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A Tale of Three Cities: Part II – Polarization and Conspiracy on Social Media

In a new three-part series for our blog, UC Berkeley undergraduate and MGP contributor Jezell Lee reflects on a personal experience of the pandemic and political polarization, caught between the gravitational pull of the United States, Germany, and Taiwan and heavily mediated through social media and the particularity of each locale. In the second installment, Jezell analyzes the role of social media in the proliferation of misinformation from her vantage point under lockdown in Berlin.


Like any start to a new year, the initial hours of a young 2020 were saturated with positive potential, resolution and optimism, as countdowns commenced and clocks struck midnight to hopeful crowds around the world. Social media, on a global scale, was an explosion of picturesque fireworks and encouraging messages spread with wide-eyed hope, from which I was not exempt. January 2020 was a month of excitement for my first solo trip to my mother’s city of Taipei and quiet yearning for February, when I was slated to leave my hometown of Los Angeles for my long anticipated study abroad semester in Berlin.

But as COVID-19 took the world by storm, halting possibilities of international travel and ultimately cancelling my study abroad program in early March, I was faced with the choice of either withdrawing from the university for a semester and retreating back to Los Angeles in bitter disappointment for the rest of the spring semester and the upcoming summer, or staying in Berlin to complete the semester online. So I stayed. As the world shifted its focus to the online digital space, channels of information and news were forged out of this delicate time of minimized physical contact and social distancing.

Zooming forward to the year’s end, social media, especially Instagram and Telegram, depicts a vastly different picture of ordinary life than the one envisioned by January 2020, one fraught with social tension and an avalanche of information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the viral vaccine’s state of affairs. But what exactly is special about how news travels on social media, Instagram and Telegram in particular? How does it become searchable as an “infodemic” archive, and how does information travel transculturally and translinguistically?


Instagram as a Pandemic Archive

Using the same strategy as outlined in the first part of this series to understand how information is presented across different communities and social media circles, I then browsed the following archives of relevant hashtags surrounding the coronavirus and its vaccines in German:

Germany (German):

#coronaimpfstoff → 2.8k posts

#coronaimpfung → 10.9k

#impfung → 54.6k

#impstoffgegencorona → 809

#coronadeutschland → 22.7k

#coronanews → 83.8k

#corona* → 28.4m

*In the United States, the novel coronavirus is colloquially referred to as “COVID-19,” while in Germany it is commonly abbreviated “corona.” 

As I am writing this from Berlin, a multicultural city with both German and English as its default languages of business and international discourse, the Instagram posts that can be found circulating within the hashtagged archives here are thus often written in both German and English. But because the United States is the world’s leading country in Instagram audience, with 140 million users compared to Germany’s 26 million, much of the most popular infographic content is thus created and circulated in English, a language that is easily accessible by the English-speaking communities in the United States as well as in Germany.

This is particularly evident in the fact that as of this year (2021), over two-thirds of Instagram users worldwide are aged 34 and younger, further supporting the suggestion that social media as a type of news platform is immensely popular amongst young people. Simultaneously, it can then also be reasonably deduced that older people are more likely to turn to more traditional media or alternative platforms in order to access information.

Impfen? Nein, danke!

Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging application, allows for users to partake in voice and video calls with secure end-to-end encryption as well as “secret” chats that have the option to be end-to-end encrypted. It currently has over 500 million users worldwide and has been blocked, banned, and/or restricted in other countries such as Belarus, Russia and China, where political dissidents were using the platform to speak out against the government and organize protests because it was marketed as the most secure messaging platform available, as opposed to using another service such as WhatsApp.

A plausible explanation as to why it may have gained traction and popularity amongst users in Germany is that the company was headquartered in Berlin between 2014 and 2015, and the growing anti-vaccination community in Germany is now using it as a continuous feed of postable and shareable information that bolsters their stance in the form of a channel called “Impfen? Nein, danke!” eerily echoing the former Cold War messaging of “Atomkraft? Nein, danke!”

The format of the posts shared in this particular anti-vaccination impfen-nein-danke channel are vastly different from the eye-catching aesthetics of those found circulating throughout Instagram circles. Telegram channels are structured more like a continuous news feed in which news articles and information can be posted chronologically, and anyone with access to the channel can simply scroll through the many pages of media available.

These media forms include pictures, videos, links to articles, screenshots, quotes and individual commentary, and the overall structure of the channel reads like a minimalistic messenger chat log. It is worth noting that though the channel has 5,135 subscribers, 12.7k photos, 4.47k videos, and 1.09k other files, individuals such as myself who are not Telegram users or subscribed to this particular channel can still openly access the publicly posted information, opening the avenue of possibility that perhaps the “impfen-nein-danke” channel has a much farther reach into various pockets of communities than its modest following attests to. This can be particularly dangerous given that any posted misinformation can also be seen by anyone if a channel is public. For instance, a post that dates from April 14, 2021 states the following:

“Komm: Unnötiges Leid für die Dogmen der Virus-Religion!

Wer fragt, ob es das Virus wirklich gibt?

Wer fragt, ob die Tests das Virus nachweisen?

Wer fragt, ob ein positiver Test eine Diagnose erlaubt?”

Come on: Unnecessary suffering for the dogmas of the virus religion!

Who asks if the virus really exists?

Who asks if the tests detect the virus?

Who asks if a positive test allows a diagnosis?

I have translated the original German text into English, and in this short interrogatory commentary, the original author perpetuates the idea that whether or not the coronavirus exists is a mere matter of simply believing, not unlike religious belief, as there is also a comparison to the idea that the virus itself is the head of its own religion. The questions posed here cast shadows of doubt on the strictly scientific progress that society has made in the last half century, questioning scientific integrity and sowing seeds of mistrust in the form of guided misinformation. 

Another post that is completely inaccurate in its description and demonising portrayal of the vaccine can be seen below (for context, I am a bioengineering major and the novel coronavirus has made certain classes much more applicable to reality):

“Die Hälfte wird das bald Kommende nicht überleben, die einen, weil sie zu alt und zu schwach für die Genspritzen sind, bei den Stärkeren wirken Gift und Nanoteilchen mittelfristig. Die meisten werden es erst kapieren, wenn sie den mRNA-Tod durch den Zytokinsturm sterben.”

Half will not survive what is soon to come, some because they are too old and too weak for the gene injections, and with those who are stronger, poison and nanoparticles have a medium-term effect. Most won’t get it until they die of mRNA death from the cytokine storm. 

Where is the data that supports the claim that half of the population will not survive vaccination? Interestingly enough, this German user’s claim echoes strongly with a post written earlier this year by prominent American anti-vaxxer Mike Adams, or the self-proclaimed “Health Ranger”:

“IMPORTANT REMINDER: Most people who take the mRNA vaccine will be dead within 5 years. So far, 4.2 million doses have been administered in the United States, and that number is growing by the day. The population by 2025 may be HALF of what it is now, depending on how many take the mRNA vax.”

Though Mike Adams is most widely known for being the owner of, an online echo chamber of misinformation promoting anti-vaccination, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience with 7 million unique visitors per month, a further look into his prolific empire of misinformation reveals that he actually owns over 50 different websites that cover a wide variety of topics ranging from “doomsday prep advice” (, to fear in science and medicine. (,, This online “ecosystem” of fake news operates on search engines like Good Gopher, running parallel to Google. They reveal a frighteningly intricate web of results that Adams claims to “filter[s] out corporate propaganda and government disinformation.”

For instance, when one searches for the Washington Post, a well-known and established news source, one is sent instead to Adams’ TruthWiki, RealInvestigations.News, and, an alternate reality “Wonderland” of sorts that feeds its hysteria to a willing audience through the looking glass that is the Internet. His vast, worldwide-reaching online network could have easily been the basis for similar ideas circulating echo chambers in other countries, such as that of the German anti-vaxx community on Telegram. 

The digital rabbit hole of misinformation can seem rather benign in nature to the casual user who only gives it a cursory glance and knows how to distinguish it from scientific truth, but within it belies the much more dangerous notion that modern medicine cannot be trusted. The baseless claims across NaturalNews and Telegram that half the population will die as a result of the COVID-19 mRNA-based vaccine are grounded in emotional mistrust and fear rather than scientific facts and data across a plethora of experimental iterations.

In fact, data from the clinical trials of multiple different vaccines have proven to be exactly the opposite, at high efficacy rates between 76% and 95% across a diverse profile of populations of varying ages, underlying conditions, and ethnicities. The author of this post also makes the unfounded claim that the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine is a gene injection, which is simply untrue. If that were the case, those who have genetic illnesses that require gene therapy would simply have their problems solved by a simple injection into the bloodstream and moved on to living ordinary lives.

The mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine does not in any way, shape, or form, alter individual DNA or inject genes into the body. Instead, it delivers the instructions for making viral proteins to the cells, triggering an immune response in which the immune system then responds to these proteins and develops the ability to react to future infections with the COVID-19 pathogen.

Furthermore, lipid nanoparticles are used as delivery vehicles for the vaccine and do not have harmful effects on the body, while gold nanoparticles are important for allowing quick detection of viral load without the need for advanced laboratory testing and equipment, which is particularly crucial for underserved populations that may not have access to the state of the art facilities.

The mRNA-based vaccines also cannot induce COVID-19 in the injected body simply because they do not carry the full information for cells to make the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The oh-so-ominous “Zytokinsturm” the Telegram poster warn their readers about will not come because it doesn’t exist (neither does mRNA death), as cytokines are simply a very loose, broad categorization for proteins secreted by the immune system that play a role in various cell signalling pathways.

Posted in Archives of Migration, Blog, Project Updates (Home Page) | Leave a comment |

A Tale of Three Cities: Part I – Instagram as Pandemic Archive

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Image: Huffington Post

In a new three-part series for our blog, UC Berkeley undergraduate and MGP contributor Jezell Lee reflects on a personal experience of quarantine caught between the gravitational pull of the United States, Germany, and Taiwan, heavily mediated through social media and the particularity of each locale. In the first installment, Jezell thinks through the role of Instagram as an archive of the pandemic experience, anchored in her hometown of Los Angeles, California.


Like any start to a new year, the initial hours of a young 2020 were saturated with positive potential, resolution and optimism, as countdowns commenced and clocks struck midnight to hopeful crowds around the world. Social media, on a global scale, was an explosion of picturesque fireworks and encouraging messages spread with wide-eyed hope, from which I was not exempt. January 2020 was a month of excitement for my first solo trip to my mother’s city of Taipei and quiet yearning for February, when I was slated to leave my hometown of Los Angeles for my long anticipated study abroad semester in Berlin.

But as COVID-19 took the world by storm, halting possibilities of international travel and ultimately cancelling my study abroad program in early March, I was faced with the choice of either withdrawing from the university for a semester and retreating back to Los Angeles in bitter disappointment for the rest of the spring semester and the upcoming summer, or staying in Berlin to complete the semester online. So I stayed. As the world shifted its focus to the online digital space, channels of information and news were forged out of this delicate time of minimized physical contact and social distancing.

Zooming forward to the year’s end, social media, especially Instagram and Telegram, depicts a vastly different picture of ordinary life than the one envisioned by January 2020, one fraught with social tension and an avalanche of information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the viral vaccine’s state of affairs. But what exactly is special about how news travels on social media, Instagram and Telegram in particular? How does it become searchable as an “infodemic” archive, and how does information travel transculturally and translinguistically?


Instagram as a Multilingual Pandemic Archive

The year of the novel coronavirus was also the year of “viral” news proliferation via Instagram, and as the world entered various stages of government-imposed lockdowns, more and more people turned their attention to the online world in a time when the outside world was rendered inaccessible to them. Instagram alone saw a sharp 22.9% increase in users, as well as surges in screen time and overall digital media consumption. While this allowed for increased accessibility and visibility of necessary news and information in unprecedented ways, social media platforms such as Instagram were also used to usher in a new era of what could be rationalized as the social media “infodemic,” in conjunction with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many users susceptible to rumors and misinformation.

