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Politics and filmmaking with Hito Steyerl

A version of this post was originally written for the graduate Seminar “Framing Migration,” taught by Prof. Deniz Göktürk of the UC Berkeley Department of German. In this post, seminar participant Kumars Salehi relates his interaction with acclaimed German video artist Hito Steyerl at a workshop at Berkeley. The workshop, “Proxies and Placeholders,” took place on Feb. 22, 2016 and featured excerpts from Steyerl’s work, including her most recent experimental film Factory of the Sun, which is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles through Sept. 12

Hito Steyerl, Munich-born with Japanese ancestry, exhibits a filmmaking praxis that’s at once postmodern and political, engaged and tongue-in-cheek. In the excerpts that we saw from her various pieces, she uses a mix of media and modes to reimagine – digitally, kinetically – the relationship of human bodies and subjectivities vis-a-vis information and technology. Steyerl’s workshop focused in large part on Factory of the Sun, which is woven together out of live action and computer-generated images, including everything from TV news reports to virtual reality simulations. The film puts these different modes of viewing and representation to work in the service of evoking a dystopian vision of desire and protest in a future in which corporations are unfettered in both virtual and physical spaces.

The impression I got of Steyerl’s oeuvre is that it’s surprisingly accessible, but I’m still having trouble putting my finger on who is being spoken to in her work. She obviously embraces some principle of critical political engagement, and I think she presents a strong and nuanced critique of intellectuals’ and artists’ complicity in corporate domination and also systems of control. Who should ideally be seeing her work, and what should their response be? In the Q&A portion of her workshop, Steyerl mentioned, with more than a hint of regret, that the role of the critic in society has been replaced by the role of the troll.

In the Q&A, I asked her, first, where she places herself on the spectrum of critic to troll. That question was in conjunction with the more general question about intended audience. She laughed at the question of where she places herself, and said she’d think about it; in response to the second question, she answered that it’s impossible to know who the audience is. For example, she said, her work had been appropriated into propaganda of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers’ Party.

I was able to follow up with her afterwards. She immediately brought up Trump as an example of the rise of the troll in Western culture—leaving aside the issue of how apt this description of Trump is, I remarked that I asked my question because I feel that trolls (like Trump, perhaps) can reach a wider audience today than the vaunted critic ever did. Trolls can “go viral,” their perspectives made to fit current economies of thought and affect. They made for distribution, for circulation, for BuzzFeed, for retweets.

I asked Steyerl about what level of political knowledge and education was necessary to get all the references in something like Factory of the Sun, how her work could “scale up”—she replied that it scales down well, because 9-14-year-olds love it. Her answer makes me wonder how much those kids really understood, or if they just liked the visuals. I’m not sure how satisfied I am with her answers, but I do get annoyed when I feel like artists dodge this question. Perhaps I’ve been made irritable by all this searching for a theoretically robust explanation of how a politically-engaged avant-garde can function in today’s landscape.

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Language and migration in Cinco Palmas

A version of this post was originally written for the graduate seminar “Framing Migration,” taught by Prof. Deniz Göktürk of the UC Berkeley Department of German. In this post, seminar participant Jon Cho-Polizzi comments on the role of speech, translation, and transcription in a performance of Cinco Palmas, a theatrical piece by writer-director Martha Herrera-Lasso Gónzalez and dancer-choreographer Juan Manuel Aldape, a Performance Studies PhD student and a fellow participant in “Framing Migration.” 

Berkeley’s Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Department website describes the premise and concept of the piece:

A bilingual dance-theater performance, Cinco Palmas explores frustration with the US-Mexico immigration system, and the bizarre pleasure of helping an undocumented minor travel from Honduras to Los Angeles. Based on actual accounts and audio recordings, this work-in-progress utilizes a layered form of storytelling in which dance, spoken text and supertitles mix and collide in telling a story of borders, immigration and testimony.

In the context of our class and “framing” migration, I appreciated the way that the device of the audio recorder “framed” or “bracketed” the entire narrative. The play begins in a flight en route from D.F. to Los Angeles and shows the flight attendant temporarily confiscating an audience member’s recording device as an “electronic device” during her pre-flight spiel. The play concludes with excerpts of a voice over from one of the three recordings which served as source material for the play’s narrative, ending with a statement from the unnamed narrator in which he says he is worried his recording device will be confiscated and that he needs to put it away. This is not only effective on a narrative level, as it brings the story full-circle, it also served as an interesting metaphor when thinking about the tenuous manners in which such migrant narratives are told – the uncertainties, the censorship, the silence.

I really appreciated the way transcription and translation functioned throughout the piece. Virtually all dialogue was conducted in Spanish, with the exception of the initial bilingual pre-flight recommendations as voice over, and the of “señora” and “ma’am.” Throughout the performance various aspects of the dialogue were translated, transcribed, and projected on the walls behind the characters.

Typically something of an English equivalent was provided for the audience, though at certain critical junctions different but related information was provided (for example when statistics about the high incident of physical and sexual violence was discussed, incomplete images of some of these statistics were revealed in sequence which did not exactly correspond to those being discussed.

The missing information from the English statistics and questionnaires further highlighted the high degree of uncertainty about this information, reaching an English-language readership after passing through many different hands. Inversely, one of the climactic end monologues was provided with significantly more transcription than there was actual dialogue, and the quick succession and overlapping of these words added to the overall confusion.

As a Spanish speaker, I never needed to read the transcriptions, but for the purpose of this seminar, I tried my best throughout to reference them to see if they were, as I suspected, different from the dialogue. In addition to the difficulty negotiating between these two media, the further aspect of the piece as predominantly dance-driven further disadvantages a non-Spanish-speaking audience, forcing them at critical junctions to choose between “reading” the text or reading the movements of the actresses and actor. Again, this seemed to me a highly effective way of achieving a feeling of the disjuncture and semantic confusion in the audience to mirror that experienced by the performance’s migrant protagonists.

Jon Cho-Polizzi is a PhD candidate in German Literature and Culture at UC Berkeley. He is the managing editor of Transit

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Film Review: Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Kenneth Cromer

The Edge of Heaven (2007), directed by German-Turkish director Fatih Akın, is an award-winning German-Turkish film that exemplifies the convergence of German and Turkish cultures in many regards, including heritage, language and lifestyle. Beyond the masterfully crafted intersecting storylines, an intersection of German and Turkish culture occurred that brings to light the ever growing importance of the two cultures in relation to the future of Germany and its people.

The intersection of cultures finds its roots in dialogue and scenes, where individuals from both German and Turkish origin experienced parallel events. One example of this parallelism is the death of Yeter, a Turkish prostitute, and the death of Lotte, the German lover of Ayten, who happens to be the daughter of Yeter. Reactions to Lotte’s death are devastating for both her mother and lover. While the film may not explicitly state so, it reveals through the emotion the characters display and powerful scenes that Germans and Turks are humans and share commonalities, including compassion and love, something that brings them together. This shows us that intertwining the two cultures is possible, as do many other instances in the film.

Another example of the cultural interconnectivity between Germany and Turkey is the son of a Turkish migrant to Germany, Alisan Nejat, who journeys to Turkey to find the lost daughter of the prostitute his father had come to like and accidently murdered (Ayten). Alisan is an intriguing character who retained his fluency in German, although he was raised in Germany and eventually became a professor of German. This background demonstrates something that has been more common in Germany in the last few decades, namely second and third generation Turkish migrants who face the intertwining of two cultures – German and Turkish. Alisan demonstrates through important actions, such as his interchanging use of language and transition of habits in Germany to habits in Turkey, the blending of the two cultures. Furthermore, his change to living in Turkey supports the strong connection some descendants of migrants have to their heritage.

Dialogue in the film is a significant component that contributes to a portrayal of contemporary Germany, continuously shifting throughout the film between German and Turkish, especially when the setting is in Germany. Alongside this, we see an oscillation between Turkish and English when the story focuses on Ayten, who knows no German and resorts to English for communication with Germans. The father and son (Ali and Nejat), convey a significant aspect of modern day German society whereby migrants and their children live through a mixture of German and Turkish culture. Language is an aspect of culture that becomes difficult when two cultures meet; this difficulty is shown through Nejat’s reluctance to use Turkish first whenever he speaks in Germany, however, he is easily able to switch into Turkish, showing he knows it, but prefers to speak the tongue of the country he grew up in. This seems to change in Turkey, where he knows he must speak Turkish, although the bookstore scenes do confirm that he prefers German when he chooses to speak German with the bookstore owner and German guests, before even attempting Turkish.

The film develops much more to the topic of exchange between the German and Turkish cultures, but most importantly leaves us with a better understanding that people are thinking and feeling persons who can understand this about each other, a simple aspect about people that is often overlooked. In relation to Germany’s history of migration and to contemporary issues, the film demonstrates the obvious ties many Germans today have to foreign countries, exemplifying a new face of Germany, one that can no longer ignore the effects of globalization.

– Kenneth Cromer

 

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Film Review: Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Seri In

The Edge of Heaven is a 2007 drama film written and directed by Turkish-German Fatih Akın. This film, set in Germany and Turkey, is in omnibus format in that it consists of three different episodes of ‘Yeter’s Death,’ ‘Lotte’s Death,’ and ‘The Edge of Heaven.’ Yet, these three episodes are tied closely together because each character’s stories and situations are intertwined with those of other characters. The segmentation and entitling of the episodes have effects on viewers by reinforcing subject through repetitive themes, and thus add excitement and appeal as well. In this film, there are six main characters that can be divided into three pairs: a Turkish-German immigrant old father named Ali and his son Nejat; a Turkish prostitute Yeter and her daughter Ayten; and lastly, a middle-class German female university student Lotte and her mother Susanne.

