’s response to Ohnesorg’s death. This is where the members of the student movement burned down the headquarters of Bild and held daily riots in the following days. The Student Movement opened doors for resistance groups around the globe, and it allowed for groups whose history had previously been silenced to have a space to begin to tell their stories. For example, Erik N. Jensen notes the “shared memory of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals (which) emerged in the 1970s” in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution” (321). If it were not for the actions of the members and leaders of the Student Movement, this community’s stories may have been left hidden in Germany’s past forever.

Below, the FemGeniuses are reacting to Peace be With You by Peter Lenk (above) on the side wall of the Tageszeitung (Taz) building on Rudi Dutschke Straße…click the pic for more info!


Mackenzie Murphy

Mackenzie Murphy grew up in New Jersey, and although she loves living in Colorado, the east coast still has a strong hold on her heart. She has been fortunate enough to have traveled within the United States, as well as to some parts of Europe and most recently to Costa Rica. This is her first time in Germany, and she’s most excited about the opportunity to travel and learn about this wonderful place with her peers. She will be a senior this coming fall, and she studies Film & New Media Studies. She also holds strong interests in Philosophy and Feminist & Gender Studies. She is currently watching the TV series The Sopranos, and her favorite philosopher is Friedrich Nietzsche.

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“Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds”

By Melissa L. Barnes

UnterweltenThis evening, we attended a tour entitled “Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds.” Berliner Unterwelten offers five tours, and “Dark Worlds” showcases an underground museum of a civilian air raid shelter under a modern-day train station. We were not allowed to take pictures during the tour, because the tour company does not own the copyrights for the artifacts and does not own the complete rights to the air raid shelter. The tour company also does not receive government funding, so they rely solely on private funding, donations, and guided tour income.

This particular shelter was completed in 1942, and became a museum in 1999. The shelter has four levels, with a total of forty-eight rooms. Our tour guide also talked with us about the difference between civilian air raid shelters and bunkers. Bunkers were solely for military/defense use and were expensive to construct, because they use more steel—thicker walls and roofs—than civilian shelters and have a more chess board-like, square architecture. Generally, bunkers held about 200 people, while the civilian shelter we were in was designed to hold 1,300 people. Bunkers were designed to look like houses or simple buildings in order to distract and confuse countries that were attacking Germany from the air. Germany was not allowed to have an air force due to the Treaty of Versailles, so this was a well-known weakness utilized by the opposition.

Before 1941, there were no civilian air raid shelters, because the Nazi regime did not want to convey that there was any potential harm for civilians to worry about and, secretly, civilians were thought of as collateral damage during wartime. However, in 1941, it was clear that Berlin would be under continuous attack, and German citizens would be less cooperative if they were not given a “safe space” during the air raids. Before the civilian air raid shelters were constructed, the Nazi regime tested many different architectural designs: first with animals, then with people imprisoned in concentration camps. To this day, no one knows how many trials the Nazis completed before they were satisfied with the design of the air raid shelters.

The walls of the shelters were different lengths, each floor was built at a slope, and every door is facing a wall. If a bomb were dropped into the shelter the shockwaves of the explosion would destroy the whole shelter – whatever was left after the initial destruction of the bomb. The shelter was built in such a way, then, that the shockwave would not reach people two rooms away from the epicenter. Additionally, if any chemical weapons were dropped into the civilian shelter, the toxic gas used was usually heavier than air, so the chemical would float down into the lower areas of the shelter, saving the people in the higher levels. This especially illustrates Hitler’s belief that civilians are collateral damage.

BunkerIn each room, there is a room number and occupancy limit painted on a wall. However, when an air attack happened, civilians obviously did not care about the occupancy limit and tried to get into the shelter no matter what. The shelter is very spacious and each room looked like it could definitely hold more than the limit; but, ventilation for fresh air was only installed in nine of the forty-eight rooms. Hence, many people died from suffocation, because each room was sealed with thick doors. So, if there were too many people than the Nazi’s calculated air for, then the air would not reach everyone. At the end of the air raid, firefighters and police officers were sure to tell surviving civilians, “Remember, the Fürher has just saved you!”

Once the war was over, most men were dead, injured, elderly, or too young, so the women were expected to rebuild entire cities by hand. During this time period, unlike times before and during the war, women were not considered too weak to do a man’s job, but were expected to do so in order to provide for their children. They had to use their imaginations to build things from the remains of the war. For instance, they used bomb shells to make stoves, soldiers’ helmets to make pots and drainers/strainers for cooking, and rubber from tires to make shoes and insulation during harsh winters.

Speaking of the “end” of the war, forensic pathologists estimate that the war will not truly be over until all human remains are found and identified. Along these lines, there are still 3,000 live bombs within Germany’s soil that could be accidentally detonated. The detonators on the bombs have a life of 100 years, so they will remain live for about 30 more years. For these reasons, the government requires that police and forensic specialists examine all sites where new buildings will be constructed in order to ensure that no live bombs are near the area. We learned how important this is when our guide discussed the case of September 15, 1994, when a construction worker detonated an underground WWII bomb. This accident left 3 people dead and 17 people injured.

Throughout this tour, I was trying to imagine myself as a civilian whose daily routine included a trip to an air raid shelter about four times a day. This was challenging, because I also thought about some civilians’ cooperation and support of the war, racism, and genocide. Given the content of our course, I also wondered about the role of Black women after the war, especially whether or not they were expected to perform the same duties as other women—what happened to them during these times? We have learned during our seminars throughout this course that some, but by no means all, Black people were spared from murder and/or concentration camps. If Black people were still present in Germany, were they allowed to enter the civilian air raid shelters? Throughout this class, we have also discussed the importance of multiple perspectives of history, and I feel that popular narratives of the WWII period are dominated by the White civilian perspective, even if we are talking about the victims of WWII.

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Melissa IIIThis fall, Melissa will be starting her final year as a student at Colorado College, double-majoring in Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology. This fall, she is planning to apply to Ph.D. programs in Clinical Psychology.