Instagram makes it very easy to share and swipe through information and posts that have already been published. Individual users can simply tap the icon in the shape of a paper airplane underneath a posted picture, adjacent to the heart and speech bubble icons meant to represent likes and comments, respectively. This allows users to share the post to their entire following by posting it onto their story, where it can be seen for 24 hours before it is automatically archived, or send the post to other friends and users privately, where it would reside in their private messages and theoretically provoke conversations surrounding the posted material. Accounts with large followings of over one million, such as @impact, @soyouwanttotalkabout, @shityoushouldcareabout, and @feminist, based around the themes of popular activism and sociopolitical awareness, became the dealers of social change in taking up the responsibility of starting conversations and using their large Instagram platforms to quickly reach millions of people.

However, it is worthy to note that these accounts, though seemingly bolstered by their massive followings, are not without their skeptics. Following the 1,200+ comment threads of a swipe-through carousel post with 75,000+ likes about the vaccine by @impact, users have left comments such as “inform yourself with the cdc not instagram, smh” and anti-vaxxers have pushed against the very idea of the vaccine by claiming “there is no point in getting it in the first place.” Why are so many people apt to trust information and news posted or circulated by these large accounts on Instagram? Why are they not turning to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), World Health Organization (WHO) or their own medical doctors for information? Does this actually dissuade people from getting the vaccine?

To first understand how information is presented across different communities and social media circles, I browsed the following archives of relevant hashtags surrounding the coronavirus and its vaccines in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, in line with the three cities I was in over the course of 2020 and their respective languages, of which I am fortunate enough to be able to read and understand. I began with English, the language of my Angeleno roots:

United States (English): 

#covid19vaccine→ 45.2k posts

#covidvaccine → 349k 

#vaccine → 560k 

#pfizer → 227k 

#astrazeneca →111k

#moderna → 976k

#antivax → 108k

#covid_19 → 22.4m

Posts that tend to circulate through English speaking digital spaces, particularly amongst people in the 13-17 and 18-24 year old age ranges, tend to focus more on listicle type “how to’s” as well as an appeal to individual responsibility and ethics, urging people to get tested and not gather in large groups, mostly likely in response to those who deny the existence or extent of the novel coronavirus’ severity and continue to live their lives in a state of pre-pandemic normalcy. Though these infographic type posts are benign in nature, they attest to the easy frivolity that masks the prolific spread of such information in an aesthetic format at the swipe of a thumb. The presentation of these posts underlies the idea that swiping through visually digestible information instead of reading full-length articles or reports is potentially becoming more commonplace within certain demographics, and it calls into question the validity of interacting with aesthetically condensed but serious information in a manner that seems cursory and frivolous, akin to mindlessly swiping through profiles on Tinder.

How Information Spreads on Instagram

In order to further understand the spread of visual information on Instagram, I borrow the term “Instagramism” from Dr. Lev Manovich, a professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY). Instagramism is essentially an allusion to other modern art movements such as cubism, futurism and surrealism. Much like these earlier –isms, Instagramism offers its own vision of the world and visually aesthetic language. But unlike modernist art movements, Instagramism is created and sustained by its millions of users connected and participating in its own network as well as those of other social media platforms.

As a platform used by artists and visual creatives, Instagram fosters the ideal environment for generating its aesthetic in the form of the modern day infographic as part of its appeal. This in turn contributes to Manovich’s concept of the “aesthetic worker” and the rise of the “aesthetic society” that produces beautiful content, allowing social media tribes of mutuals (people of a similar niche who follow each other and interact frequently on social media) to share and sustain themselves through similar aesthetic choices that elevate social and lifestyle functions in a distinctive, visually appealing form, such as the Instagram infographic.

Instagram also takes into account of its users’ preferences and attitudes, and its ever changing algorithms mediate and encourage the promotion of content in accordance to what they “think” each individual user wants to see. Feed rankings and sorting are powered by machine learning (ML), which is essentially constantly adapting to new patterns in data, taking into account of user-to-user interaction relationships, timeliness of posts, frequency of use, following numbers, and overall Instagram session time. This can facilitate the viral information spread at unprecedented speeds and causes the shift away from traditional news sources while implementing new social perceptions and influencing public debate and policy making, proliferating particularly fast amongst Gen Z users, as older demographics may turn to other news sources outside of Instagram for information.

A simple Google search with the keyword “infographic” or “how to make an infographic” spawns over 263 million results in the span of just half a second. The barrier to entry to creating such content is presumably extremely low for those with intention, internet connection and an Instagram account. With the rise of the infographic as a supposedly infallible news source amongst younger populations, important information can be cherrypicked to elicit a specific emotional response or present an easy truth in a visually digestible format for many. The way the most popular infographic posts on Instagram are dressed up suggests that the information presented stems from verified data that is taken from a credible source and can therefore be taken to be “real” guidance.

The overall form and visual aesthetic of such posts contribute to their welcome reception and easy shareability within specific social media tribes (as indicated by Manovich), but also detracts from the unclarity that should arise from questioning their source and the credentials of those who compiled it. The urge to share information (or potential misinformation) by way of deliberately designed Instagram infographics manifests in the modern day “viral” infodemic, a disease of our time that disavows critical reading and analysis, by grounding itself on the idea that news nowadays has to be presented in an easily digestible manner in order to appeal to a younger audience with the vague desire to be more educated on certain topics without doing the actual research themselves. Now more than ever, digital media has allowed for information to be shared almost instantaneously and arguably thoughtlessly by and to anyone with an internet connection, a stark contrast to the past days of radio, television, paper, and unedited word of mouth. 

At a quick glance: The writer is a freshman at UCLA. The designer is a student at MassArt. The information displayed here does not truly “explain” what is happening, nor does it cover the scope of its topic. The intention is not to denounce the fresh young voices of the future, but to implore individuals to search beyond Instagram for news.

This is also not to say that any and all posts created by individuals with micro and macro level followings are necessarily without their sources entirely. In times of high skepticism and general public distrust, the push to “prove” the credibility of the author as well as the validity of the information being handled has led more infographic creators to cite the sources they consult.

In a recent COVID-19 vaccine update carousel post (a type of post that allows Instagram users to easily swipe through up to ten slides of images) created and uploaded by @shityoushouldcareabout, the New York Times is cited as the one and only source for the information compiled and shared to a following of 2.8 million, without mentioning the actual NYT article itself. Though the credibility of the New York Times as an established news source is undoubtedly unquestioned, information on the vaccines should really be examined from the companies that produce them and the commission, namely, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that oversees their authorization for clinical use for the public. A quiet perusal of the comment section reveals the questions of those who are skeptical about the vaccines’ varying efficacies, turning to unknown strangers on Instagram for answers.

These worried ruminations about the vaccines, their “surprising speed” at which they were produced, and their emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA can be comfortably palliated by reading the information publicly available on the FDA website, which goes in depth to outline various scenarios, reasons for and the potential processes of obtaining an EUA. But instead, the easy accessibility of throwing one’s questions into the digital media void at the rapid, frivolous tap of thumbs, paired with the desire to have a barrage of available information distilled and simplified, culminates in the proliferation of younger users who increasingly turn to social media platforms such as Instagram to ingest readily available information by way of eye-catching visuals and font family choices. As Instagram provides direct access to an ever-growing abundance of digital content, its significance lies in the notion that the information spread is capable of strongly influencing human behavior and has the potential to alter the overall effectiveness of any measures put in place by governments, by amplifying rumors and any questionable information. 

How Misinformation Spreads on Instagram

The gradual shift from the traditional news paradigm deeply impacts the construct of social perception as well as the framing of narratives, as social media users have the tendency to obtain information adhering to their worldviews and ignore dissenting opinions, resulting in the formation of highly polarized circles centered around agreed upon common narratives. Higher levels of polarization in social groups may be more prone to experiencing higher levels of circulated misinformation. A 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center reports that more than one-third of Americans using Instagram get their news from there, and a 2018 study conducted by MIT’s Media Lab on the spread of false and true news online points out that inaccurate information may actually spread faster and wider than fact-based news.

As discussed earlier, Instagram’s algorithms are always predicting and curating feeds and accounts to show users what they want to see. For instance, if a user is interested in young adult novels and fiction, their feed will be inundated with photos of books and accounts run by authors, reviewers, and publishing houses. However, these algorithms do not always have such innocent mechanisms of action. They also encourage the formation of a dangerously polarizing effect amid the ongoing global health crisis spurred on by the pandemic, given that once a user follows an anti-vaccination account or interacts with content bearing misinformation, many more similar accounts are immediately suggested for the user to follow.

By actively recommending content with misleading information such as the (nonexistent) initiative jointly led by the CDC, WHO, and big pharmaceutical companies to conceal the (also nonexistent) autism-vaccine link, Instagram is directly contributing to the resurgence of the anti-vaxx community, sowing seeds of scientific doubt and potentially damaging and reshaping the public opinion of the younger demographic that uses the platform. As a measure to combat the spread of misinformation, Instagram has made an effort to flag posts with tags such as “Informationen zu Impfstoffen findest du hier:” (You can find information on vaccines at in order to direct its users toward the correct information resources regarding the coronavirus and its vaccines. 

More recently, Instagram has also made efforts to remove accounts consistently posting misinformation and restricting the use of hashtags such as #VaccinesKill and #VaccinesCauseAutism. Interestingly enough, Instagram still allows the use of the hashtags #AntiVax and #AntiVaxx, though users are prompted to visit the CDC and WHO websites before viewing the hashtagged archive. According to a Huffington Post article written by Jesselyn Cook, Instagram’s rationale for not blocking the hashtags #AntiVax and #AntiVaxx is because “they do not meet a certain threshold of verifiably false vaccine-related information.”

The screenshots above are taken from the aforementioned HuffPost article on Instagram’s nightmarish public search results for vaccines before posts with similar vaccine misinformation were regularly moderated and removed. The article was published in February 2020, at a time when there were whispers of a virus originating from Wuhan abound and the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were not yet available. Though the usernames of the accounts depicted are purposely blurred out, I went back to search for them via keywords in their bios (the grey text underneath the blurred out usernames on the first screenshot on the far right) on Instagram in April 2021 and discovered that they were no longer available as a result of Instagram moderation as well as the deployment of hashtag and content deranking to clean up misinformation, after Instagram faced public backlash for allowing false information to proliferate.

However, by doing so, Instagram goes against the very essence of traditional archives, in which information is documented, collected, preserved and made available to trace, follow and connect. In this instance, the accounts and misinformation flagged by Cook were taken down and rendered unavailable for later access, contributing to the creation of an online archive that is partially unreadable. The ultimate ephemerality of information on Instagram ensures that no form of content published on the platform can be considered wholly stable and searchable in the long-term, as information can be presented one day and removed in the next, echoing the confusing and ever-changing rules and restrictions that have become a pandemic hallmark in Germany and the United States. 

Posted in Archives of Migration, Blog, Project Updates (Home Page) | Leave a comment |

Reflections on Archival Resistance: Conversations with Sharon Dodua Otoo, Zafer Şenocak and Yoko Tawada

Archival Resistance 2021-04-28 at 2.55.28 PM.png
Participants in Prof. Deniz Göktürk’s spring 2021 seminar on “Archival Resistance”.

In spring 2021, we hosted a series of conversations with contemporary writers titled “Archives of Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News.” Organized jointly by Professors Deniz Göktürk and Elisabeth Krimmer (UC Davis), this series was supported by the German Consulate General San Francisco, and co-sponsored by the German Historical Institute Pacific Regional Office and the Institute for European Studies at UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley undergraduate Jezell Lee and recent alumna Ardo Ali, both students in Prof. Göktürk’s “Archival Resistance” seminar, participated in the workshop and share their thoughts on the course and the broadening horizons of German Studies, alongside a selection of reflections from their classmates.