The first episode ‘Yeter’s Death’ depicts a journey to Istanbul undertaken by Nejat, who is a professor at a German university. He tries to find Yeter’s daughter Ayten, after his father Ali accidentally murdered Yeter. In this process, Nejat settles down in Istanbul and purchases a German-language bookstore. Next, in the second episode of ‘Lotte’s Death,’ the story unfolds as Yeter’s daughter Ayten flees to Germany. Ayten heads for Germany in the fear of being chased by the authorities due to her political activities, but also wants to find her mother Yeter, but she happens to meet Lotte at the German university, and they fall in love with each other. However, Ayten is forcibly returned to Turkey and sent to prison. These events lead Lotte to go to Istanbul to help Ayten, but Lotte’s destiny only ends in tragedy. Lastly but notably, the last episode of ‘The Edge of Heaven’ encompasses the previous two episodes. Lotte’s mother Susanne also comes to Istanbul to retrace the course of her daughter’s life. In this process, Susanne meets Nejat and visits to Ayten. She forgives Ayten and promises to help her. As the film comes to an end, Nejat changes his mind and pays a visit to his father to forgive him.

Although this film is divided into three episodes, each story is sophisticated in its plot and intimately connected to the others. In other words, there are many “links” that hold the entire story together. These “links” and “interlockings” are primarily constructed through the repetition of scenes, and failed encounters of the characters due to the endless cycle in which characters keep missing each other.

A repetition of scenes helps to keep the story coherent and linked. For example, there is a scene set in the airport, where the coffin of Yeter is transported and sent back to Turkey. Later, in the very same place as before, the coffin of Lotte is transported and sent back to the Germany. Thus, through the same element of “carrying a coffin” at the airport, the two episodes ‘Yeter’s Death’ and ‘Lotte’s Death’ are visually connected through a parallel gesture: Each episode has a tragic situation in which one of the main characters meet their death, and their deaths brings other main characters together in the same place, in this case, in Istanbul.

Similarly, several accidental encounters of characters show how each of the three episodes is deeply connected even though the characters never recognize each other. Sadly, Nejat never discovers who Ayten is and Ayten has no idea where her mother is and what has happened to her. For instance, there is a scene in which a car is passed by a train. In the car, Ayten and Lotte are driving in search of Yeter, but the couple never realizes that Nejat and Yeter are on the train next to them. Also, in the scene in which Nejat is giving a lecture, we see Ayten sleeping on her stomach in the same lecture hall. But again, these two characters are completely oblivious to each other’s presence. Therefore, in my opinion, all of these “failed encounters” imply the social aspects, in which Germans and Turkish people are internally connected with one another without coming into direct contact, yet influencing the other parties’ lives.

The film also implies how Germans and Turkish people reach a resolution, and can truly understand each other as one of the scenes show Susanne, holding Ayten tightly in her arms and forgiving Ayten. This scene indicates an effort to reconcile a relationship between Germany and Turkey as a whole: Susanne truly forgives Ayten, helps her to get out of a prison, and invites Ayten to stay with her, where she currently stays in Istanbul.

In conclusion, spaces play a crucial role in the film as they reflect historical facts of the relationship between Germany and Turkey. During the 1960s and 1970s, West Germany recruited massive Turkish guest workers in order to satisfy labor force, and as a result, both Germans and Turkish immigrants experienced inner problems such as rising racism and right wing extremism. Thus, by setting these two places in the film, it implies the attempts to establish the harmonious relationship between the two countries. Similarly, the title “on the other side” seems to have a dual meaning as it can be refer to spatial distinction between Germany and Turkey, but also can be refer to metaphorical expression as it can be interpreted as “try to put oneself in the shoes of the ‘the other side.'”

– Seri In

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Film Review: Am Rand der Städte (On the Outskirts)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Angel (Jingwei) Li

Am Rand der Städte (On the Outskirts)

Film Production Studio: Harun Farocki Filmproduktion
Running Time: 83 min
DVD Release Year: 2007
Director: Aysun Bademsoy
Writer: Aysun Bademsoy

-Alone but not lonely.

The documentary is a compilation of individual interviews recounting their lives in Germany and Turkey. Although each episode of individual seem unrelated and isolated from one another, they are actually all reunited by a concurring theme beneath the flow of personal stories and struggles. They all somehow feel wandering on the outskirts, am Rand der Städte of their community, no matter how familiar or how long they have been in such communities.

The documentary began with a Turkish song singing, floating from an aloof jeep overseeing the shore of Turkey. And a young man who has been to Germany who wanted to stay in Germany but could not in the end, concluded that his life now in Turkey is tough, but beautiful. And so many more interviews on these individuals are conducted through out the documentary, about their lives in Germany, lives in Turkey, the difficulties, the hopes, the told and the untold. The documentary presents a very diverse group of Turkish individuals with experiences of life in Germany who returned to Turkey. Among them, there are single moms, teenagers, musicians, tailor shop owner, and etc.

One of the most impressive feature in conversations was the perpetual loneliness, and the emptiness they felt. Despite participation in the crowds, yet still feels alone. Which is what we discuss in class about the identity confusion and struggle. which I think not only because of the effect that in this particular case his father left him, but also, larger in the picture, an attachment lost, in identity and homeland. There are individuals here who are left alone, who strive to be alone, to adjust to being lonely. Also, to my attention, many of them, talked about a spiritual ballast on something like the ocean, the sea, and music. The young man from the begging of the documentary, would often come to the seaside, alone, listen to Turkish music in car, and thinking. The beauty salon owner, who divorced with her husband, who remarried in Germany, talk about going to the ocean, when she needs help but nobody could help. These symbols became their attachment, since their original attachment were forced to fade away. These symbols help not only the younger generation, but also the older generation, to repose their hope, their sentiments, on something larger, something to be entrusted on, other than themselves. When some of the children and teenagers are back in Turkey, due to the language barrier, they wouldn’t be able to speak Turkish, making there restarting over life in Turkey is more difficult. These were only a few of the struggle. Even though in many of the interview, some spoke about very trivial things like Bratwurst that they miss, chocolate that they dream of, it is not only the standard of life that they were thinking of, but a way of living, their way of living, a lifestyle, a self pursuit of happiness of freedom.

One of the other most impressive features is family separation, and family reunion. Not only in geographical sense, but in emotion sense as well. This ties into what we discuss in classroom on the topic of Where does Europe begins in the irreconcilable line between physical map, and mental map. There are quite a few things that they missed, or they all expressed, the so many human sentiments that are completely ignored or avoided under the grand, cold, and bloodless immigration policies, borders and paperwork of government. Some speak about the time lost to spend together with their fathers, mothers and children. This reminded us of the discussion we have about media image and comedy, and how press would portrait the immigration issues as numbers, as regulations, but the faces, hearts and gazes behind these news are far more complicated.

One of the musician speaking in German struck me when, he says that he loves everything in Germany, lots of unconventional circles that Turkish German don’t usually blend into in Germany. Although he led a very German style, and speak perfect German, yet, what he loves the most and always engage it, is playing Saz, the traditional Turkish music instrument, and singing old Turkish tunes. Though as if nothing is Turkish in him, yet everything Turkish is deep rooted in his heart, no matter how much he does not seem or appear to be. This raises the question of identity and how they actually stay in heart of these individuals rather than something that they could easily be forgotten, transformed or gone away.

Also I noticed that the documentary does not have names for the individuals that it has spoken with. I assume that the director did this on purpose, not out of the consideration that these people’s names are not important, but out of the many more that they represent.

This documentary, through the snapshots and episodes of a few individuals and families of Turkish origins who have lived in Germany, and later returned to Turkey, shows how their lives and surroundings have even transformed. Although everything seems familiar in the homeland, they have came from, yet, strange. Again raise the question that are unable to answer in class or in readings, but rather post more thoughts, flashbacks and outlooks than ever, where is Heimat, our homeland?

– Angel Li

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Film Review: The Swissmakers (Die Schweizermacher)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Karla Palos

The 1978 film Die Schweizermacher (The Swissmakers) is a good cop/bad cop comedy directed by Rolf Lyssy which dramatizes the bureaucratic exchanges between immigration officials and immigrants applying for Swiss citizenship. The film focuses on two officials: Walo Lüönd, who plays the role of Max Bodmer, and Emil Steinberg, who plays the role of the recently initiated immigration official assistant, Mortiz Fischer, whose job it is to investigate the habits of the applicants with severe scrutiny to see whether they are worthy of Swiss citizenship. Among the applicants we encounter a ballerina, a doctor, and a factory worker, who have been in the country for more than ten years and are waiting for an audience with the council who will decide their future in the country.

The title The Swiss Makers illustrates in its explicitness the plot of the film in a more less comedic fashion as it shows the power that is vested in the officials to decide who can or cannot become a Swiss citizen. While Bodmer takes his ideals of what the righteous applicant should possess overboard, Fischer is less demanding about such qualities and tries to interact with the applicants. Bodmer’s judgment is based on the characteristics he feels a well deserving Swiss citizen should have, such as being detail-oriented, patriotic, ordinary, hard-working, but, more importantly, he wants to make sure that they are contributing in some way to the nation, either by practicing a profession, or by working in what he considers a productive job. Fischer, on the other hand, looks for the less holistic human side of each applicant and takes into account the honesty and integrity of the individuals.

