Journal 1



           With the important help and preparation of our instructors as well as Berlin’s diversity, this study abroad program has been a rich, perspective-changing experience. Because of our class activities and community partners, even in the first week we have started engaging conversations with people of many backgrounds from the forward-thinking German professors seeking change to the African men coming to Berlin to get an education and live. The start is especially important with our short program, and we are making the most of our time.
The academic conversations about memorialization and activism that started with Kristina’s lecture and continued with our talk with Sharon made me think deeper about my role in fighting racism. The context of these conversations was familiar since Humboldt feels like UW in many ways. In contrast, the discussions with primary-school students and refugees are much different than the places I normally learn and reflect. These opportunities allow for conversations that may not be able to happen in a university classroom but are nevertheless important.
Yesterday’s conversation with Mohammad remains on my mind. From my personal perspective, I never questioned the function of democracy and Africans’ consent of their governments. The reasons that African countries are often in political turmoil after their “liberation” have never been clear to me and they still aren’t, but the conversation revealed a decision that I had been taking for granted: the people's choice of government. I didn't think they would ever not choose a democracy. It also returns to this critical idea that any help for a target group of people needs to take that target audience’s opinions into account, whoever is instigating the effort. The idea comes up in my co-creating research methods of allowing the community partner to be a collaborator in my research as well as projects outside this class. For example, I worked on a dementia-friendly theatre piece last quarter, and we had an advisory board of people living with dementia and their care-partners to give us feedback on the show.
My conversations with the students at the school also reminded me of the importance of listening. The underlying, broadly-reaching goal behind my research is to see how to give students a voice and find their identities. The students’ voices, not that of the teachers or myself, need to be the root of my research for it to have a chance to be relevant and accurate. Ideally, my primary role is not an innovator of new ideas but as a synthesizer, combining needs and ideas from students and teachers into a more consolidated and visible form than they were before. Only through the synthesis can come the creative assembly of informed ideas that will make the heart (and "original" work) of my research and takeaways from the study abroad.
Though I did not have the expected start at my community partner, my first week has not gone to waste. In fact, I think my learning has been enhanced through a unique chance for comparison by going to a different school this week. I also will have a broader perspective of schooling in the neighborhood and hear from a wider range of children than I would have otherwise. In many instances, I am enjoying the chances to learn unexpectedly from things: either how teens teasingly hit each other with water bottles in the street or learning phrases from overheard conversations on the bus. The times I have spent at Kotti, with small or big groups of my fellow students, or alone with only Berliners around me have all been learning experiences I have felt privileged to have. The Die Fabrik front desk person’s recommendations for where to go when I first dropped my bags, Monique’s introductions to each facility at Kotti, and so many other interactions have culminated in my feeling of immense learning during the last week.
I want to discuss my artifact from my “scavenger hunt” last Monday. I went to the Rotes Rathaus, the residence of the governing mayor and where the government of the Federal state of Berlin is housed. I walked up the large red stairs inside the front door to see what was displayed in this large building. After turning the corner, I saw this case:
A case of objects from Japan (top shelf) and Africa (bottom two shelves)

And down the hall from it this bust:
Bust of Architect Hermann Friedrich Waesemann
This grabbed my attention because it seemed to be exactly what Kristina was talking about in her lecture. The items in the case were from Africa and Asia, where German colonization had occurred. They are presented as exotic treasures, and the people who made and owned these objects are not represented. By displaying only the material products of a people, dehumanization occurs, but since the dehumanization occurred during the colonization of the 1800’s instead of the Third Reich, it are forgotten and indirectly forgiven. In contrast, white Germans are still commemorated. Just down the hall, the bust of a German architect also from the 1800's is enshrined in a pool of white light. The plaque by its side gives a brief description of his life. That the white German man gets a much more humanizing depiction that the people of other cultures is a physical representation in the house of Berlin’s government that racism still exists. Yet, racism continues to hide behind the Third Reich as something the country has already dealt with and has moved past. Such representations, though perhaps historic, should be reconsidered. As they stand, they are playing a role in proliferating racism in Germany, and in a government building the statements of dehumanization have the authority and respect of the government standing behind them.


The Palace of Tears struck me in a similar way that often comes up in civil wars: a reminder of the intense fear, loneliness, and desperation of being separated from loved ones. In wars that divide closely knit groups of people, family members are often caught on both sides of the conflict. Awe of the bravery many showed to escape East Berlin is joined with the curiosity of how desperate they were to risk their lives. When the will was so strong to leave for those people, I am sure there were many more who wanted to leave but decided not to try. This highlights the danger of the consolidation of power into the hands of a federal government that goes along with the good it can bring. Even if the people's will is strong, the government can still hold power if it uses enough force and creates enough fear.
One could see the situation in East Berlin as the people playing an appeasement strategy with the government. They try to be good citizens and keep living their lives as they have been, so they are willing to give up some things to cooperate with the government and avoid conflict. Yet, more and more often the government ramps up its efforts to rigidly control the state, including border security, and in the process violate human rights as the Stasi did. It makes gradual moves until it eventually cuts West Berlin off from East Germany and holds immense power. The people then must rely on the government to allow them to see relatives and friends from the West in the Palace of Tears. The opportunity to have these meetings could even look like a good thing in the GDR with the expansive architecture of the new annex to Freidrichstr. station. It is scary to realize that even the sizeable opposition to the GDR did not stop the growth of its power, at least for a matter of decades. Though people may promote peace and cooperation, preventing the rise of all dictators is difficult if not impossible. Connecting to our discussion with Mohammad, the people may even prefer the dictator to a democracy. In any governmental situation, human rights should be a priority, and hopefully something even a subversive government cannot take away.
I appreciated the personal stories with the suitcases full of objects that were featured in the exhibition. It balanced out the historical information with the personal stories that were affected by this building and what happened inside. By hearing about the lovers who were finally reunited in disbelief after the wall fell, the daughter who never saw her mother after leaving for West Berlin, and other accounts it was easier to understand the concerns of those in East Germany. If they wanted to go to West Berlin, possessions, physical safety, and jobs often made the escape complex and difficult. I learned a lot from the museum, and I understand each side of Berlin and their interactions better from the experience.

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