Throughout the semester, we have had the opportunity to engage with three prominent Berlin-based authors of diverse multilingual backgrounds, Sharon Dodua Otoo, Zafer Şenocak, and Yoko Tawada. This was carried out through a joint UC Berkeley and UC Davis Zoom workshop series titled, Archives on Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News. Hosting the workshops in pandemic times via Zoom allowed for ease in broadening the audience, by bringing in international guests ranging from Chicago, Illinois to Valencia, Spain. 

During the workshop series, each author provided insight into their breadth of work both new and old, highlighting sentiments of cultural remembrance, issues of contemporary German identity, and more. Each writer also combined their artistic musings with archives, ranging from familial letters and memorabilia to the documented works of other notable authors like Paul Celan. 

The engaging conversations with the writers we read were guided by questions about their own multilingualism, identity and culture, and I deeply appreciated the fact that we were not only able to read very recently published literature but also interact with their authors to gain a heightened sense of understanding of their own backgrounds and foundations for their work, as none of them are German in the “traditional” sense.

Jezell Lee

The first author, Sharon Dodua Otoo, took us through her recently released realm-bending novel Adas Raum. Otoo, being of an English-Ghanaian background and writing this novel in German, can draw on a diverse source of influences manifesting in the main character Ada, who appears at different points in time throughout the text. Ada materializes as a woman of different stations and culture intermittently in the periods between pre-colonial Africa to modern-day Berlin. 

The title of the novel is intended to portray the multifaceted essence of space through the use of the word “Raum”, which, when translated, can take on a handful of different forms in English, such as space, room, and area. Additionally, Otoo enjoyed that it could also denote the space that black female authors like herself could take up in the literary world. A focus within her workshop was the use of language and how publishing this novel in German was the key to having it come together stylistically. She noted that each language has its flavors, accents, and slang that contribute to its overall tone, and emphasized the power that language has in connecting individuals to one another. 

The interaction fostered by the German department between renown guest speakers such as Yoko Tawada, Sharon Dodua Otoo and Zafer Senocak has allowed me to better grasp the unique nature of the German language and the intricacies of German literature. Listening and analyzing these amazing speakers and their respective texts produced an array of different emotions for me each time and ultimately allowed me to identify my own style of writing and where I sit in the field of literature. Prior to this class I had a very basic understanding of literary translation, yet through our collaborative efforts I have come to understand the importance of identity in developing an accurate translation, as well as scrutinizing each individual word in order to convey the meaning as concisely and as accurately as possible to the reader.

Oliver Arter

In the second installment of the workshop series, Turkish-born German writer Zafer Şenocak led a discussion on his latest novel, Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt, as well as his new novel in progress, Eurasia. Born in Ankara, Turkey, raised in Munich, Germany, and currently based in Berlin, Şenocak writes in both Turkish and German, reflected in the colorful multilingualism of his workshop, conducted in German, English, and Turkish. 

Framed around Şenocak’s own multilingual and transnational background, his fascination with unreadable archives is a testament to his “atypical Turkish background” that manifests in his writing. His protagonists in Gefährliche Verwandtschaft and Deutsche Schule deal with the unreadability of papers they come across, which reflect in the idea of a fragmented transnational or “hyphenated” identity, as the briefcase papers are scrawled with Cyrillic and Arabic scripts, unfamiliar and thus unreadable specifically to the protagonist that holds them. By way of translational medium, the protagonist can access the information these archives hold and piece together their familial past, and in the process, cross the cultural and language barriers that initially kept them in place. The protagonist is thus able to better render a fuller picture of the personal narrative, one marked by the tragedies, atrocities, love, and delights that inevitably come with living.

I learned through the Zoom conversations with Sharon Dodua Otoo and Zafer Senocak that the ways in which writers position themselves have important implications for interpreters. The authors’ desire not to be put into neat categories that often reflect a narrow understanding of identity can serve as a reminder that we should not readily delve into seemingly obvious frameworks of reference when performing analysis but should instead think about the ways in which the text resists and contests contemporary understandings of (non-)belonging. I used to panic whenever I thought of writing about famous texts that have been previously interpreted by many others, but now I start to see how one could always find new things to say about canonical texts from one’s own unique angle, and that’s part of the charm of archives.

MGP editor Qingyang Zhou

Şenocak’s depiction of the idea that one’s identity should and can not be reduced to stringent categorization is particularly relevant today, as modern-day society is increasingly globalizing and fostering the exchange between cultural and linguistic barriers, and as many people of these so-called “hyphenated” backgrounds yearn to express themselves differently in the languages and cultures they identify with, without fully being able to “fit in” to each cultural box.

In the final workshop of the Archives on Migration series, Japanese-born German writer Yoko Tawada facilitated a lively discussion on her recently published novel, Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel. The influence of poet Paul Celan on her writing runs so deeply that it takes an esteemed place in the title of her novel, coincidentally published on the day of Celan’s hundredth birthday. Tawada deftly weaves the archival poetry of Celan into the narrative of her protagonist “der Patient” with playful, linguistic magic, and her workshop was particularly relevant to the current pandemic times, drawing upon the restricted movement across transnational borders influenced by her own anecdotal experiences of moving between countries, as well as the implications of the unknown sickness that ails protagonist Patrik, or “der Patient.” 

The Archives on Migration workshop events provided another outlet of discussion for the materials that we were engaging with, while also allowing us to hear the perspectives and commentary of the authors who generated the work themselves. I also found that I resonated a lot with the works of the authors from the workshop. Having a multifaceted personal identity myself, it was interesting to see how themes of cultural remembrance and multilingualism manifested for other individuals in their literary works.

Ardo Ali

The languishing immobility and dizzying fatigue that pervade pandemic life as we know it strongly correspond to the protagonist’s incapacitated state and further adds another layer of meaning to the word “corona,” the title of a poem written by Celan.  By establishing Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel as a quintessential pandemic novel, Tawada was able to craft a seamless record of Celan’s archival poetry crossed with her linguistic wordplay, centering in on the question of what it truly means to be sick through a defamiliarized gaze.

Beyond the frameworks of our seminar, it is also important to note that, in the past half century, German Studies within American academia has been increasingly shifting its focus from within the nationally defined borders of German literature to encompass a transculturally conceived field of studies. Along with the momentum of this “transnational turns,” German studies scholars have increasingly focused on literatures of diaspora and migration to allow for a more progressive, multicultural conception of German-language literature. As a result, there is much that German Studies can contribute to our contemporary understandings of the limits of national essentialism, the significance of archival practices, and the vibrancy of minority voices.

MGP editor Elizabeth Sun

By way of their prolific works, these three multilingual, Berlin-based authors have accented the positive path of cultural and social diversification that the German literary community is heading towards. Through their incorporation of personal experience with archives of German language and culture, they have completely done away with the formerly established common notions of what a German author is. The use of personal archives being repurposed in a modern context ultimately opens the door to the reframing of historical happenings, making room for forgotten narratives.

Posted in Archives of Migration, Blog, Project Updates (Home Page) | Leave a comment |

Border Talk in Dresden: Imagining Cohesion through Difference with Zafer Şenocak

In this thoughtful commentary, UC Berkeley Class of 2021 alumna and MGP contributor Ardo Ali, who participated in our workshop with Turkish-German author Zafer Şenocak, grapples with the troubled legacy of German reunification as reflected in the rise of so-called right-wing populism in Germany, which has been disproportionately steep in the formerly socialist East. Ali chronicles how, as the institutions of social security in the German Democratic Republic are looted by Western capital, the resurgent ethnic nationalism of Kohl-era West Germany is discredited, returning as counterculture in the form of far-right social movements in the 2010s after being sidelined by the neoliberal spirit of globalization which saw conservative and center-left governments alike embrace both a more pluralistic German national identity and the intensification of capitalist exploitation.

“Es wäre vermessen, so zu tun, als gäbe es diese Welt nicht, die hermetisch sein möchte, mit Bewohnern, die untereinanderbleiben wollen. Ein abgeschottetes Kindheitsparadies? Eine Idylle, wenn man bedenkt, wie viele Kinderheitshöllen es gibt. Aber zur Idylle gehört Harmonie und zur Harmonie eben auch Homogenität. So wird landauf, landab gedacht.”

“It would be presumptuous to pretend that this world does not exist, which wants to be hermetic, with inhabitants who want to stay among themselves. A secluded childhood paradise? A sealed-off childhood hell there is. But to the ideal belongs to harmony and through harmony also homogeneity. That’s the way people think up and down the country.”

Zafer Şenocak, Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt: Wie Unterschiede unsere Gesellschaft zusammenhalten (2018, p. 152)

Is social harmony a symbiotic relationship between different individuals or those bearing the same beliefs, identities, and cultures? Zafer Şenocak’s recent semi-autobiographical compilation of essays, Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt: Wie Unterschiede unsere Gesellschaft zusammenhalten, raises this question and more, touching on facets of identity and belonging in era of social media where, inflammatory verbiage often triggers resentful rejection of those perceived as “other” or foreign.

In his book, Şenocak contrasts the wide-spread desire for hermetically sealed and homogeneous group identities, as in the opening quote, with a focus on the internal differences and foreignness in the self, which makes the vilification of the perceived “other” a hypocritical standpoint. Concepts of social cohesion, in German “sozialer Zusammenhalt,” speak to larger themes within Germany today, where authors, private organizations, and governmental officials are all seeking to address and solve polarization on issues ranging from immigration to employment, but disagree on the best means to do so.

Social cohesion is particularly important within Germany because of the nation’s tenuous history with immigration and ethnic diversity. Developing a means of engaging with issues of social cohesion is imperative so that the fallout of occurrences like the 2015 European migrant crisis can become instances of mass cooperation and social endurance instead of schismatic breaking points within German cultural society. Ethnic minorities and immigrants are often scapegoated for social, political, and economic shortcomings.

It has become evident through the recent resurgence of German right-wing populist parties in the 2010s that top-down mechanisms of bringing about integration and acceptance are not enough to counteract opposition to cohesion efforts. This top-down mechanism has been lead by conservatives in government, who have focused on the formation of a strong national narrative of cohesion, perpetuated by federal ministries like the Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat.

Groups like the Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) represent the right-wing opposition to Germany’s social cohesion project. The group comes out of the politically polarizing city of Dresden, believing the best means of creating “Zusammenhalt” is based on a foundation of prejudice, xenophobic, and sheltered imagery paired with hateful verbiage. The city of Dresden is uniquely situated in the social cohesion debate, harboring citizens who identify with PEGIDA’s messaging, while also being a space for open debate for more understanding and inclusive forms of social cohesion as in the Landpartie oder “Die Haut musst du schützen” section of Şenocak’s Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt: Wie Unterschiede unsere Gesellschaft zusammenhalten.

This essay analyzes the debate about social cohesion coming out of Dresden on both ends of the ideological spectrum, looking to see if the city’s social, cultural, and political differences can be used as the social adhesive for a more interactive future. In particular, analyzing whether interpersonal understanding develops linkages between established frameworks for integration like that developed by the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) and those that seek to counteract those initiatives like the rising radical right. 

Historical Background

In order to understand the basis of the social cohesion debate, Germany’s complicated social and political makeup must first be discussed, beginning with the widely disputed issue of immigration. The stance of the conservative CDU party during the 1980s, particularly that of their party-leader Helmut Kohl, who later became Chancellor of Germany both prior to and throughout the reunification period, is of particular importance.

Kohl fervently stood against the notion of Germany as a country of immigration, arguing that specifically, Turkish immigrants could not assimilate due to perceived “cultural differences”. He and his party perpetuated conflicting narratives of immigrant populations, stating that immigrants took away jobs while also claiming that immigrants were lazy and had low contribution to the German economic sphere.

Though a hot button issue for Kohl himself, immigration and citizenship policy fell to the wayside in the 1990’s with Kohl’s CDU/CSU and FDP coalition losing confidence and support amongst the nation’s reunified population. Germany either due to the reunifying spirit of the fall of the Berlin wall at the beginning of the decade or the impending pressures of the economic and social issues that reunification brought up, produced legislation under the new political guard of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD)  and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the late 1990s. This established Germany more formally as an immigration state. Germany, thus, produced its first substantive immigration policy in 2005, the nation’s first true Immigration Act. 