The film raises an important question of what it means to belong to a nation. The ballerina, for instance, explains that, despite lived most of her life in Switzerland, living under constant surveillance makes her feel like a stranger and a criminal in her own country. Each individual struggles in their own way to demonstrate that they belong, from the Italian factory worker learning Swiss history, to the doctor raising the Swiss flag each morning, to the ballerina conforming the behavioral norms of a decent Swiss woman. In addition, the film also sheds light on the existing prejudices against foreigners. Bodmer, illustrates a deep-seated pessimism by assuming the worst of each person, while Fischer sees the beauty in difference and even questions the concept of the norm.

Die Schweizermacher provides interesting and very natural dialogues that go beyond the usual discourse and touch the heart of the concerns that many who confront the difficulties of going through the process of naturalization. The choice of actors fits well with the role that each character plays; on the one hand, we have the rigid Bodmer whose presence is intimidating, and, on the other, we have Fischer whose character makes us feel as if we were talking to a-friend. As for the applicants, the actors assimilate their role so well that we can even feel sympathy for them in the frustrating situation they experience. The music adds a special touch to the sometimes comic, sometimes serious tone of the film. At times we feel we are present with the characters and at others it gives the idea that we are watching a jocular play.

Rolf Lyssy offers a great comedy, charged with a powerful political message. His film triumphs not only as a artistic medium, but also transmitter of a strong message about the immigration system.

– Karla Palos

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Film Review: Fack ju Göhte (Suck Me Shakespeer)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Jasmine Giang

Fack ju Göhte (Suck Me Shakespeer) is a 2013 German screwball/romantic comedy, directed by Turkish-German director Bora Dağtekin. It proved to be one of the most commercially successful German films of the decade, placing second in gross income in the 2013 German yearly box office, surpassed only by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (not German). It stars Elyas M’Barek as the male lead Zeki Müller and Karoline Herfurth as the female lead Lisi Schnabelstedt. Zeki is released from prison after serving time for a robbery. He promptly finds out that one of his friends buried the stolen money at a construction site, where Goethe High School’s gym was erected. Although unqualified, he finds his way into the role of substitute teacher at the school in order to dig under the gym after hours. It is here that he meets Lisi, a passionate, but unassertive teacher at Goethe High, who is largely ignored and bullied by her students. A romance develops between the pair as she shapes him into a teacher and he helps her gain the respect of her students.

The film was a light, fast-paced comedy. It never addressed social issues heavy-handedly, but a couple of topical references are made. For example, Zeki takes his class on an unconventional field trip, which includes a visit to a Neo-Nazi’s bedroom. He also makes a comment about the students’ “Nazi grandparents” in class. Because it takes place in a high school, specifically a school mainly for “youth from the under-educated class,” the film plays on many stereotypes of teenage personas and also different socio-economic classes. Zeki bluntly tells the students about how they are perceived, “You’re the loser class … You’re scum,” to which direct connections can be drawn to the words thrown around during the recent migration protests in Germany. The title itself is a phonetic transcription of “Fuck you, Goethe” and many of the characters, including Zeki, speak ungrammatical/slang German. This breakdown of language is used to separate the low social class from the high. A member of the faculty and members of the drama club are preparing to put on the play Romeo and Juliet, when Zeki questions its “stilted language,” calling into question the relationship between the mastery of language and its power, with respect to its comprehensibility.

Zeki and the students of class 10B may not have mastered the German language and they may be the under-educated, but Goethe High functions as a transitional space, an overlap of different social spheres, where they hold the power. The power dynamics are flipped as the school struggles to find a teacher capable of handling the students. One of the “trouble students” ends up defending a group of nerds from being bullied and ultimately excels in the science fair. There is an underlying social message that education plays a large role in the shaping of “underdogs” capable of instilling the self-confidence needed for success. Zeki, an underdog himself, emerges as the first person to be able to understand where the students are coming from and to uproot their distorted social perspectives by combating them with his personal experiences. In an environment of mutual understanding, he is able to improve their German scores drastically and refine his own ambitions. 

Fack ju Göhte is a typical high school movie that entertains its audience through its sarcastic dialogue, blunt humor, American pop music, and attractive main characters. The plot of the film is fairly predictable and many of its resolutions are cliché, but I personally found it more entertaining than similar American films such as School of Rock and Bad Teacher. It would be interesting to know how closely the English subtitles were able to capture the German comedy; to what extent the viewing experience was altered by the translation, or lack thereof, of the jokes, idioms, and cultural references in the film. I found myself wondering how much of the humor/meaning was lost, or even going completely over my head if it was accurately captured in the subtitles.

– Jasmine Giang

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Film Review: Dirt for Dinner (Dreckfresser)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Cara Bohmann

Dreckfresser – Dirt for Dinner

This documentary from 2000 by Branwen Okpako tells the story of Samuel Njankouo Meffire, son of a Cameroonian father and German mother, Samuel became a figurehead for diversity in the city of Dresden when his portrait was used in a campaign against “Ausländerfeindlichkeit” or xenophobia. His story, however, takes on the form of true tragedy in what happens afterwards. Sam was a police officer and after the campaign his position as the “first Afro-German Police Officer” sent him into a stardom of sorts, with many interviews and famous friendships, including one with the Minister of the Interior of Saxony, Heinz Eggert. However, Sam was frustrated with justice system’s slow process and his inability to work fast enough to prevent crime due to bureaucracy. Finally, he left the department after he kept running into problems with his superiors concerning the legality of his behavior during investigations. On his continued quest for justice fighting, he fell into the world of crime, robbing for money. After fleeing the country, he was eventually arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison on several different charges including armed robbery and assault.

The film uses a lot of stylistic elements to keep viewers on their toes. Interspersed clips of violence and movement/commotion cut between the interviews, reminding the viewer of what is being depicted but also never letting them truly sit back comfortably during their viewing of this documentary. The dramatic reading of Sam Meffire’s poem also serves this purpose. All of these cuts serve to the furthered bluntness of the information slowly being revealed over the course of the film. Statements of clear racism, such as the story of Sam’s father’s murder, are presented in an abrupt way so as to make the audience even more aware of the hypocritical double standard between what the white Germans say they feel about racism and Sam’s story, what systematic oppression actually occurs in the clips. All of this, makes Sam’s behavior not seem so disoriented.

In my opinion, Sam’s tragic story situates itself at the core with issues of socially constructed ethnicity and lack of a relationship with the larger society of Dresden and Germany, in particular for the biracial community of Germany. Sam Meffire wrote a poem entitled “Dreckfresser” which actually translates to “eater of dirt” more directly. A longtime friend of his, who is interviewed in this documentary, discusses how he felt Sam was always very “intense” about his “paranoia” regarding his race in German society and how Sam wrote this poem in reference to his “eating too much dirt and never being able to cough it up again.” This friend believes the “dirt-eater” is a reference to all those who have fallen into crime and now are “no better than filth” (as Sam himself put it). The word “Dreck” in German has more negative connotation here than the English word “dirt.” “Dreckfresser” needs to be considered therefore as something even viler than just something along the lines of “an eater of soil” but rather a filth found under deeper layers of disgust and unworthiness. This friend does not understand why Sam was always so concerned about the potential to be attacked, whether by racist verbal attacks or physical ones. However, as we see throughout the film, Sam is put on a pedestal when he becomes the righteous and politically correct/endorsed symbol of all Afro-Germans in the German Republic as the “first Black Police Officer” and this puts colossal pressure on him to remain the perfect symbol for Black Germans. It also isolates Sam further from his community among the officers and the population of Dresden, which is almost completely white. Sam, a biracial individual, tried to face racism and xenophobia by being an upstanding citizen and becoming a police officer in an area of often violent racism (especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall) but still could not escape “the dirt” he constantly faced. In a piece written by Giovanni di Lorenzo in 19931, Sam says he wants to live in Germany, not just survive there, but the dirt that society kept throwing at him through racist and xenophobic means was too much to bear.

– Cara Bohmann

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Book Review: Along a Dangerous Road

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Evelyn Roth

Along a Dangerous Road – “Der Schlaf in der Ténéré hinterlässt eine unzerstörbare Spur im Körper. Eine Erinnerung für das ganze Leben“ (Sleeping in the Ténéré leaves its mark within one’s body. A memory that will last a life time)”[1].

The same thing can be said of “Bilal” – it leaves the reader with a trace. To call this outstanding book a travel journal would diminish both content and impact. Centered around the topic of migrations routes through Northern Africa, the content is more pressing now than ever before. Fabrizio Gatti’s “Bilal” addresses the problematic and directly confronts the reader with the dangers that await refugees choosing this track to Europe.

Burdened with a 10 kilogram backpack and the fear of a man who knows the consequences of his very actions, Italian Journalist Fabrizio Gatti (Links to an external site.) sets off on a journey that makes readers hold their breath: A route through those regions that are considered the most dangerous in the modern world: Form Dakar through Ténéré, from Libya to Tripolis and Tunis. From the moment he hops on an heavily overcrowded truck with 160 refugees (Bilal; 2007, p. 153) that sets off for a three day trip through the Ténéré desert, we realize: This man is serious.

It is risky business to take this road, a dangerous choice. However, dozens of people choose this road every day. Given the overwhelming volume of news coverage on refugees entering Europe, we easily forget the effort requires in getting there. Often times we are reminded how dangerous the sea route to Italy is and how it all too often ends in tragedy – but Gatti impressively reminds us of how deadly it is to reach these boats in the first place. According to estimates, as many people die in the Ténéré desert as in the Mediterranean Sea (for further information) (Links to an external site.). Gatti illuminates how many sadly fail and end up in slave camps along the way. His description grants us a glimpse into an abyss that is much deeper than European news outlets cover: A whole world that lives from the lives of the desperate who try to reach a “Promised Land”. What is being taken from the people along the route is their money when lucky – and their life if they are not. Slavery, prostitution and exploitation of every kind – imaginable and unimaginable – are described clearly by Gatti’s language that avoids using too much subjectivity and at the same time can be described as emotional observation. In fact, this journey does not leave the author untouched. Through him we can glimpse through a window that makes refugees’ experiences accessible for us. And with every mile, we feel the change in Gatti as he connects with these people, their hopes and fears. It is through him that we can sense this feeling of “espoir”, the hope for a better life that drives hundreds of people along the deadly route through Northern Africa.