Though such legislation proved politically salient, fissures within Germany’s social sphere would surface when challenged with the 2015 migrant crisis. PEGIDA’s position paper largely encompasses the means by which the right-wing factionalists intend to reach “Zusammenhalt”. Though its goal is cohesion on their terms, it produces a more difficult means of achieving widespread cohesion because of its exclusionary nature. Upon reading the text it becomes increasingly evident that many social issues brought up are often shied away from in contemporary realms of German popular social discourse, but are hot button issues for members of the organization.

PEGIDA quite craftily attempts to employ a means of developing a perceived shared social and political ideology, while also alienating large portions of the German population, most notably those who practice Islam. PEGIDA in this way aims to cast a wider net, perhaps, gaining followers by co-opting those who agree with their more moderate claims. This population otherwise could have been on the fence with their radical agenda. An example of this is in their second declaration in the position paper, where they claim to want to develop a means for the integration under basic German law, 

2. PEGIDA ist FÜR die Aufnahme des Rechtes auf und die Pflicht zur Integration ins Grundgesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (bis jetzt ist da nur ein Recht auf Asyl verankert)!  

2. PEGIDA is FOR the inclusion of the right to and the duty of integration in the Basic Law of the

Federal Republic of Germany (until now only a right to asylum is anchored there)!

Though they quickly change their tune in the following points, contradicting themselves by saying in point eleven that Germany should assume the immigration and integration policy of states like Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Switzerland, 

11. PEGIDA ist FÜR eine Zuwanderung nach dem Vorbild der Schweiz, Australiens, Kanadas oder Südafrikas!

11. PEGIDA is FOR immigration along the lines of Switzerland, Australia, Canada or South Africa!

These nations have some of the most difficult roads to citizenship and permanent legal status, as well as few efforts on the front of integration. Therefore, there is no legal space where the German model for integration can effectively be carried out while also employing the methods of these vastly stricter states. 

PEGIDA’s fight for their voice to be heard can be summed up in their mission statement, “Zusammenhalt macht stark”, which brings up the organization’s ultimate goal of social cohesion. How could it be that groups and individuals spanning the German social and political spectrum are all calling for the same results? How they define cohesion is what is important. Organizations like the Forschungsinstitut Gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt (FGZ), funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, seeks to bring about social cohesion by researching how solidarity is developed in Germany today as compared to previous historical models, where conflict culture in media today presents differently than the modes of the past.

FGZ’s system is decentralized and spread over eleven universities within Germany, with the goal of giving all minority groups a seat at the table in developing a shared sense of understanding amongst the population. PEGIDA, on the other end of the spectrum as previously outlined, aims to develop their social cohesion amongst like-minded individuals, relegating those who oppose their ideals to a minority position. 

Literary Connections

The shifting political and social landscape within Germany and more specifically in border regions near Dresden are captured in the following quote by Zafer Şenocak. The section Landpartie oder “Die Haut musst du schützen” from the text Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt, looks into the life events of a woman called Luiza and her father. It provides insight into another population of Germans “on the border”, which is applicable in multiple respects, geographically between Germany and the Czech Republic, and experientially having lived through both a divided and reunified Germany.

Luiza herself has multiple ties of regional identity, having lived on both sides of the German-Czech border in Dresden and Prague respectively. She shows the dual nature of Dresdenerin voice, through being a product of diverse experience while still entertaining ideas of national cohesion. Here the skin of Şenocak’s titled section perhaps doubles as a metaphorical protective layer not only of the individual’s identity but over the Dresden region as well.

Furthermore in this section, the optimism of her father is highlighted, which Luiza reviews quite critically. While the ruins and debris of the fall of the Berlin Wall were still fresh, she insinuates pushes were made for progress legislatively, with steps like the Immigration Act of 2005, and while structural social programs were also developed, they lacked the required to widespread engagement necessary to bolster a sense unified German identity. Thus, those clinging to a socialist German past were relegated to “other” status, because the popular promoted narrative pushed for dissociation with that portion of the nation’s past. 

“Sein Fehler war es gewesen zu glauben, dass nach dem Fall der Mauer etwas Neues kommen würde. Doch der Untergang des sozialistischen Staates blieb folgenlos. Du weißt, dass unter deinen Füßen Ruinen und Trümmer sind, aber keiner will etwas davon wissen.” (Şenocak, p. 155)

“His mistake had been to believe that something new would come after the fall of the Wall. But the demise of the socialist state remained inconsequential. You know that there are ruins and debris under your feet, but no one wants to know about it.”

The swift formulation of national unity in the late 1990s and early 2000s was an overambitious project. Though it prompted positive political changes, the national or even regional policy did not address the conceptions individuals had for what reunification meant for them. While many saw their political and social image of what Germany represented championed by the politically conservative CDU or the more liberal SPD, the radical right encompassed in the messages of PEGIDA and the AfD who did not fit within classical German social or political frameworks,  left unchecked inevitably boiled over in the 2010s. 

Zafer Şenocak goes on to dually comment former East and West Germany identity through the virtual case study of Dresden. This polarization is not only discussed in his text, but was also addressed during the “Archives on Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News” workshop series hosted jointly by UC Berkeley and UC Davis in April 2021.

During the workshop he highlighted the importance of dissolving this push for grand national narratives, no matter the ideology used to justify it. Şenocak emphasized both in his text Das Fremde, Das in Jedem Wohnt Wie Unterschiede Unsere Gesellschaft Zusammenhalten and during the workshop, the importance of individual responsibility in dissecting and coming to terms with other definitions and feelings of belonging, stating that only through this can essences of social cohesion be reached.

These sentiments are again woven into the story of Luiza’s father from Şenocak’s Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt, engaging with notions of what it means to establish “Heimat”.“Heimat” is a controversial term in the contemporary German cultural sphere, encompassing ideas of belonging that call back to a romanticized idea of what it means to be German and characteristics of the German “homeland”. These ideas of “Heimat” refer directly to conceptions of the ideal German prior to World War II, predominantly highlighting storylines of white male German heroic characters with a painted backdrop of distinctively German landscapes like the Alps or North Frisia.

The use of the word in this context makes for interesting insight into the perceived introduction of the Western people and ideals into the former East Germany. Where perhaps “Heimat” with its exclusionary foundation can be viewed as a preceding national narrative and example of why such means of forming cohesion and belonging in this way is ineffective. 

“Also baust du schnell eine Hütte an einer verwaisten Ecke des Landes, soll bloß keiner kommen aus dem Westen und Ansprüche stellen. Die kommen zuerst etwas verstohlen, bald aber schon in Scharen und sehen sich um. Aber so gewinnt niemand Heimat. Die alten verfallenen Gebäude sind nichts mehr wert. Mit einer von drüben hat er dann Luiza gezeugt. Drüben- so wird hier alles genannt, alles jenseits einer alten, neuen oder vermeintlichen Grenze, Tschechien, die alte BRD, Europa des Jahres 2015.” (Şenocak, p. 155)

“So you quickly build a hut in a deserted corner of the country, so that no one from the West can come and make demands. They come a little stealthily at first, but soon in droves and look around. But no one wins a home that way. The old dilapidated buildings are no longer worth anything. He then fathered Luiza with a woman from over there. Over there – that’s what everything is called here, everything beyond an old, new or supposed border, the Czech Republic, the old FRG, Europe of 2015.”

Moreover, Şenocak points out the underlying lack of inquiry and “othering” of Dresden’s populace in the struggle for social cohesion. “Othering” of groups or individuals inherently makes the social cohesion project more difficult, conservative West Germans writing off the radical right in the East and vice versa leads to further conflict instead of reflection and a semblance of understanding. This can be seen in the essence of mistrust or a perceived deception that comes across in the description of those from the West.

The use of “drüben” or “over there” in its generality speaks to this as well, in its connotation of what is far off and foreign should be less of a concern but in actuality it is quite vital to the German social structures. If West Germans are considered “others” to those in the East, where do immigrants and ethinic minorities land? They too in this framework must also be considered the “other”, which leads to the quandary Şenocak hints to in the final line of the quote. There exists no path to cohesion when “othering” is at the forefront of classification and the issue will persist, manifesting in whatever political and social issues arise in the future.

Calls for homogeneity are, thus, a futile argument, because individual differences in beliefs, identifications, and association make it nearly impossible to claim to be staunchly similar. Whether it be former West Germans, refugees and migrants, or ethnic minorities within Germany the issue remains the same, interpersonal understanding of the differences we all have is essential in developing any forms of local, regional, or national identity and cohesion.

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Asian-German Filmography: A Teaching Guide

As a rising field within Germanistik, Asian-German Studies has been a hotspot for recent scholarship on postcolonialism, orientalism, gender and sexuality studies, area studies, migration studies, and more. Asian-German films, along with literature, television series, and new media, have increasingly become desirable teaching materials for courses that explore transnational aspects of German culture, history, and society. This concise Asian-German filmography, compiled by Qingyang Zhou (UC Berkeley), Zach Ramon Fitzpatrick (UIC), and Qinna Shen (Bryn Mawr), aims to provide a teaching guide not only to Germanists, but also to scholars in neighboring academic disciplines. For those who are interested, a longer list of Asian-German films can be accessed here.

This filmography includes fifty critically acclaimed, aesthetically creative, and/or thematically interesting Asian-German films produced by filmmakers in both the larger German-speaking world and in Asia, focusing mainly on East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. The list is organized geographically and chronologically. The countries represented are listed in descending order based on the size of the corresponding immigrant groups in Germany (see the figure below for exact numbers). Each entry includes both a short description that highlights unique features of the film and selected works of secondary literature—listed chronologically—that may be assigned as course readings.

The authors recognize that classifying transnational films by country might be a problematic practice. Indeed, some of the films listed complicate the model. For example, Der schweigende Stern has Asian characters with three different nationalities; viewers are left to assume the identity of Nordsee ist Mordsee’s Asian protagonist; Drachenfutter has both Pakistani and Chinese characters, and the titular character from Tschick is a multiracial Russian national but “looks Mongolian” and is played by an actor of Mongolian descent. Nevertheless, we eventually decided to keep national categories for two reasons. First, such a practice will provide clearer reference for instructors who want to quickly search for the specific materials for their courses. Second, listing the films based on the countries referenced reveals some underlying patterns in Asian-German film production. For instance, the relatively small number of Japanese immigrants in Germany and the comparatively large number of Japan-themed films can reveal both a specific form of orientalism at play in the history of the German film industry and contemporary processes of Japanese-German film distribution and exhibition, which aim more for an international audience than for a domestic ethnic audience. By contrast, the considerable sizes of Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, and Sri Lankan immigrants in Germany and the relative dearth of films that portray these groups might suggest continued marginalization against some South Asians and Southeast Asians.