The word espoir has a tragic twist to it when Gatti describes the EU financed fountain “espoir 400” built in the middle of the route through the Ténéré – to me the key scene of this book. Although the water reservoirs of the truck are nearly empty, the driver refuses to stop. It is explained, that the fountain is too deep and that a stop would cost too much time. This misconstruction interestingly seems to mirror some of the problems of humanitarian aid. Some solutions are well-meant but lack hands-on-experience to be adapted for to the circumstances. In this way the fountain sadly reminds us how close espoir   and desespoir are.

Gatti’s journey ends when he decides not to enter one of the overloaded boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea. However, his investigation does not stop at that point. A second part of the book reveals the inhuman conditions of Lampedusa as Gatti, under the false identity of Bilal, manages to smuggle himself into this prison that deals with the refugees that are strandes on the Italian border. It was this part of the book that caused a major uproar among Italians and the international press triggering discussions and causing further actions.

However, in my opinion the journey he shared with the people in North Africa is truly atthe heart of this story. Both the unveiling of the conditions in Lampedusa as well as the description of the effort it takes refugees to reach Europe make this text worth reading – today more than ever.

[1] Gatti, Fabrizio: Bilal. Als Illegaler auf dem Weg nach Europa, 2007, p. 194 .

Gatti, Fabrizio: Bilal. Als Illegaler auf dem Weg nach Europa. Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag 2011.

– Evelyn Roth

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Film Review: My name is not Ali – Ali im Paradies – Jannat Ali

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Tina Schlagenhaufer

Film Review: Viola Shafik’s My name is not Ali – Ali im Paradies – Jannat Ali

My Name Is Not Ali is a documentary by Viola Shafik[1]  from the year 2011 about the actor El Hedi Ben Salem M’barek Mohammed Mustafa, who was born in 1936 in Tunisia and died in 1976 in France. He played one of the lead roles in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film Angst essen Seele auf (Eng. Fear Eats Soul) and was Fassbinder’s partner over the span of a few years.[2] In reaction to Fassbinder’s film, Shahbaz Noshir directed a short film in 2002 entitled Angst isst die Seele auf (Eng. Fear Eats The Soul).

The title of Shafik’s documentary in English, German, and Arabic draws attention to the contradictory nature of Salem’s life in Germany. First of all, the English title does not correspond to the German one, as the direct English translation would be “Ali in paradise.” The English title “My name is not Ali,” however, suggests that Salem is trying to convince others of the fact that his name is not Ali. Ali is a given name often associated with orientalized (Said) stereotypes: Arab men with long black beards and uncivilized behavior, living in slums – put into orientalized vocabulary these would be ‘wild’ and ‘exotic’ attributes. On the other hand, the title suggests that this Ali, who is struggling to be acknowledged as an individual and not a ‘quota-Ali’[3], is in paradise. Does the title invite us to speculate that Salem, who died in the 1970s, is now actually in heaven because people are not able to treat him like a ‘quota-Ali’ anymore? Or does this statement (also) refer to the people in this documentary – close friends and co-workers of Fassbinder’s who are interviewed and invited to recount their stories of Salem – who think that Salem was born in the “wild,” in the “desert” and then made it to paradise (which, from their perspective, would be Europe) in the 1960s?

The film also entertains topics for discussion on many other levels: It sheds light on different facets of integration, linguistic barriers, prejudices and stereotypes, as well as xenophobia in the Germany of the 70s and in the Germany of today. Those prejudices the interviewees have against Salem are probably the reason why the documentary can not provide a lot of information about Salem as a person – because the interviewees can’t, as they are and probably always have been disinterested in him. They can not give information for example about what kind of a person he was and the relationships he had with (the) people in Germany. They seem to be non-existent. The interviewees seldom talk about him, mainly stressing their own experiences with Fassbinder. When they start talking about Salem, they do not actually know or recall where he was born and say that he is from the “desert.” One can only wonder what kind of life this ‘quota-Ali’ that Fassbinder’s colleagues envision for El Hedi Ben Salem must have been like – a generic having replaced their memories with and project onto him. It does not seem like Salem was integrated or considered a part of the Fassbinder group. Nobody seemed to be interested in him, as the interviewees do not remember Salem’s personal characteristics but rather talk about superficial impressions and gossip, for example about as his strange gait, whether or not he had had sex with Fassbinder, and, that despite him being a foreigner, he was able to learn a little bit of German so that he could understand the director’s instructions for filming. The documentary tries to let the interviewees speak for themselves as there is no interruption in the form of asking questions from the interviewer during the takes. Furthermore, the camera focuses on the interviewees with close ups, giving the audience the impression that they are not acting but giving authentic statements of their memories of Salem, statements that underline their disinterest in him as a person, which makes the documentary feel even more like punch in the face. There is only one exception to this attitude of disinterest in Fassbinder’s former crew: the film editor, who remembers spending quality time with him and speaks about trying to support Salem during his stay in Germany. Although the documentary’s title suggests that Salem was fighting the image of the ‘quota-Ali’ that was projected onto him, one does not get the impression that he was successful in doing so. The interviewees talk about working with him in a couple of movies but cannot even recall which ones (see especially the first minutes of the interview with Irm Hermann) and recall that they spent time with him but still cannot characterize him as a person. Instead they draw a picture of a bearded foreigner with whom they were merely acquainted. This stereotyped image of Salem and everybody else from the “desert” (as his hometown is described) is also projected onto his family in Tunisia. The Fassbinder crew talks about his children, who knew “zero European culture” (null europäische Kultur) and had to be cleaned with a disinfectant when they came to Germany. Additionally they describe an incident with his wife who mourned, wailed, and even bleated like a sheep, when her children were taken away to Germany. The orientalized picture of Salem’s family the Fassbinder crew talks about is ironically underscored by the documentary’s soundtrack, which features oriental music while showing Salem’s hometown.

In the end, one does not have the impression that one has actually gotten to know anything about Salem except that he was a person torn between two cultural poles and that he somehow ended up in the memories of the interviewees, symbolically speaking, in a place without identity, a “non-place” (Augé).[4] Marc Augé refers in his theory about non-places to actual places, transit areas like refugee camps, transit camps and slums. In this case, the symbolic meaning Augé ascribes to these places, themselves faceless, neither relational nor historical, plays an important role. The prejudices the interviewees hold against Salem and his family echo in Augé’s words as faceless exotics, stripped of any relational and historical importance. As people who come from and still live in a non-place, or, in the minds of the Fassbinder crew, a slum.

 

The movie was screened on the occasion of the exhibition ”Homestory Deutschland – Black Biographies in Historical and Present Times“ at the Goethe Institut in San Francisco. For further information please see <http://www.goethe.de/ins/us/saf/ver/en14621210v.htm (Links to an external site.)> for the exhibit and <http://www.goethe.de/ins/us/saf/ver/acv/flm/2015/en14656430v.htm (Links to an external site.)> for the screening.

 

 

[1]    “Viola Shafik grew up in Germany and Egypt. She studied Fine Art, Middle East Studies and Film Studies in Stuttgart and Hamburg and taught at the American University in Cairo. She has been a selection panel member for the “alRawi Screenwriters Lab”, the World Cinema Fund (Berlin International Film Festival) and the Dubai Film Connection since 2007.“ Citated from the event homepage of the Goethe-Institut in San Francisco on the occasion of the exhibition “Homestory Deutschland – Black Biographies in Historical and Present Times”, cited from: <http://www.goethe.de/ins/us/saf/ver/en14656430v.htm> [last access: 11/18/2015].

[2]    See El Hedi ben Salem on filmportal.de, link: <http://www.filmportal.de/person/el-hedi-ben-salem_ba1f2c80e91a4b4392f4a965955ab370> [last access: 11/18/2015].

[3]    Frauke Lüpke-Narberhaus discusses in her article “Vornamen-Diskriminierung: “Keiner will einen Ali im Team haben”“ discriminating measures against people applying for a job in Germany who have foreign first names, in: DER SPIEGEL online, 26th March 2014, link: <http://www.spiegel.de/forum/schulspiegel/vornamen-diskriminierung-keiner-will-einen-ali-im-team-haben-thread-122026-40.html> [last access: 11/18/2015].

[4]    Augé, Marc: Orte und Nicht-Orte. Vorüberlegungen zu einer Ethnologie der Einsamkeit. Frankfurt/M. 1994.

– Tina Schlagenhaufer

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Film Review: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Gradey Wang

The 2006 German drama film The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen) directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck follows the lives of playwright Georg Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (played by Martina Gedeck) in East Germany between 1984 and 1991. Between 1984 and 1989, the Ministry for State Security, colloquially termed as the Stasi, spied on its own citizens to find and address any dissidents labelled as “enemies of the state.”