The current list is by no means exhaustive; rather it is intended to serve as an introduction to a rich and diverse repertoire of films that focus on histories of entanglement, contact zones, processes of exchange, modes of translation, and moments of physical and symbolic border crossings. A longer list of Asian-German films, which includes lesser-known titles and lost films, is available here. For suggestions and comments on this teaching guide or the longer filmography, please contact Qingyang Zhou (



  • Geschwader Fledermaus (The Bat Squadron, Erich Engel, 1958), available on DVD via the DEFA Film Library
    • An early German feature film about the First Indochina War, featuring two Vietnamese actors. These characters speak in both undubbed German and in Vietnamese.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Wedel, Michael, Barton Byg, Andy Räder, Skyler Arndt-Briggs, and Evan Torner, eds. DEFA international: Grenzüberschreitende Filmbeziehungen vor und nach dem Mauerbau. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2013.
      2. Torner, Evan, and Victoria Rizo Lenshyn. “Imposed Dialogues: Joerg Foth and Tran Vu’s GDR-Vietnamese Coproduction, Dschungelzeit (1988).” In Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World, edited by Quinn Slobodian, 243-264. New York: Berghahn, 2015.
  • Dschungelzeit (Time in the Jungle/Ngon Thap Ha Noi, Joerg Foth and Tran Vu, 1988), available on DVD via the DEFA Film Library
    • A Vietnamese-East German co-production, this film adapts the true story of Germans who defected from the French Foreign Legion to join the Viet Minh anti-colonial resistance in the late 1940s. Although it was a little-known box-office flop largely disowned by the two countries’ production teams after its release, Dschungelzeit counts as one of the most illuminating case studies that can reveal the limits of the GDR’s international solidarity with the Third World.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Torner, Evan. “Apocalypse Hanoi – An Interview with Jörg Foth about Dschungelzeit (1988).” Guy in the Black Hat. September 22, 2011.
      2. Torner, Evan, and Victoria Rizo Lenshyn. “Imposed Dialogues: Joerg Foth and Tran Vu’s GDR-Vietnamese Coproduction, Dschungelzeit (1988).” In Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World, edited by Quinn Slobodian, 243-264. New York: Berghahn, 2015.
  • Die Friseuse (The Hairdresser, Doris Dörrie, 2010), available on DVD
    • While Dörrie is more well-known for her multiple films about Japan, the second half of Die Friseuse depicts a struggling white hairdresser housing Vietnamese asylum seekers who crossed the Polish border. Parts of the film take place in the Vietnamese Dong Xuan Center in Berlin-Lichtenberg. The main Vietnamese character Tien (Ill-Young Kim) is unique as an Asian male love interest.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Dao, Huy. “Transnationale Politik von Geschichte, Erinnerung und Lokalität – Vietnamesische Communities in Kalifornien und Berlin.”  In Asiatische Deutsche: Vietnamesische Diaspora and Beyond, edited by Kien Nghi Ha, 212-225. Berlin: Assoziation A, 2012.
      2. Layne, Priscilla. “Regulating and Transgressing the Borders of the Berlin Republic in Doris Dörrie’s The Hairdresser.” Women in German Yearbook 31 (2015): 147–173.
  • Wir sind jung. Wir sind stark (We Are Young. We Are Strong, Burhan Qurbani, 2014), available on US Netflix
    • An excellent feature film by the Afghan-German director Burhan Qurbani about the worst right-wing violence since the Second World War against Vietnamese contract workers in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in August 1992. This film can offer a good introduction to contemporary German debates on migration, social integration of immigrants, rise of the far right and the AfD, and racial discrimination.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Fachinger, Petra. “Narratives of Transnational Divide: The Vietnamese in Contemporary German Literature and Film.” In Imagining Germany Imagining Asia: Essays in Asian-German Studies, edited by Veronika Fuechtner and Mary Rhiel, 50-63. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2013.
      2. Weissberg, Jay. “Film Review: ‘We Are Young. We Are Strong.’” Variety, January 22, 2015.
      3. Adaire, Esther. “‘This Other Germany, the Dark One’: Post-Wall Memory Politics Surrounding the Neo-Nazi Riots in Rostock and Hoyerswerda.” German Politics and Society 37, no. 4 (2019): 43-57.
  • Mein Vietnam (My Vietnam, Thi Hien Mai/Tim Ellrich, 2020)
    • Filmed before the pandemic, this First Steps Award-winning documentary depicts a working-class Vietnamese couple who has been living in Germany for 30 years. Through Skype and online karaoke rooms, they maintain digital connections to their home country. The filmmakers maintain an active Instagram account.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Ha, Kien Nghi, editor. Asiatische Deutsche: Vietnamesische Diaspora and Beyond. Berlin: Assoziation A, 2012.
      2. Reisinger, Jovana. “Deutsche Filmbranche: Schluss mit den Stereotypen.” Yì Magazìn. May 21, 2021.
      3. Adjei, Cindy, Marcel Hopp und Melis Yeter. “Über das Sichtbarmachen der Elterngeneration – mit Thi Hien Mai und Tim Ellrich, Regisseur*innen der Doku ‘Mein Vietnam’.” Power of Color. Podcast audio. May 30, 2021.
  • Jackfruit (Thuy Trang Nguyen, 2021), available on CineAsian
    • This short film by an up-and-coming Vietnamese-German filmmaker depicts Mít, a gender-fluid person of the third generation of Vietnamese migration who navigates life as a queer individual in Berlin, while also staying connected to their ethnic heritage and caring for their grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease. Mít finds solace in their identity by discovering the bodhisattva Guanyin, whose gender is not constrained by the Western binary. The filmmaker maintains an active Instagram account.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Gang, Sung Un. “EP. 12 Thuy: Jackfruit.” Bin ich Süßsauer? Podcast audio. March 31, 2021.

Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan

  • Der müde Tod (Destiny, Fritz Lang, 1921), available on YouTube, iTunes, and Vudu
    • The third episode of Fritz Lang’s Expressionist fantasy takes place in Imperial China with yellowface costuming. This film can be used as a case study of German orientalism, expressionist cinema, and the transnational oeuvre of Fritz Lang.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Scherer, Frank F. “Ufa Orientalism: The ‘Orient’ in Early German Film: Lubitsch and May.” CINEJ Cinema Journal 1, no. 1 (2011): 89-98.
      2. Baer, Nicholas. “Metaphysics of finitude: Der müde Tod and the crisis of historicism.” In A Companion to Fritz Lang, edited by Joe McElhaney, 141-160. Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
      3. McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger, 1926), available on Amazon and the Criterion Channel
    • In Lotte Reiniger’s intriguing silhouette animation feature, Prince Achmed at first abducts the Mistress of the Wak-Wak island, Pari Banu, to China where the evil magician sells her to the Chinese Emperor, who in turn bestows her to his male lover. This Arabian Night story is interesting because of the oriental origin of shadow play, its pioneering technical innovation as well as the orientalist appropriation of Middle Eastern, African, and Chinese motifs.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Sterritt, David. “The Animated Adventures of Lotte Reiniger.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 37, no. 4 (2020): 398-401.
      2. Evans, Noell K. Wolfgram. “Lotte Reiniger: Shadowplayer.” In Animators of Film and Television: Nineteen Artists, Writers, Producers and Others, 111-118. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011.
      3. Acadia, Lilith. “‘Lover of Shadows’: Lotte Reiniger’s Innovation, Orientalism, and Progressivism.” Forthcoming in Oxford German Studies.
  • Song/Schmutziges Geld (Show Life, Richard Eichberg, 1928)
    • A thought-provoking silent film starring Anna May Wong and Henry George that exemplifies orientalist depictions of an Asian woman’s submissiveness and loyalty in an abusive relationship with a white man. Just as in Piccadilly, Songdances in a nightclub that fetishizes exotic Asian sexuality for a European audience. This will be a great film to use in a course on silent cinema, gender and sexuality, migration and social integration, and/or Orientalism.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Walk, Cynthia. “Anna May Wong and Weimar Cinema: Orientalism in Postcolonial Germany.” In Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock, 137-167. New York: Berghahn, 2014.
  • Piccadilly (Ewald André Dupont, 1929), available on Vimeo
    • It is an excellent silent film starring Anna May Wong that depicts an interracial relationship between Shosho and Valentin who hires Shosho to dance in his nightclub Piccadilly. The film depicts Shosho as a classic femme fatale who seduces Valentine with her exotic Asian sexuality, and with her murder by her Chinese lover, the ultimate restoration of a social order for white Europeans.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Walk, Cynthia. “31 January 1929: Limits on Racial Border-Crossing Exposed in Piccadilly.” In A New History of German Cinema, edited by Jennifer M. Kapczynski and Michael D. Richardson, 185-189. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012.
      2. Walk, Cynthia. “Anna May Wong and Weimar Cinema: Orientalism in Postcolonial Germany.” In Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock, 137-167. New York: Berghahn, 2014.
      3. Li, Yumin. “Shape shifters: Racialized and gendered crossings in Piccadilly (1929) and Shanghai Express (1932).” Sexualities 23, no. 1–2 (2020): 170–200. 
  • Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932), available on DVD
    • The film is set during the first Chinese civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT and the communists, and it is the only feature film where Anna May Wong co-stars with Marlene Dietrich. Anna May Wong’s character differs from her stereotypical “Asian fetish” roles in earlier silent features.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Baxter, John. “Talk Like a Train.” In Von Sternberg, 142-151. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2010.
      2. Li, Yumin. “Shape shifters: Racialized and gendered crossings in Piccadilly (1929) and Shanghai Express (1932).” Sexualities 23, no. 1–2 (2020): 170–200. 
  • Alarm in Peking (Herbert Selpin, 1937)
    • A propaganda film depicting the so-called Boxer Rebellion in China around 1900. Rosa Jung stars as one of the lone actresses of Asian descent in a cast of yellowface performances.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Rosenstock, Martin. “China Past, China Present: The Boxer Rebellion in Gerhard Seyfried’s Yellow Wind (2008).” In Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen und Martin Rosenstock, 115-136. New York: Berghahn Books, 2014.
      2. Gerber, Lydia. “Working with Disaster: Weimar Mission Responses to the Boxer Catastrophe (1900-1901).” In Transnational Encounters between Germany and East Asia since 1900, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 45-61. New York: Routledge, 2018.
  • China—Land zwischen gestern und morgen (China—A Country Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, Joop Huisken and Robert Menegoz, 1956), available on (without subtitles)
    • An award-winning ethnographic documentary co-produced by DEFA and Chinese film studios and shot in color, the film aims to convey a positive image of the GDR’s new political ally in the Far East by comparing the misery and economic backwardness of farmers, workers, artisans, and engineers in feudal China with the new professional opportunities and political freedom they gained after the founding of the new People’s Republic. This film can be used to examine the GDR’s early attempts at cultural diplomacy, postcolonial experiences, and life in the early Mao era.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Shen, Qinna. “A Question of Ideology and Realpolitik: DEFA’s Cold War Documentaries on China.” In Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock, 94-114. New York: Berghahn, 2014.
      2. Slobodian, Quinn. “The Uses of Disorientation: Socialist Cosmopolitanism in an Unfinished DEFA-China Documentary.” In Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World, edited by Quinn Slobodian, 219-242. New York: Berghahn, 2015.
  • Bis zum Ende aller Tage (Girl from Hong Kong, Franz Peter Wirth, 1961), available on DVD
    • This romance between a Hong Kong bar dancer and a German sailor is believed to be the first German film after World War II to depict racial discrimination. Taking place in both Hong Kong and in northern Germany, this transnational anti-racist melodrama is a relatively unknown gem for Asian-German film studies, even predating later classics like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, 1974).
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. “Kino und Migration in der BRD.” filmportal. Accessed May 10, 2021.
      2. Fitzpatrick, Zach Ramon. “The World(s) of Anna Suh: Race, Migration, and Ornamentalism in Bis zum Ende aller Tage (Until the End of Days, 1961).” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 146-75. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Exil Shanghai (Exile Shanghai, Ulrike Ottinger, 1997), available for streaming through the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) until August 31, 2021
    • Exil Shanghai is a four-hour documentary—divided into two parts—featuring interviews with six Viennese, German, and Russian Jews who lived in Shanghai during the first half of the twentieth century. By juxtaposing Jewish émigrés’ oral accounts of exile with shots of contemporaneous Shanghai, Ottinger’s film is the most aesthetically interesting documentary made about this topic and can be used in courses on critical archive studies.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Harjes, Kirsten, and Tanja Nusser. “An Authentic Experience of History: Tourism in Ulrike Ottinger’s Exil Shanghai.” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 15 (2000): 247-263.
      2. Villarejo, Amy. “Archiving the Diaspora: A Lesbian Impression of/in Ulrike Ottinger’s Exile Shanghai.” New German Critique 87 (2002): 157-191.
      3. Shambhavi, Prakash. “Representations of Jewish Exile and Models of Memory in Shanghai Ghetto and Exil Shanghai.” In Transnational encounters between Germany and East Asia since 1900, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 62-81. New York: Routledge, 2018.
      4. Zhou, Qingyang. “Archiving Memories in Pandemic Times: Documenting Jewish Exile in Shanghai.” Multicultural Germany Project, April 21, 2021,
  • Shanghai Ghetto (Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann, 2002), available on Amazon and YouTube
    • A documentary film about Jewish exile in Shanghai featuring interviews with Shanghailanders as well as with historians researching the topic. 
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Meyer, Maisie J. From the Rivers of Babylon to the Whangpoo: A Century of Sephardi Jewish Life in Shanghai. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003.
      2. Hochstadt, Steve. Shanghai-Geschichten: Die jüdische Flucht nach China. Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2007.
      3. Hochstadt, Steve. Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
      4. Ostoyich, Kevin. “‘Back on Straw’: The Experience of Shanghai Jewish Refugees in Bremen after Escaping German National Socialism, Enduring a Japanese ‘Designated Area’, and Fleeing Chinese Communism, July 1950 – February 1952.” Studia Historica Gedanensia, Tom 5 (2014): 113-138.
      5. Roberts, Lee M. “Vestiges of ‘Yellow Peril’ Discourse in Interwar Europe and Its Impact on Shanghailanders.” In Germany and China: Transnational Encounters since the Eighteenth Century, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and David M. Crowe, 195-210. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
      6. Shambhavi, Prakash. “Representations of Jewish Exile and Models of Memory in Shanghai Ghetto and Exil Shanghai.” In Transnational encounters between Germany and East Asia since 1900, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 62-81. New York: Routledge, 2018.
      7. Ostoyich, Kevin. “The Unbroken Past: From Germany to Shanghai to San Francisco.” American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, November 20, 2019.
      8. Pscheiden, Daniela, and Danielle Spera, eds. Die Wiener in China: Fluchtpunkt Shanghai. Little Vienna in Shanghai. Vienna: Amalthea Verlag, 2020.
      9. Maier-Katkin, Birgit. “Documentaries about Jewish Exiles in Shanghai: Witness Testimony and Cross-Cultural Public Memory Formation.” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 100-20. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Losers and Winners: Arbeit gehört zum Leben (Losers and Winners: Work Is Just a Part of Life, Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken, 2006), available on Vimeo
    • It is a documentary film that captures the dismantling process of a modern German coke factory in Dortmund by 400 Chinese workers, who will reassemble the entire factory in China. The film reflects on the concepts of Heimat and Fremde and can be used to discuss globalization and cultural stereotypes.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Shen, Qinna. “Factories on the Magic Carpet: Heimat, Globalization, and the ‘Yellow Peril’ in Die Chinesen kommen and Losers and Winners.” In Imagining Germany Imagining Asia: Essays in German Studies, edited by Veronika Feuchtner and Mary Rhiel, 64-86. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2013.
  • Ghosted (Monika Treut, 2009), available on DVD and Alexander Street (institutional subscription needed)
    • Part of a series of Taiwan-themed films made by queer German director Monika Treut, Ghosted explores East Asian lesbian sexuality and Buddhist-Taiwanese conceptions of spirituality through a meta-narrative on documentary filmmaking. It is suitable for courses on Asian/Buddhist conceptions of spectrality, screen dynamics, queer German cinema, and psychoanalysis.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Kuzniar, Alice A. “Uncanny Doublings and Asian Rituals in Recent Films by Monika Treut, Doris Dörrie, and Ulrike Ottinger.” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 27 (2011): 176-199.
      2. Chen, Ya-chen. “Cinematic Visualization of Spiritual Lesbianism in Monika Treut’s Ghosted: Countering Essentialist Concerns about Li Ang’s Literary Works.” In New Modern Chinese Women and Gender Politics: The Centennial of the End of the Qing Dynasty, edited by Chen Ya-chen, 210-222. New York: Routledge, 2014.
      3. Dawson, Leanne. “The Ghostly Queer Migrant: Queering Time, Place, and Family in Contemporary German Cinema.” In Queering the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema, edited by James S. Williams, 33-46. New York: Routledge, 2021.
  • John Rabe (Florian Gallenberger, 2009), available on DVD
    • Based on John Rabe: Der gute Mensch von Nanking (The Good Man of Nanking: Diaries of John Rabe), the award-winning film features Rabe’s role in establishing the International Safety Zone for Civilians in Nanking during the Nanking Massacre. The film allows students to learn about the geopolitics between Germany, Japan and China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. 
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Shen, Qinna. “Revisiting the Wound of a Nation: The ‘Good Nazi’ John Rabe and the Nanking Massacre.” Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 47, no. 5 (2011): 661–80.
      2. Williams, Bruce. “Between Imagined Homelands: Florian Gallenberger’s John Rabe.” In Sino-German Encounters and Entanglements: Transnational Politics and Culture, 1890-1950, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 265-86. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.