The Lives of Others opens with a flashback of Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler mercilessly but effectively interrogating the neighbor of a man who escaped to the West. Wiesler later goes to see a play written by Georg Dreyman featuring actress Christa-Maria Sieland and suggests to his superiors that Dreyman is not as upstanding of a citizen as he appears and should therefore be monitored. The Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf (played by Thomas Thieme) supports this surveillance, but Wiesler later discovers that the Hempf’s desire to ruin Dreyman because of his lust for Dreyman’s girlfriend is the underlying reason for the surveillance. Later, Dreyman writes a critical article about suicide in East Germany, inspired by the suicide of a close artist friend, and gets it published in West Germany. However, Wiesler chooses to protect Dreyman by falsely noting that Dreyman is writing a play for the 40th anniversary of the GDR. Then, Hempf seeks to punish Sieland for not reciprocating his sexual advances, has her arrested, and blackmails her into divulging that Dreyman composed the unfavorable article. Investigators are unable to find any corroborating evidence, and Sieland tragically commits suicide. The investigation into Dreyman ends, as does Wiesler’s career. Four years later, the Berlin wall falls, and Dreyman views Stasi files on himself to discover the identity of Wiesler. Later, Wiesler notices a new book published by Dreyman dedicated to him. When the cashier ringing him up asks if he wants the book wrapped, he replies “No, it’s for me.”

The Lives of Others does not show Wiesler and Dreyman in the same frame together, emphasizing the both physical and social divide between them. However, through their almost parallel lives, the two converge on their disillusionment with the corrupt Stasi system, demonstrating the universal unpopularity of the underlying problems inherent in East Germany’s structure. As a socialist state, East Germany functioned on the cooperation of the population in fulfilling socialist ideologies, but enforced this cooperation through surveillance. In light of current debates surrounding global surveillance programs in the name of security, The Lives of Others serves to caution that surveillance without oversight can be abused nefariously for personal agendas, as well.

Throughout the film, lighting is setup such that shadows are seen, parallelling the omnipresent, covert surveillance of society by the Stasi. Regardless of position and relation to the Stasi, everyone in the movie felt observed and consequently acted as though they truly believed the socialist ideology. Through this charade, The Lives of Others elucidates another facet of prescribed and performed identities: While today, debates surrounding performances and staging center around diversity and discrimination, the GDR imposed prescribed identities onto all citizens such that the prescribed and the performed were the same.

Additionally, The Lives of Others manipulates visuals such that even in the scenes portraying post-reunification Germany, colors are dull and bleak, with the one exception being the scene of Wiesler’s play in West Germany, where the part previously played by Sieland was played by a black girl, who, notably, is the only non-white character in the movie. With this introduction of color, The Lives of Others not only demonstrates how West Germany had globalized with an ethnically diverse population, but also suggests that those who endured the governance of socialist East Germany simply continued their somber, inauspicious existences, but art was able to flourish and take on new dimensions of expression. The lag between the development of East and West Germany continues to create conflict over topics like economic and cultural capacity to take in refugees.

The final scene illuminates a fundamental and explicit change of attitude on Wiesler: by purchasing and claiming a book “for [him],” Wiesler establishes his individualism and support for artistic expression. Looking forward to current debates on the relationship between society and individuals, Wiesler’s adjustment to the reunified Germany suggests that debates should also investigate the relationship between government/public policy and society.

– Gradey Wang

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Film Review: Head-On (Gegen die Wand)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Andrew Christensen

Gegen die Wand is a dark and dramatic romance directed and written by Fatih Akın. The film makes a powerful statement about the nature of love and family by exploring the unorthodox relationship between two initially broken individuals – Sibel and Cahit. The male protagonist Cahit begins his arc as an alcoholic drug addict, who, in a particularly drunken bender, crashes his car at full speed into a wall. At a mental health clinic, Cahit meets Sibel, who introduces herself by immediately asking Cahit to marry her.

I found that the writer used a fascinating connection with Turkish culture in order to develop the story. In the beginning of the film, Cahit did not manifest his Turkish culture in any way. He seems to resent when the psychologist asks what his name means, saying “[Turks’] names have beautiful meanings.” Cahit does not want to be seen as an “exotic” person with an elegant, meaningful name. In fact, at one point he is shown saying “fucking Turks,” only to have Sibel remind him that “you’re one of them.” Cahit has little familial connection to Turkey, as both of his parents have passed away. Sibel, on the other hand, struggles throughout the movie with trying to appease her Turkish parents while also living the lifestyle she wants, not governed by the expectations of conduct of her family. These opposing motivations are what cause Sibel to ask Cahit to marry her – to appease her parents while not having a “real” relationship holding her back.

By the end of the movie, despite the fact that Sibel’s father burned all of the pictures of his daughter, Cahit and Sibel both seem to feel a greater connection to Turkey than ever before. Sibel returns simply because there were people in Turkey who would help her make a living, and Cahit eventually goes to Turkey in hopes of winning back Sibel’s love. The motif of connection to one’s country of origin seems to suggest that there is a bond between a person and their home country that goes beyond family and goes beyond the trivial fact that a person’s origin never changes. Despite Sibel’s severed connection to her parents and even despite the fact that in the end, Sibel does not follow Cahit to his hometown, both individuals end up pursuing happiness in the places from which they originate. This seems to highlight the necessity of feeling at home and feeling at peace with one’s identity as a prerequisite for happiness. This introduces two important prerequisites for maintaining a complete identity while living far from one’s place of origin – feeling at home where one lives and embracing one’s original nationality.

The story of Cahit and Sibel, though emotionally taxing to watch, made for a really excellent movie. It showed a fascinating, oddly supportive relationship, and highlighted the fact that love can navigate even the most complicated situations involving suicidal alcoholics with strict parents. This surprisingly uplifting message is situated within a tremendous amount of chaotic turmoil, as Sibel and Cahit both engage in self-destructive behavior, often as they unsuccessfully try to deny their feelings for one another. The various complications that arise as these two disparate individuals start feeling for one another in their own ways and within their own time frames make for a challenging yet fascinating drama, and the corresponding character arcs make for some incredible transformations throughout the film.

– Andrew Christensen

 

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“Still Alive: Memory of Economic Contribution of the Korean Guest Workers” by Jung Woo Park

As the wave of immigrants continues to flood into Germany fleeing the war-torn countries such as Syria, the refugee crisis in Europe dominates the newspaper headlines around the world. Interestingly, however, not all of the newspapers seem to have the same focus. While major Western news sources mostly focus on the political implications of this crisis for Germany and other European countries, Korean newspapers seem to focus more on the economic impact of the influx of refugees into Germany. The memory of Korean Guest Workers, whose labor in Germany contributed to the recovery of the Korean economy, is evident through the economic focus of Korean newspapers.

More than 50 years ago, West Germany experienced an “economic miracle,” or the Wirtschaftswunder, during which West Germany experienced rapid economic growth and quickly recuperated the impoverished post-World War II economy. Because this rapid boost in economy created a major labor shortage, West Germany initiated the Guest Worker Program during the 1950-1960s to recruit foreign workers. One of the countries with which West Germany signed the recruitment agreement was South Korea. At the time, South Korea was also in need of economic assistance due to serious unemployment and shortage of foreign capital. Under an agreement between both countries, more than 8,000 Korean miners and over 10,000 nurses were sent to Germany between 1960 and 1970 and their labor has played a crucial role in helping out the economies of both West Germany and South Korea.[1] Many of the Korean workers labored under difficult working conditions such as mining as far as 1,000 meters underground in extremely hot temperatures while sending all their salary except for minimum living expenses back to Korea to support the Korean economy.[2] Their sacrifice has been left as a lasting emblem of patriotism in the memory of many Koreans.

 

More than 50 years later, on September 21, 2015, a major Korean newspaper published an article entitled “Germany spends 12 billion Euros to welcome 1 million refugees … hoping for a 2nd ‘Miracle of the Rhine,’” a phrase referring to the economic miracle in Germany that led to the initiation of the Guest Worker Program.[3] According to the article, Germany planned to spend as much as 12-13 billion Euros to assist the refugees by providing funds, food, residence, and medical assistance. Contrary to the political debate, the article continued, many German industries viewed the refugees as people who could greatly contribute to the German economy, especially in light of the fact that Germany is the second largest aging society in the world. Interestingly, Chosun Ilbo cites Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG, who said: “During the 1950s-1960s, millions of immigrants […] contributed to the economic reconstruction of Germany after the Second World War … Since the refugees are mostly young and have a high level of education and technological skills, those are the people who we are looking for. The refugee influx can bring another miracle to the German economy.” It is interesting to note that the Korean newspaper specifically focuses on the economic advantage of accepting immigrants by citing the historical precedent of the Guest Worker Program that proved immigrants and migrant workers to be economically beneficial – an event that happened more than half a century prior to the current immigration crisis in Europe. This particular focus shows that the memory of the economic contribution of Korean guest workers in Germany is still alive in the memory of many Koreans today. And it is precisely this unique memory that has prompted Korean news outlets to focus more on the economic side of the immigration crisis rather than the political side.

 

[1] Kim Jae-shin, “130 Years of Korean-German Friendship,” Korea Focus – March 2013 (The Korea Foundation, 2013), https://books.google.com/books?id=JX1dAQAAQBAJ&dq=korean+miners+and+nurses+germany&source=gbs_navlinks_s (Links to an external site.)

[2] Yoo Hyun Jee, “Interview of a Couple who were ex-German Guest Miner and Nurse to Germany” The Korea Daily, 7 Sept 2015, http://www.koreadaily.com/news/read.asp?art_id=3158360 (Links to an external site.)

[3] Han Kyung Jin, “Germany spends 12 billion Euros to welcome 1 million refugees…hoping for a 2nd ‘Miracle of the Rhine,” 21 Sept 2015, http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2015/09/21/2015092100414.html (Links to an external site.)

 

 

 

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“Made in Germany: Identity and Memory” by Jung Woo Park

Last Tuesday, we had the opportunity to watch the film Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland, a German comedy film about a former Turkish guest worker. The film was very interesting, not only because it deftly wove comedy into the history of the Guest Worker Program, but also because it reminded me of another film about a Korean guest worker in Germany, Ode to My Father. Although the two films seem very similar in content, a closer look into the films reveals a significant difference in focus between the two. Almanya focuses more on the identity of the Turkish guest worker in Germany because the Turkish workers had difficulties integrating themselves into German society. On the other hand, Ode to My Father focuses more on the memory of the guest workers’ sacrificial labor for Korea because their labor helped the nation recover from its traumatic devastation of the Korean War.

Almanya begins with the words, “I have the ‘economic miracle’ to thank for being ‘made in Germany” as Hüseyin’s granddaughter explains how Hüseyin came to Germany. While Hüseyin is having financial difficulties supporting his family of five in Turkey, he comes across a newspaper article that said Germany was looking for workers. Hearing that someone was able to earn money by working in Germany, Hüseyin leaves for Germany as a guest worker. Soon after he returns to Turkey, Hüseyin feels the need to take his whole family to Germany. Yet, when Hüseyin sees that his children quickly adopt German culture, Hüseyin becomes concerned that they would lose their Turkish identity. In response, Hüseyin takes them to Turkey for summer, and even when the children have become much older, Hüseyin insists the whole family to take a trip to their summerhouse in Turkey.

Watching Almanya reminded me of the film Ode to My Father. Like Almanya, this Korean film follows the life of Duk-soo who also goes to Germany as a guest worker. After losing his father during the Korean War, Duk-soo has to support his mother and two siblings. When his brother gets accepted to the most prestigious university in Korea, Duk-soo struggles to find a way to earn more money for his brother. When his friend shows him a newspaper article that there are opportunities to work as miners in Germany, Duk-soo leaves for West Germany, where he works hard in the mines and sends most of his money to his family back in Korea. Despite the difficult work, numerous injuries, and dangerous working condition, Duk-soo endures the hardship to fulfill his promise to his father – to take good care of his family.

Clearly, these two films – Almanya and Ode to My Father — are similar. The protagonists in both films saw the advertisement for the guest worker program in newspapers. Both went to Germany as guest workers, and both were motivated by financial needs to support their families. Moreover, both films follow a similar pattern of tracing the life and experiences of the guest workers as they are told to their descendants.

Despite the evident similarities, a crucial difference in focus distinguishes the two films. Almanya seemed to focus largely on the issue of identity. While Hüseyin clearly sees working and living in Germany as beneficial to his family, he constantly fears that they might lose their Turkish identity. Hüseyin tries hard to remind his family, if not himself, of their Turkish identity by taking trips to Turkey and buying a summerhouse in Turkey. When his wife applies for German citizenship and passports, he has a nightmare in which he is required to abandon his own culture and “become German” through ridiculous means such as promising to eat pork. Hüseyin’s grandson also struggles with his identity between being Turkish and German, exemplifying the struggle of identity not only for the Turkish guest workers themselves but also for their descendants. On the other hand, Ode to My Father seems to focus mainly on the memory of the guest workers in Germany. The film opens with Duk-soo’s granddaughter asking him, “What does ‘memory’ mean?” Ode to My Father also emphasizes the difficulties that Duk-soo had to go through in order to support his family back in Korea, highlighting the memory of the sacrifice of Korean guest workers to Germany.

This significant difference in focus seems to stem from the different experiences of the Turkish guest workers and Korean guest workers to Germany. For Turkish workers, immigration and identity were a major concern because many Turkish guest workers wanted to stay in Germany, but Germany did not plan to integrate them.[1] Even until the beginning of the 1990s – nearly 40 years after the signing of recruitment agreements between Germany and Turkey, Germany expected the guest workers to return to their countries. Prominent leaders of Germany such as Chancellor Helmut Kohl emphasized that Germany is not a land of immigration, and government policies encouraged guest workers to return to their country by offering cash. It was not until the beginning of the new millennium that German politicians finally began to accept the immigrants as evidenced by their policies to offer language training and citizenship to children of guest workers born in Germany. Throughout the years, the Turkish population — the largest minority in Germany – has faced many difficulties integrating into German society and has had to deal/grapple with the question of identity.

While the issue of identity was crucial the Turks who wanted integration into German society, the issue of memory was central for Koreans. At the beginning of the 1950s, Korea experienced a brutal war when Soviet-backed North Korea attacked the pro-Western Republic of South Korea. The ensuing three years lead to many deaths, division of many families, and the devastation of the economy. After the war, South Korea tried hard to revitalize its devastated economy and sought help from many foreign countries. The President of South Korea Park Chung Hee made an agreement with West Germany to send guest workers in return for a loan that would allow Park to rebuild the economy. Many Koreans felt indebted and thankful for the Korean guest workers who not only volunteered to work in difficult and dangerous mines but also sent almost of all of their money back to Korea. When Park visited Germany, he made an emotional speech expressing deep gratitude to the Korean guest workers who had to endure harsh labor “because Korea is so impoverished” and encouraged them to continue doing their “part to end poverty in Korea so that the next generation doesn’t experience what we are going through now.”[2] For Koreans, the memory is still strong today. The current President of Korea Park Geun Hye delivered a speech and a letter thanking the Korean guest workers for their sacrifice, highlighting their contribution to the Korean economy.[3]

The difference in focus is evident in the titles of the films themselves. The word Almanya means “Germany” in Turkish. Just as the word Almanya means Germany but is still a Turkish word, Turkish guest workers in Germany struggled with the issue of identity between being Turkish and German because it took a long time for them to integrate into the German society. On the other hand, just as the title Ode to my Father refers to the eulogy of Duk-soo who went as a Korean guest worker in memory of his promise to his father, it is also a tribute of the current generation in Korea to their fathers’ generation in memory of their sacrifice that allowed Korea to recover economically. However different their experiences and circumstances may be, both Turkish identity and Korean memory have the Guest Worker Program to thank for being “made in Germany.”

[1] James Angelos, “What Integration Means for Germany’s Guest Workers: The Debate Over Multiculturalism Alienates the Immigrants Germany Needs Most,” Foreign Affairs, 28 Oct 2011, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/europe/2011-10-28/what-integration-means-germanys-guest-workers (Links to an external site.)

[2] Kang Hyun-kyung, “When Park Spoke, Everyone Cried,” The Korea Times, 8 Dec 2013, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2013/12/116_147609.html (Links to an external site.)

[3] Woo Kyung Im, “The Guest Workers who went to Germany as miners shed tears as they gaze toward their mother country,” Donga Ilbo, 6 Oct 2015, http://news.donga.com/3/all/20151006/74016636/1 (Links to an external site.)

  • Jung Woo Park

 

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Multicultural Germany Course: Week 6 Summary (Oct. 5 & 7)

Migration brings both culture and religion. This week in our course we focused on religion and secularism, acknowledging the complexity of the terms in context of past and current migrations related to Germany. Our discussion found its beginnings in questions such as: Does religion form part of collective memory? Which conflicts arise around differing religious practices? How are these resolved?

Before one can begin to answer these questions, relevant texts such as the foreword by Charles Taylor in Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship and the third chapter of Secular Submissions by Fatima El-Tayeb provide crucial information and input on the topic that enable us to discuss religion and secularism in a well-rounded way. Furthermore, the collection of texts Germany in Transit provides multiple texts in chapter five, in which the focus is religion and diaspora, which enable us to understand the topic in Germany better, both historically and today.

Our weekly course presentation found us highlighting cruel facts: Europe’s “failures” in multiculturalism and multi-religion.

A clip from the 2014 Indian satirical science fiction comedy film PK gave us a scene where several individuals of varying religions were dressed in garbs associated with particular religions. The catch? All these individuals wore garbs associated with religions other than their own and were mistaken for being associated with the religions to which they were dressed. The message, its relevance to Germany and the way we look at religion are clear, one cannot pass judgment based solely on appearance.

When one associates appearance with religion or appearance with something negative without understanding, problems arise as they did in the film PK. Take for example the restrictions in Switzerland regarding the building of minarets. The association of minarets (a common architectural feature of mosques) with Islam and Islam with outsiders and negative connotations can be said to contribute to this restriction in Switzerland, why else would Switzerland ban the minaret and not other architectural structures? These negative connotations include the connection with terrorism and invasive culture many make with Islam. Such questions bring to light the debate in Europe, including Germany, over the use of religious symbols and religion as a whole in society, especially with regard to social and public structures such as schools and government.

With the word secularism on the tongues of governments, a conflict arises as European eyes look first to religions that do not have the deeply rooted histories in Europe that Catholicism and Protestantism do – namely Islam today. The wearing of headscarves in schools was, and continues to be, a heated topic of debate in France and Germany. A German teacher wishing to wear a headscarf faces greater opposition than a German teacher wishing to wear a cross. This issue today is something that finds its roots in the history of religion, primarily with the fact that Europe’s population has been experiencing a recent change in religious affiliation. Although Europe historically lacked large populations of Muslims, today’s Europe is experiencing a shift in its religious composition due to the growing Islamic population, something many countries fail to prepare for adequately or understand.

With this change the word integration comes up and defining such a word in this context is extremely difficult. Mechanically, integration means to join parts into a whole something our class discussion resolved is very much not the case in Europe. Integration in Europe, based on this simple definition, is more like one part dominating the joining and the other being dissected and barely acknowledged in the creation of the new. The “other” parts are the new people in Europe today, the migrants, their children and grandchildren. With them come new religions and cultures. The “new” is the Europe of today and the future, one that is currently still dominated by a tendency to stay in line with the past when a new future is upon them. Assimilation has also been used as a way to describe the way which Europeans wish newcomers to join their countries. Where integration looks to join two parts, assimilation attempts to make one group resemble the other. Somewhat a softer way of creating a new whole, assimilation has, like integration, been defined in many ways and thus remains a difficult way to define the way countries should identify their general culture and population.