  • Die Leuchte Asiens (The Light of Asia/Prem Sanyas, Franz Osten, 1925), available on DVD and YouTube
    • As the first Indo-German co-production, the film’s Indian filming location and all-Indian cast were emphasized in promotional material. Lead actor and co-producer Himansu Rai wanted to use the film to provide an alternative to German orientalist films, such as Joe May’s Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb, 1921). Cinematographer Josef Wirsching collaborated with director Franz Osten on a number of other “deutsche Indienfilme” (German Indian films).
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Schönfeld, Carl-Erdmann. “Franz Osten’s ‘The Light of Asia’ (1926): A German-Indian Film of Prince Buddha.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 15, no. 4 (1995): 555–561.
      2. Gangar, Amrit. Franz Osten and the Bombay Talkies: A Journey from Munich to Malad. Bombay: Max Mueller Bhavan, 2000.
      3. Fuechtner, Veronika. “The International Project of National(ist) Film: Franz Osten in India.” In The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema: Rediscovering Germany’s Filmic Legacy, edited by Christian Rogowski, 167-181. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010.
      4. Dablé, Nadine. “Der Filmpionier Franz Osten—Eine Mediengeschichte.” In Analyse, Theorie und Geschichte der Medien: Festschrift für Werner Faulstich, edited by Carsten Winter and Matthias Karmasin, 157-168. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2012.
      5. Halsall, Eleanor. “Franz Osten and the History of Indo-German Film Relations.” In The German Cinema Book, 2nd ed., edited by Tim Bergfelder, Erica Carter, Deniz Göktürk, and Claudia Sandberg, 456-467. London: British Film Institute, 2020.
  • Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb, Fritz Lang,1959), available on Amazon, and its sequel, Der Tiger von Eschnapur (Tiger of Bengal, Fritz Lang, 1959)
    • Das indische Grabmal and Der Tiger von Eschnapur were Fritz Lang’s last works, made after the director had returned to Germany from a decade-long exile in the United States. After separate releases in Germany, these two films were combined into a film titled Journey to the Lost City and released in 1960 by American International Pictures (available on Amazon). Both films were written by Thea von Harbou and co-produced with India, and both feature German actors in brownface performance.
    • Secondary criticism:  
      1. Shedde, Meenakshi, and Vinzenz Hediger. “Come On, Baby, Be My Tiger: Inventing India on the German Screen in Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das indische Grabmal.” Rogue Press (2005). Accessed 13 April, 2021.
      2. Tratner, Michael. “Lovers, Filmmakers, and Nazis: Fritz Lang’s Last Two Movies as Autobiography.” Biography 29, no. 1 (2006): 86-100.
      3. Lembke, Gerrit. “Thea von Harbou-Fremdbilder in den Erzähltexten der Frühen Moderne: Der unsterbliche Acker, Frau im Mond und Das indische Grabmal.” In Habitus und Fremdbild in der deutschen Prosaliteratur des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Ewa Pytel-Bartnik and Maria Wojtczak, 275-285. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2006.
      4. Mennel, Barbara. “Returning Home: The Orientalist Spectacle of Fritz Lang’s Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das indische Grabmal.” In Framing the Fifties: Cinema in a Divided Germany, edited by John E. Davidson and Sabine Hake, 10-27. New York: Berghahn, 2007.
      5. Gunning, Tom. “The Indian Tomb of the Dinosaur of Eschnapur.” In Outsider: Films on India, 1950-1990, edited by Shanay Jhaveri. Mumbai: Shoestring, 2009.
      6. Figge, Maja. “(Post)Koloniale Beziehungen. Fritz Langs Indienfilme zwischen Abstraktion und Orientalismus.” In total. Universalismus und Partikularismus in post_kolonialer Medientheorie, edited by Ulrike Bergermann and Nanna Heidenreich, 189-206. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2015.
      7. Figge, Maja. “Orientalistische Verschiebungen zwischen Deutschland und Indien. Fritz Langs Remakes Der Tiger von Eschnapur und Das indische Grabmal.” In Filmpionier und Mogul: Das Imperium des Joe May, edited by Hans-Michael Bock, Jan Distelmeyer, and Jörg Schöning, 122-136. Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 2019.


  • Kommissar X jagt die roten Tiger (The Tiger Gang, Harald Reinl, 1971), available on DVD
    • One of the many James Bond action knockoffs of the 1960s and early 1970s, but this one is set in Pakistan and features South Asian actors. Other films in the 7-part Kommissar X series take place in South and Southeast Asia, such as Kommissar X – Drei gelbe Katzen (1966), Kommissar X – In den Klauen des goldenen Drachen (1966), and Kommissar X – Drei goldene Schlangen (1969)
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Bergfelder, Tim. “Beyond Respectability: B-Film Production in the 1960s.” In International Adventures: German Popular Cinema and European Co-Productions in the 1960s. New York: Berghahn, 2005. 207-236.
      2. Boller, Reiner. Der klassische Kriminalfilm, Band 5: Kommissar X. Mpw Medien Publikations, 2014.
  • Drachenfutter (Dragon’s Chow, Jan Schütte, 1987), available on VHS
    • A black-and-white feature film that revolves around the Pakistani asylum seeker Shezad (Bhasker Patel) and his curtailed attempt to open a Pakistani restaurant with his friend, Chinese immigrant Xiao (Ric Young). It lends itself to courses addressing Germany’s filmic migration history.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Moessner, Victoria Joan. “Dragon Chow: Asylum Seekers in German Film.” In Gender and Culture in Literature and Film East and West: Issues of Perception and Interpretation: Selected Conference Papers, edited by Nitaya Masavisut, George Simson, and Larry E. Smith. Honolulu, HI: College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature, University of Hawaii: East-West Center, 1994. 85-89.


  • Herrin der Welt (Mistress of the World, Wilhelm Dieterle/Richard Angst, 1959-1960), available on DVD
    • A two-part remake of the original 1919-1920 adventure film series, but with its location switched from China to Thailand/Cambodia, sparking the trend of on-location shooting of German adventure films in Thailand during the 1960s. Valéry Inkijinoff and Hollywood actor Sabu star as monks. Co-director and cinematographer Richard Angst worked on numerous other films set in Asia.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Bergfelder, Tim. “Artur Brauner’s CCC: Remigration, Popular Genres, and International Aspirations.” In International Adventures: German Popular Cinema and European Co-Productions in the 1960s. New York: Berghahn, 2005. 103-137.
  • Gekauftes Glück (Bride of the Orient, Urs Odermatt, 1988), available on DVD and Vimeo
    • This dark anti-Heimatfilm depicts a Thai “mail-order bride” (played by Arunotai Jitreekan) who experiences racism in rural Switzerland. Werner Herzog co-stars as a particularly repugnant character.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Ruenkaew, Pataya. “Victims of Traffic in Women, Marriage Migrants, and Community Formation: A History of Migration of Thai Women to Germany.” In Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia: Transnational Perspectives Since 1800, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and Douglas T. McGetchin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 253-273.
      2. The DVD also comes with a 48 page booklet
  • Patong Girl (Susanna Salonen, 2014), available on DVD
    • This Grimme Prize-winning film is unique for its trans representation of Thai woman Fai (played by Aisawanya Areyawattana), who falls in love with a German tourist. Fortunately, the film does not have a tragic ending. It is suitable for transnational film courses, as well as those on queer and trans studies.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Fitzpatrick, Zach Ramon. “Zachs Geheimtipps zur neuen asiatisch deutschen Repräsentation im Film.” korientation. January 8, 2021.