This week we had a guest speaker, Yael Almog, a former UC Berkeley alumna who now works in Berlin at the Center for Research in Culture and Literature. She spoke about her work and its relevance to religion and secularism in Germany. Some key points of her talk involved the recent history of Jews in relation to Germany as well as the significance of the long history of Jewish populations in Europe. The complexity involved in separating religion from general identity is very much present in the Jewish population living in Germany, which consists of Jews who are descendants of Holocaust victims as well as Jews who have no relation to the Holocaust and come from other countries such as the Mizrahi Jews. Identification issues within the Jewish population exist, and then one must also consider how they identify when it comes to nationality. More precisely, there is a dichotomy between being Jewish and being Israeli. These complexities add to the difficulties of how one identifies oneself.

We are faced with complex questions in religion, more than just how to create a society that can have them all alongside one another in harmony, but how we define religions and the people belonging to them. One such question is if Judaism is a religion? A culture? An identity? This specific question was raised in our class and relevant to any religion. Now the question Germany faces today is more than how to integrate, or create a harmonious nation where multiple religions can exist, but also what kind of culture the future Germany will associate itself with.

– Kenneth Cromer

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Multicultural Germany Course: Week 5 Summary (Sept. 28 & 30)

This last week in class, we discussed the idea of German collective memory and screened the film Almanya – Welcome to Germany. The week’s discussions started with how the term “melting pot” was used to describe US culture in the early 1900s. The picture found on the Wikipedia page for the term (The Melting Pot) depicts the process of assimilation in a violent manner as it shows immigrants filing into a boiling pot. We concluded that the melting pot was an idealized concept in the United States. Scattered all over the country are Chinatowns and Little Italies, etc that serve as archives of the insular populations that result from cultures interacting with one another.

The struggle to unify the people of a country led us to one of our readings about memory citizenship by Michael Rothberg and Yasemin Yildiz. We focused on how commemoration of the Holocaust became a yardstick of German citizenship/identity. The paper began by describing the ‘paradox and double bind’ that constrained Holocaust memory. The paradox being that “it has seemed necessary to preserve an ethnically homogeneous notion of German identity in order to ensure Germans’ responsibility for the crimes of the recent past, even though that very notion of ethnicity was one of the sources of those crimes” and the double bind being that “migrants are simultaneously told to stay away from the Holocaust and then castigated as anti-Semitic for their alleged indifference to its remembrance.” Both of these conditions point towards a definition of German identity as one that necessitates a collective guilt regarding the Holocaust. Rothberg and Yildiz use the Stadtteilmutter as an example of non-ethnic Germans “performing Holocaust memory in contexts marked by migration.” They propose a comparative perspective of the Holocaust and engage in the negotiation of multidirectional memory being the intersection of collective memories as a shared past.

The second half of the week’s discussion started off with a student presentation that proposed an intersection of collective memories among today’s refugees and the millions of Germans that were refugees in 1945, after WWII. The refugees of past and present Germany share a past, suffering from the consequences of wartime. Their common history brings them together in Germany, ‘a shelter for millions’. In this way, Germany is functioning as a dynamic archive/museum of migration and their shared past. The discussion shifted over to the film Almanya – Welcome to Germany, “the story of three generations of a Turkish immigrant family,” as a depiction of communicative history. A couple of students pointed out that it was interesting to see the story being told as a secondhand account, rather than a firsthand account by one of the older relatives. It drew out our awareness of the mutability of oral history. Since the grandparents are present, viewers may find comfort in them telling the story because it would appear to be more accurate coming from them. However, throughout the movie, different family members contribute to the story and demonstrate how collective memory can be transformed. (WARNING: spoilers!) After Hüseyin dies and Canan reveals that she is pregnant, Fatma reveals that she was pregnant when Hüseyin kidnapped her. This scene emphasized how oral history is permeable and susceptible to change. Canan narrates the story in German to make it more accessible to Cenk, and that accessibility cascades to the intended German audience. Another way the film showed the link between mutability and commemoration of history was with the composite shot of Hüseyin and the millionth guest Armando Rodrigues de Sá, interacting with an archive of migration by embedding him in the shot. The discussion was moving towards how language factors into collective memory, but we ran short on time.

The student presentation on collective memory also proposed a new area of interest for future research/study. The student shared an interview with her grandmother that focused on her life before the war, her home and happy childhood memories. The student suggested that it would be a nice change to see more accounts of the positive memories rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of difficult times. Future research can look into positive/constructive events in collective memory. It would be interesting to look at the implications of commemorating positive events versus dwelling on negative ones, such as the Holocaust, and what kind of affect the composition of collective memory has on national identity.

-Jasmine Giang

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Multicultural Germany Course: Week 4 Summary (Sept. 21 & 23)

Who defines identity? Germany’s struggle with inclusivity.

This last week in class, we discussed the limits of Germany’s capacity to take in immigrants and what it means to be German. Proponents of reducing the number of foreigners in Germany believe that the “boat” of Germany’s capacity for incorporation of foreigners is “full.” To these native-born Germans, there exists an exclusive space of “Germanness” where German identity is linked to history and lineage. Historically, arbitrary lines have been drawn by citizenship and naturalization laws to institutionalize German identity, where citizenship was used as a bureaucratic tool to reject those who did not fit. At Germany’s most extreme phase of institutional rejection of non-Germans, the German government in 1983 offered monetary incentives for guest workers to return to their home countries, rejecting the guest workers as part of German society. Reunification of West Germany and East Germany in 1990 exacerbated the exclusion of non-ethnic Germans, after which nationalistic terms such as “fatherland,” “homeland,” and “patriotism” took on new meaning and relevance. This renewed/reunified national identity came with a reprioritization of individuals with German heritage over migrants who then had to fight (sometimes literally) to prove their German identity.

So what does it mean to be German?  In the 1992 song “Foreign in My Own Country” (“Fremd im eigenen Land”) by German hip hop group Advanced Chemistry, the lyrics allude to the complex nature of identities and groupings. The song responds to the xenophobia towards groups that do not look like the typical blue-eyed, blond-haired German by describing slights and aggressions faced by Afro-Germans in German society. The lyrics unite Afro-Germans together with foreign immigrants to demonstrate the extent of discrimination faced by those deemed as “other,” yet keeps them distinct to underscore Afro-Germans’ actual German nationality. The repeated emphasis on passports throughout the song linking individual identity to legal status highlights the ability of public policy to influence cultural identity. The fact that the speaker is actually a German citizen indicates that discrepancies between society’s prescription of individuals’ identities and these individuals’ self-identities can cause harmful psychological dissonance. That dissonance combined with political showmanship lead to these individuals feeling like disposable, second-class outcasts. The music video for “Foreign in My Own Country” displays striking similarities to the music video of the popular 1989 social empowerment song “Fight the Power” by American hip hop group Public Enemy which encouraged resistance against acceptance of abuses of power and racism in the United States.

The struggle for these individuals to determine their own identities between the black and white becomes further complicated by the addition of the issue of dual citizenship. Those in favor of multiple citizenships argue that having ties to other countries and the addition of diverse perspectives benefit the countries involved by fostering unity between these countries. This stance is reminiscent of sentiments espoused by politicians looking to begin an era of a transnational Europe in 1955 when West Germany signed the Labor Recruitment Agreement with Italy. Ultimately, the proponents of multiple citizenships advocate for people taking on multiple nationalities such that national allegiance would broaden to encompass multiple nations, thus eliminating the nation-state idea. However, opponents note the need for national allegiance, a commonality among citizens, and loyalty to each other. Multiple citizenships, these opponents argue, would not only dilute this societal bond but would also call into question how loyal to each country one of these citizens could be. In the case of Turkish migrants, acceptance of German citizenship can be seen as betrayal of cultural roots, again illustrating how legal status strongly influences an individual’s perception of his or her own cultural identity.

Today, these conversations and discussions are repeating themselves in the face of the Syrian migrant crisis. Concerns for the economic and cultural protection of Germany and for humanitarian aid to the enormous influx of refugees are being debated, with the key point of contention being whether or not the “boat is full.” Acceptance of refugees has been positively influenced by the introduction of jus soli (now existing in conjunction with jus sanguinis) in the year 2000. However, this acceptance has also been negatively influenced by the December 1992 amendment to Basic Law that made the acceptance criteria of asylum seekers more stringent. Even a cursory comparison between citizenship tests from Germany and the United States shows that the German test is more difficult because it tests both knowledge of German government and history, as well as knowledge of German language, while the American test only tests rote memorization of American government and history.

Future discourse and research should focus on comparing multiculturalism and integration policies and their effects on societal acceptance of immigrants. Given the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, we should anticipate and track the long term economic and demographic impact of migration. #Blacklivesmatter also offers us the opportunity to compare the dynamics of race relations and identity in the transatlantic theater.

-Gradey Wang

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The End of Migration As We Knew It

On October 4, 2015, a panel on “Ethnography and the Study of Diversity in Germany” held in Washington, D.C., questioned paradigms of research on transnational migration and diversity, focusing on the impossibility of containing these categories within nation-based frameworks of analysis.

As part of a series of five panels on “Ethnography and German Studies,” organized by Alina Dana Weber (Florida State University) and Amanda Randall (St. Olaf College) at the 39th Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, the panel assembled scholars who have worked on migration and cultural change for decades and have engaged in collaborations on various occasions in the past. The panel comprised Uli Linke (Rochester Institute for Technology), Levent Soysal (Kadir Has Üniversitesi), Regina Römhild (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Barbara Wolbert (Europa Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder), and, as commentator, Deniz Göktürk (University of California, Berkeley).