North and South Korea

  • Nicht Fisch, nicht Fleisch (Neither Fish nor Fowl, Matthias Keilich, 2002), available on DVD
    • Co-written by Ki Bun, this is the first German feature film with a Korean-German story. While a bit too reliant on Korean markers of difference, its depictions of a transracial adoptee reclaiming his cultural heritage, as well as its focus on an Asian protagonist couple, are well worth a watch.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Choi, Sun-ju. “Sichtbarkeit und (Re)Präsentation von Asiat_innen in deutschen Filmen.”  In Asiatische Deutsche: Vietnamesische Diaspora and Beyond, edited by Kien Nghi Ha, 258-269. Berlin: Assoziation A, 2012.
      2. Kim, Eleana. “Our Adoptee, Our Alien: Transnational Adoptees as Specters of Foreignness and Family in South Korea.” Anthropological Quarterly 80, no. 2 (2007): 497-531.
      3. Kim, Jodi. “An ‘Orphan’ with Two Mothers: Transnational and Transracial Adoption, the Cold War, and Contemporary Asian American Cultural Politics.” American Quarterly 61, no. 4 (2009): 855-880.
  • Endstation der Sehnsüchte: Ein deutsches Dorf in Südkorea (Home from Home / 독일 마을, Sung-Hyung Cho, 2009)
    • The documentary portrays a group of South Korean nurses and miners who worked in Germany for four decades as guest workers and who now return, with their spouses, to a newly founded German Village (T’ogil maŭl) in their homeland. This film is particularly suitable for courses on the concept of Heimat, as director Sung-Hyung Cho thematizes multidirectional exoticization, reverse culture shock, and Heimatlosigkeit by experimenting with generic conventions of the Heimatfilm.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Cho, Youngmin. “Double Longing: The Return Home in South Korean Women’s Documentaries.” Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema 7, no.2 (2015): 133-148.
      2. Roberts, Suin. “Endstation der Sehnsüchte: Home-Making of Return Gastarbeiter Migrants.” In Transnational Encounters between Germany and Korea: Affinity in Culture and Politics since the 1880s, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and Lee M. Roberts, 259-278. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
  • Die koreanische Hochzeitstruhe (The Korean Wedding Chest, Ulrike Ottinger, 2009), available on DVD
    • In this short documentary about Korean wedding conventions, Ottinger no longer seeks to capture societies about to disappear as a result of global capitalism, as in her previous work, but analyzes the uncanny ways in which traditional rites are preserved alongside newer developments.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Kuzniar, Alice A. “Uncanny Doublings and Asian Rituals in Recent Films by Monika Treut, Doris Dörrie, and Ulrike Ottinger.” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 27 (2011): 176-199.
      2. Prakash, Shambhavi. “Temporal Structures and Rhythms in Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga (1985) and Ottinger’s The Korean Wedding Chest (2009).” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 239-61. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Meine Brüder und Schwestern im Norden (My Brothers and Sisters in the North/북녘의 내 형제 자매들, Sung-Hyung Cho, 2016), available on YouTube, Vimeo, and Amazon
    • As the first South Korean director to film in North Korea by way of her German passport, Sung-Hyung Cho portrays the daily lives of a middle-class family in Pyongyang, farmers at an agricultural collective, and female workers at a textile factory. The film evokes a strong desire for Korean unification and calls for its comparison with German reunification. It is particularly suitable for courses on Cold War culture in Germany and Korea.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Choong, Kevin Teo Kia. “Old/New Korea(s): Korean-ness, Alterity, and Dreams of Re-Unification in South Korean Cinema.” Contemporary Justice Review 8, no.3 (2005): 321-334.
      2. Williams, Bruce. “Liminal Visions: Cinematic Representations of the German and Korean Divides.” In Transnational Encounters between Germany and Korea since the 1880s, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and Lee M. Roberts, 177-194. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
      3. Koreanisches Kulturzentrum, “Online-Diskussion zum 30. Tag der Deutschen Einheit: Film im Gespräch,” YouTube, October 3, 2020, video,
      4. Choe, Steve. “The Persistence of the Popular: The Cinemas of National Division in Germany and Korea.” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 218-36. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • 택시운전사 (A Taxi Driver, Hun Jang, 2017), widely available for streaming
    • Starring Song Kang-ho (of Parasite, 2019) and Thomas Kretschmann, A Taxi Driver adapts the true story of a German journalist who clandestinely reported on the Gwangju uprising in 1980 with the help of a Korean taxi driver. The film offers unique insights into international solidarity at the grassroots level from the Korean perspective.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Hinzpeter, Jürgen. “An Eyewitness Report of the Kwangju Citizen’s Uprising in 1980.” In Kwangju in the Eyes of the World, edited by the Journalists Association of Korea, 29–52. Seoul: Pulbit, 1997.
      2. Scott-Stokes, Henry, and Jai Eui Lee, eds. The Kwangju Uprising: Eyewitness Accounts of Korea’s Tiananmen. Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000.
      3. Shin, Gi-Wook, and Kyung Moon Hwang, eds. Contentious Kwangju: The May 18 Uprising in Korea’s Past and Present. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
      4. Kim, Hang. “The Commemoration of the Gwangju Uprising: of the Remnants in the Nation State’s Historical Memory.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 12, no. 4 (2011): 611–24.
      5. Katsiaficas, George. Asia’s Unknown Uprisings Volume 1: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012.
      6. Jackson, Andrew David. “Jürgen Hinzpeter and Foreign Correspondents in the 1980 Kwangju Uprising.” International Journal of Asian Studies 17 (2020): 19-37.
  • Eine Postkarte aus Pjöngjang: Reise durch Nordkorea (A Postcard from Pyongyang—Traveling through North Korea, Gregor Möllers and Anne Lewald, 2019), available on Vimeo
    • Essentially a travelogue, Möllers and Lewald’s film explores contradictions between reality and performativity, between the dramatic in Western journalistic reports and the quotidian in North Korean society by adopting a film style that oscillates from the participatory to the observational, from the personal to the objective. The film is suitable for a course on documentary studies, contemporary North Korea, and theatricality.
    • Secondary criticism: 
      1. Horton, Aaron D. “The ‘Ignorant’ Other: Popular Stereotypes of North Koreans in South Korea and East Germans in Unified Germany.” In Transnational Encounters between Germany and Korea since the 1880s, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and Lee M. Roberts, 195-214. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
      2. Der Fehlende Part, “‘Es gibt keine Logik in Nordkorea’—Filmemacher Anne Lewald und Gregor Möllers,” YouTube, February 5, 2020, video,


  • Harakiri (Fritz Lang, 1919), available on Amazon and YouTube (intertitles in German)
    • Harakiri is a silent adaptation of the popular Madame Butterfly story. It dramatizes an evil and oppressive Buddhism to explain the exotic and barbaric practice of hara-kiri, thus shifting the responsibility for Butterfly’s (played by Lil Dagover) tragedy from an unfaithful European lover to Japan itself. 
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Miyao, Daisuke. “The Hand of Buddha: Madame Butterfly and the Yellow Peril in Fritz Lang’s Harakiri (1919).” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 33, no. 8 (2016): 707–721.
      2. Shen, Qinna. “Implicating Buddhism in Madame Butterfly’s Tragedy: Japonisme and Japan-Bashing in Fritz Lang’s Harakiri (1919).” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 27-58. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Die Tochter des Samurai (The Samurai’s Daughter/新しき土, Arnold Fanck, 1937), available on
    • Die Tochter des Samurai offers a glimpse into the notorious collaboration between the Nazi regime and its counterpart in East Asia. It draws on generic conventions of the Bergfilm, explores concepts of Blut und Boden, and offers a fascinating view on Japanese femininity that counters the typical tragic ending reserved for the Asian woman.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Hansen, Janine. Arnold Fancks“Die Tochter des Samurai: Nationalsozialistische Propaganda und japanische Filmpolitik. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997.
      2. Haukamp, Iris. A Foreigner’s Cinematic Dream of Japan: Representational Politics and Shadows of War in the Japanese-German Coproduction New Earth (1937). London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020.
      3. Weinstein, Valerie. “Reflecting Chiral Modernities: The Function of Genre in Arnold Fanck’s Transnational Bergfilm, The Samurai’s Daughter (1936-37).” In Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock, 34-51. New York: Berghahn, 2014.
      4. Bohnke, Christin “The Perfect German Woman: Gender and Imperialism in Arnold Fanck’s Die Tochter des Samurai and Itami Mansaku’s The New Earth.” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 33 (2017): 77–100.
      5. Law, Ricky W. “Japan in Films.” In Transnational Nazism: Ideology and Culture in German-Japanese Relations, 1919-1936, 204-234. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2019.
      6. Haukamp, Iris. A Foreigner’s Cinematic Dream of Japan: Representational Politics and Shadows of War in the Japanese-German Co-production New Earth (1937). New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.
  • Der schweigende Stern (The Silent Star, Kurt Maetzig, 1960), available on Kanopy
    • A DEFA science fiction film featuring an international cast, with Japanese doctor Sumiko (Yoko Tani) as a protagonist. The cast also includes more minor characters: Chinese linguist Tschen Yü (Tang Hua-Ta) and an Indian mathematician performed in brownface. The film is particularly suitable for courses on East German cinema, socialist realism, and transnational collaborations in the socialist world.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Soldovieri, Stefan. “Socialists in Outer Space: East German Film’s Venusian Adventure.” In A Companion to Eastern European Cinemas, edited by Anikó Imre, 201-223. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
      2. Torner, Evan. “Casting for a Socialist Earth: Multicultural Whiteness in the East German/Polish Science Fiction Film Silent Star.” In The Liverpool Companion to World Science Fiction Film, edited by Sonja Fritzsche, 118-137. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool UP, 2014.
      3. Fritzsche, Sonja. “Dreams of ‘Cosmic Culture’ in Der schweigende Stern [The Silent Star, 1960].” In Re-Imagining DEFA: East German Cinema in Its National and Transnational Contexts, edited by Seán Allan and Sebastian Heiduschke, 210-226. New York: Berghahn, 2016.
  • Tokyo-Ga (Wim Wenders, 1985), available on the Criterion Channel
    • Tokyo-Ga is a hybrid work that pays homage to the legendary Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, explores the contemporary culture of Tokyo, and reflects on the nature of film in relation to television, video, and new media. It is suitable for courses on auteur cinema, film history, and documentary studies.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Alter, Nora M. “Global Politics, Cinematographic Space: Wenders’s Tokyo-Ga and Notebooks on Cities and Clothes.” In Projecting History: German Nonfiction Cinema, 1967-2000, 103-150. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.
      2. Williams, Bruce. “The Road to Japan: The Tokyo Diary Films of Wim Wenders.” In German-East Asian Encounters and Entanglements: Affinity in Culture and Politics Since 1945, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 269-288. New York: Routledge, 2020.
      3. Prakash, Shambhavi. “Temporal Structures and Rhythms in Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga (1985) and Ottinger’s The Korean Wedding Chest (2009).” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 239-61. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Erleuchtung garantiert (Enlightenment Guaranteed, Doris Dörrie, 1999), available on Vimeo and
    • It is a feature film about two troubled German brothers who are “enlightened” after staying at a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan. It is suitable for courses on German comedy, Germans go abroad, German-Japanese encounters, and/or transnational cinema.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Benbow, Heather Merle. “Ethnic Drag in the Films of Doris Dörrie.” German Studies Review 30, no. 3 (2007): 517-36.
      2. Benbow, Heather Merle. “‘That’s Not Zen!’ Mocking Ethnographic Film in Doris Dörrie’s Enlightenment Guaranteed.” In Too Bold for the Box Office: The Mockumentary from Big Screen to Small, edited by Cynthia J. Miller, 121-37. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012.
      3. Williams, Bruce. “My Own Private Tokyo: The Japan Features of Doris Dörrie.” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 262-81. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Kirschblüten – Hanami (Cherry Blossoms, Doris Dörrie, 2008), available on Amazon (Strand Releasing)
    • This feature film uses cherry blossoms and the mayfly to convey the theme of impermanence and the Butoh dance as a shamanic form of mourning. Dörrie’s Japanophilic films are good to teach in contrast to earlier Orientalist films such as Harakiri
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Kuzniar, Alice A. “Uncanny Doublings and Asian Rituals in Recent Films by Monika Treut, Doris Dörrie, and Ulrike Ottinger.” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 27 (2011): 176-199.
      2. Nelson, Erika M. “Love, Pain, and the Whole Japan Thing: Dancing MA in Doris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms/Hanami.” In Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock, 190-215. New York: Berghahn, 2014.
      3. Williams, Bruce. “My Own Private Tokyo: The Japan Features of Doris Dörrie.” In East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, 262-81. New York: Routledge, 2022.
  • Grüße aus Fukushima (Greetings from Fukushima/Fukushima, mon amour, Doris Dörrie, 2016), available on DVD
    • It is good to teach Cherry Blossoms together with Fukushima mon amour since they both explore the themes of loss and grief as well as the Zen Buddhist idea of transience and living in the present moment. Aesthetically and narratively, the film pays homage to Hiroshima mon amour in its black/white color palette and in thematizing mutual healing after traumatic experiences. 
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Kiejziewicz, Agnieszka. “The Nuclear Technology Debate Returns: Narratives about Nuclear Power in Post-Fukushima Japanese films.” Transmissions: The Journal of Film and Media Studies 2, no. 1 (2017): 117-31.
  • Family Romance, LLC (Werner Herzog, 2019), available on Amazon (MUBI) and Apple TV
    • Family Romance, LLC tells a fictionalized story of the titular family rental company and its founder/proprietor Yuichi Ishii, both real entities widely known in Japan. The film’s liminal status between documentary and fiction mystifies Japan, exploring whether the country is a representative of the universal lack of truth in modern society or the unique site where ubiquitous performativity takes place. The film could be used in courses on auteur cinema, documentary theory, gender and sexuality, psychoanalysis, and performativity studies.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Freud, Sigmund. “Family Romances (1909).” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume IX (1906-1908): Jensen’s ‘Gradiva’ and Other Works, translated by James Strachey, Hogarth Press, 1959, 235-241.
      2. Goto, Miyabi. “‘What If They Are Just Actors Playing Roles?’ Family Romance, LLC and the Limits of Imagination.” Film Criticism 43, no. 3, 2019. Accessed April 6, 2021,;rgn=main.
      3. Dong, Kelley. “The Rented and the Real: Werner Herzog’s ‘Family Romance, LLC.’” MUBI, 3 July 2020. Accessed 10 May 2021,