In her paper on “Speaking in Tongues: The Politics of Language and Cultural Imaginaries of Belonging in Germany,” Uli Linke argued that, reforms in citizenship legislation notwithstanding, the model of membership based on descent and blood ties still persists in public discourse and policy in Germany. According to her analysis, the privileged status of native-born Germans has remained unquestioned, and the medium of language now serves as the dividing line between the native and the foreign. A new linguistic nationalism has come to the forefront, for example in the insistence on language proficiency tests for immigrants and in the efforts on behalf of the Verein Deutsche Sprache (German Language Society) to fight against the “corruption” and “foreign subversion” of the German language. Linke’s argument emphasizes the resistance to linguistic diversity, or the “postmonolingual condition” proposed by Yasemin Yıldız in her study Beyond the Mother Tongue (2012). Evidence from other E.U. countries shows a similar trajectory toward proficiency in a nation’s language as both a condition and external indicator of affective citizenship.

Barbara Wolbert presented a retrospective analysis of her ethnographic practice in “Diversity Politics and Art Exhibitions: An Epistemological Review of Ethnographic Case Studies in Post-Wall Germany.” Her work has focused on avoiding the trap of categorizing European art as a separate entity from the art of “the Others.” In covering landmark exhibitions such as Negerküsse – Menschenfresser (1991), Encountering the Others, the parallel-show to the dOCUMENTA 9 in 1992, acclaimed as “the Third World dOCUMENTA,” The Rise and Fall of the Modern in Weimar (1999), The Short Century (2002), Projekt Migration (2005), and dOCUMENTA 13 (2012) as “ethnographic moments” (Britta Ohm), Wolbert highlighted shifts in the temporalities assigned to and assumed by so-called non-Western art. In her own practice she described a shift in field work, ranging from the exhibition site to websites, which has led to a new understanding of the 1980’s concept of “anthropology at home.” This new stage of participant observation and implication serves as a reminder not to segregate migrant media and tribalize artists as “Others,” while turning a blind eye to the staging of diversity in mainstream spectacles.

Regina Römhild argued in “Mainstreaming the Margins: Towards New Ethnographic Views on Postmigrant Germany” that we need to demigratize migration research in response to its persistence on a sedentary counterpart. Taking her cues from her research on “super-diversity” (Steve Vertovec) in Frankfurt/Main, a city where the majority of the population can trace their origins back to immigrants without being foreign-born themselves, Römhild points out that society is always already constituted by migration, hence “post-migrant”; being native-born can no longer be upheld as the norm, although public discourse still uncritically relies on this binary, as epitomized in Angela Merkel’s famous claim on the current refugee crisis, “Wir schaffen das!”, including only the German-born population in this collectivizing “we.” Römhild picks up on Shermin Langhoff’s promotion of the term “post-migrant” (along the lines of post-colonial), without losing sight of the plight of refugees who are denied the right to settle. She thus takes a stance against a tendency in critical migration research to emphasize the struggles of refugees currently at E.U. borders over issues of access to education, work, and representation in post-migrant societies. Instead, she proposed that the enabling and interdependent relations between these two constitutive dimensions of European realities deserve closer attention. Methodologically, her emphasis is on the study of border regimes, crisscrossing categories in urban ethnography, and on collaborations that engage actors and organizations of diverse backgrounds.

Levent Soysal mapped a shift in ethnographic approaches and terminologies over the past decades in the incorporation of migrants. In his talk “Workers, Turks, Muslims: Ethnographies of Migration to Germany Revisited,” he argued that the “guest workers” of the 1970s came to be ethnicized as “Turks” in the 1980s and, in line with the global resurgence of religion in the new millennium, subsequently labeled “categorical Muslims.” Soysal reminded us that while the EU is debating the distribution of 120,000 refugees across its member states, there are about 2.5 million refugees residing in Turkey and another 2.5 in Lebanon. He proposed that the current scale of perpetual mobility is no longer captured by the vocabulary and tool kit of research on migration when conceptualized as departure from one country and subsequent arrival in another, followed by integration into nationally contained social systems, which are based on the shared values of the collective. Today, students, tourists and migrants shuttle back and forth, all the while connected by social media, the Third World is present within the First World and vice versa. In fact, Soysal argued, we might be witnessing “the end of migration.”

The panel provided an opportunity to address methodological questions, as commentator Deniz Göktürk highlighted. What we have learned from ethnography is the importance of scrutinizing our own positions as observer and writer vis-à-vis our subjects and objects. Meanwhile, the predicament of the ethnographic mode arises when we collect, classify, and interpret particular details as symptomatic for the essence of a particular culture as a bounded, closed system, posited in terms of a national collective, minority group, or religious community. Critiques of “thick description” (Clifford Geertz) have called for more open-ended models of interpretation in need of constant reframing with an eye toward diachronic developments. A key question remains: how can ethno-graphy, the writing of the cultural particularities of one people or group, avoid producing and reinstating categories of collective identification that in turn become exclusive and restrictive? How do our research questions and designs respond to shifting frames and the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries between ethnography and media studies, between field work and screen work?

The discussion reminded us that even if we refrain from speaking about migration and integration to avoid the deployment of nation-state containers, we cannot conceptualize mobility without taking into account barriers. As both the E.U. and nation-states are once again implementing policies to enforce borders and differentiate between “real” refugees and economic migrants, it is all the more important to keep rethinking identifications in terms of diversity.

-Deniz Göktürk

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True Stories of Being Black in Germany, Lakshmi Sarah

Lakshmi Sarah, one of the participants in the course Multicultural Germany, produced an article published in KQED entitled “True Stories of Being Black in Germany” in which she introduces a traveling exhibit from the Goethe Institut and its curator Victoria Toney-Robinson.

Please click on this link to read the article in full: “True Stories of Being Black in Germany”. The article also contains a video and pictures from the exhibit.

A few other participants from the course Multicultural Germany visited the exhibit in tandem with a screening of Viola Shafik’s 2011 documentary Ali im Paradies (released with the English title My Name is not Ali).

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Multicultural Germany Course: Summary of the First Two Weeks

To summarize the first two weeks of the seminar “Multicultural Germany” (fall 2015) it is best to start off with the participants: One third of the class is exchange students, mostly from Germany. Due to this the class can benefit from the insights and background information these students bring to the table. Another bonus is that many of the American students have double citizenship and/or a mixed cultural backgrounds. This adds dimension to the discussions and enables us to look at the topics from a diverse range of angles and viewpoints. Because students are asked to do weekly postings, in which they reflect on the topics as well as news coverage of their choice, there is always a broad spectrum of articles and resultant questions on current debates as well as questions regarding definitions of cultural terms.

In the first week, those questions varied from questions of legality (as with the refugee situation in Hungary and the discussion about border control), the advantages and disadvantages of immigration for Germany (as with resistance from groups like PEGIDA), the dangers of fleeing home (as with the incident in Austria in which seventy-one tragic victims were found dead and decomposing in a standing truck), narratives of foreignness, to the influence of representations in the media (as with the tragic drowning of three-year old Alan Kurdi).

Cultural definitions and media representation also formed two of the main pillars in our readings. The class’s main readings derived from Germany in Transit (2007) which contains a collection of a variety of documents partitioned under migration-related questions.

The focus of the second week took a closer examination of current events surrounding Germany’s refugee debate. Under the heading “Arrested Mobility: Refugees, Borders, and the Predicament of Asylum” everyone was called to scan the current news and post their findings to the online course forum.

The articles posted were on the usage of the term expat and immigrant, the migrant crisis in Hungary, Europe’s struggle with migrants and Asylum, U.S. foreign policy, the definition of migrants respectively refugees and the pressure the large number of refugees puts on small towns in Germany.

Though we vacillated among all these topics, the class discussions nonetheless clearly centered around one broad issue, namely the ambivalence in attitude that manifested itself in both alienation and compassion when dealing with situations like the refugee crisis. All that newspapers seemed to offer us was numbers: “USA wollen 10.000 Syrer aufnehmen” The USA wants to take in 10,000 Syrians (Die Zeit online; 10. September 2015), “Über 100 Flüchtlinge in Lastwagen entdeckt“ Over 100 refugees found in a tractor trailer (T-Online; 02.09.2015), „40.000 Flüchtlinge haben Österreich passiert“ 40,000 refugees have filtered through Austria (Kleine Zeitung online; 10.09.2015), „Deutschland und die große Zahl: Sind 500.000 Flüchtlinge machbar?“ Germany and the large number: are 500,000 refugees manageable? (ntv online; 08. September 2015).

As we are inundated by large quantities of news from several different countries about the current refugee situation in Germany, with many of them emerging from topics of immense societal and political relevance, we certainly felt the need to gain a fuller understanding of the (pre)conditions and repercussions of the events that were then taking place.

The screening of Nina Kusturica’s documentary Little Alien (2009) did exactly this. It helped us to gain a deeper insight into the lives of underage refugees. Two scenes we discussed in context with the current headlines as they seemed striking: First the facelessness portrayed in the opening sequence in which refugees crossing the border appear as little black dots in the border patrol’s surveillance cameras. In the second scene discussed we see that the refugee processing center is completely mechanical and automatic, devoid of any human contact. These scenes raised questions about the legal position of seeking Asylum in Germany as well as about the integration process. With the ongoing situation of the refugees the seminar surely will have enough up to date material to be discussed during the term in addition to the required readings. Therefore the discussions promise to stay as vivid and procreative as we have experienced it in these first two weeks.

– Evelyn Roth

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