  • Die goldene Jurte (The Golden Yurt, Gottfried Kolditz and Rabschaa Dordschpalam, 1961), available on DVD via the DEFA Film Library and (without subtitles)
    • This fairy-tale film is a co-production of DEFA and Mongolkino in Ulan Bator that came out in the year of the fortieth anniversary of socialist Mongolia. It is hard to ignore the possibility that casting an East German actor (Kurt Muhlhardt) in the deus-ex-machina role of the Water-Khan was a means of highlighting the crucial role that (East) German assistance plays in building a better and more prosperous Mongolia as symbolized by the golden yurt.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Shen, Qinna. “Deconstructing Orientalism: DEFA’s Fictions of East Asia.” In Re-imagining DEFA: East German Cinema in its National and Transnational Contexts, edited by Seán Allan and Sebastian Heiduschke, 146-67. New York: Berghahn, 2016.
  • Nordsee ist Mordsee (North Sea is Dead Sea, Hark Bohm, 1976), available on DVD
    • This gritty teen film by Fassbinder collaborator Hark Bohm depicts the isolation and bullying of its Asian protagonist (Dschingis Bowakow) in working-class Hamburg. Despite its questionable representational methods, the film does intend to be anti-racist. However, most remember the film for its rebellious second half, where Dschingis and one of his former bullies steal a sailboat together and try to escape their problems.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Gollub, Christian-Albrecht and Dagmar Stern. “Hark Bohm: Films Addressing Questions.” New German Filmmakers: From Oberhausen Through the 1970s, edited by Klaus Phillips. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1984. 20-43.
  • Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (Joan of Arc of Mongolia, Ulrike Ottinger, 1989), available for streaming through the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) until August 31, 2021
    • In this film,Euro-American travelers encounter Mongolian nomads who lead a traditional life. With a film style that oscillates between observational documentary and fiction, Ottinger exoticizes Mongolian culture and stages a performance of ethnicity for the benefit of western audiences. The film is particularly suitable for courses on queer German cinema, New German Cinema, auteur studies, and ethnographic filmmaking.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Longfellow, Brenda. “Lesbian Phantasy and the Other Woman in Ottinger’s Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia.Screen 32, no. 2 (1993): 124-136.
      2. Trumpener, Katie. “Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia in the Mirror of Dorian Gray: Ethnographic Recordings and the Aesthetics of the Market in the Recent Films of Ulrike Ottinger.” New German Critique 60 (1993): 77-99.
      3. Whissel, Kristen. “Racialized Spectacle, Exchange Relations, and the Western in Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia.Screen 37, no.1 (1996): 41-67.
      4. Rao, Shanta. “Ethno-Documentary Discourse and Cultural Otherness in Ulrike Ottinger’s Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia.” In Other Germanies: Questioning Identity in Women’s Literature and Art, edited by Karen Jankowsky and Carla Love, 147-164. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
      5. Knight, Julia. “Observing Rituals: Ulrike Ottinger’s Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia.” In Triangulated Visions: Women in Recent German Cinema, edited by Ingeborg Majer O’Sickey and Ingeborg von Zadow, 103-115. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.
      6. Davidson, John E. “Railing against Convention, or Camping Out in Mongolia: The Performative Dispacements of Ulrike Ottinger’s Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia.” In Deterritorializing the New German Cinema, 107-153. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
      7.  Shahan, Cyrus. “Decadent Fetishism in Ulrike Ottinger’s Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia.Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 45, no. 2 (2009): 174-188.
  • Same Same but Different (Detlev Buck, 2009), available on YouTube, Kanopy and DVD
    • A biopic based on the romance between German backpacker Benjamin Prüfer in Cambodia who falls in love with Sreykeo (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk). The film is based on the 2006 article for, “Bis der Tod sie mir wegnimmt: Meine große Liebe ist HIV-positiv.”
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Halle, Randall. “East-West Globality and the European Mode of Film Production.” In Imagining Germany Imagining Asia: Essays in Asian-German Studies, edited by Veronika Fuechtner and Mary Rhiel, 17-33. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2013.
  • Schau mich nicht so an (Don’t Look at Me That Way, Uisenma Borchu, 2015), available on Amazon (IndiePix), DVD
  • Tschick (Goodbye Berlin, Fatih Akin, 2016), available on DVD (English subtitles), (German subtitles only)
    • Adapted from Wolfgang Herrndorf’s popular 2010 novel, Tschick is a coming-of-age/teen road film by Turkish-German director Fatih Akin. The titular character is a multiracial Russian outsider figure who is frequently referred to as looking Mongolian; his character is played by newcomer Anand Batbileg, of Mongolian descent. It is suitable for courses on literary adaptations and contemporary film.
    • Secondary criticism:
      1. Gueneli, Berna. Fatih Akin’s Cinema and the New Sound of Europe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019.
      2. Quintana-Vallejo, Ricardo. “Diasporic Coming-of-age Novels of Eastern European Diasporas in Contemporary Berlin: Yadé Kara and Wolfgang Herrndorf.” In Children of Globalization: Diasporic Coming-of-Age Novels in Germany, England, and the United States. New York: Routledge, 2021.

Qingyang Zhou is a PhD candidate in German at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her BA degree in German, Cinema and Media Studies, and Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the literary and cinematic entanglements between East/West Germany, China, and North/South Korea during the Cold War and beyond. She has presented research on Asian-German studies at the annual conferences of GSA, NeMLA, and Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

Zach Ramon Fitzpatrick is a Mellon-CES fellow and PhD candidate in Germanic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on German film and Asian-German studies. He has been a guest author for, a Berlin-based organization and network for Asian-German perspectives. He also runs the Instagram account “Asian German Updates,” where he has garnered a following by posting about Asian German media, history, people, news, and community events throughout the German-speaking world.

Qinna Shen is Associate Professor of German at Bryn Mawr College. Her research focuses on twentieth-century German culture, with an emphasis on visual studies and Sino-German relations. She is the author of The Politics of Magic: DEFA Fairy-Tale Films (2015). Her co-edited volume Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia appeared in the series Spektrum: Publications of the German Studies Association in 2014. She is currently working on two book projects: “Jiny Lan and the Art of Subversion: A Chinese-German Cultural Encounter” and “Film and Cold War Diplomacy: China and the Two Germanys, 1949–1989.”

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New Visions of Belonging in German Studies

Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin" and other stories: A Conversation with Sharon  Dodua Otoo

The latest installment in our Mission Possible series of reflections on the future of German Studies comes courtesy of the MGP’s own Elizabeth Sun, who situates Sharon Dodua Otoo’s Ingeborg Bachmann Prize-winning short story “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin” in the context of recent trends in German literature and film as well as tendencies in German Studies towards antiracist, transnational, and multilingual conceptions of Germanness.

German Studies’ contributions to discourses on migration, memory, and multiculturalism are uncontested. After Turkey (3.6 million), Colombia (1.8 mil.), Pakistan (1.4 mil.), and Uganda (1.4 mil.), Germany hosts a considerate 1.1 million of the world’s 26.3 million refugees, (as of mid-2020). Due to its changing demography and global connections, Germany’s debates on the entanglement of public and private memories, issues of national belonging, and contestations of differentiating truths, have gained increasing relevance in the context of the modern-day refugee crisis and renewed public debates on systemic racism, xenophobia, and cultural essentialism.

In the past half century, German Studies in America has increasingly shifted its focus from a nationally-defined canon of German literature to encompass a transculturally conceived field of cultural and literary studies; texts that focus on processes of migration have creatively and productively challenged ideological notions of “German” literature and authorship. Transit Deutschland, which traces the history and flows of migration since post-WWII Germany and was conceptualized and edited by Berkeley Professors Deniz Göktürk and Anton Kaes, is a testament to Germany’s more than half-century long status as an Einwanderungsland (country of immigration).

Concurrently, German Studies scholars such as David Gramling (2008 PhD graduate of Berkeley’s Department of German) have focused on the ability of literatures of diaspora, migration, and exile to enable a “progressive, multiethnic conception of ‘German-language literature.’” (Gramling 530). Turkish and multilingual “turns” have also been respectively outlined in studies by Leslie Adelson and Yasemin Yildiz.

Now in its 13th year of inception, Berkeley’s very own TRANSIT: A Journal of Travel, Migration and Multiculturalism in the German-speaking World continues to follow and invigorate discourses on national belonging, multilingualism, cosmopolitan identities, and most recently, traveling forms. German Studies is a vibrant, intellectual center of conversations on migration, multiculturalism, and cultural meaning-making.  

As shown through this year’s launch of Archives of Migration, contemporary German-language writers and artists continue to inform our understanding of current affairs as they carve out poetic space for minority voices. By repeatedly contesting the boundaries of “What does it mean to be German today?”, writers such as Sharon Dodua Otoo, Zafer Şenocak, Abbas Khider, and Yoko Tawada encourage us to critically reconsider the formations of cultural memory, while foregrounding the power of fiction in political spheres. These writers, multilingual in their literary projects as well as their daily lives, have provided us with diverse perspectives on the mediation of minority narratives, the ethics of empathy, and the conditions of belonging.

These considerations have gained additional urgency as we witness the continuous rise of far-right movements, gain increased awareness of the persistence of systemic racism, and sift through contestations of truth and lies within the ongoing phenomenon of “Fake News.” As Annika Orich (2017 Berkeley graduate in German Studies) encourages in her article on “Archival Resistance: Reading the New Right,” now is the time “to read further, to think further, and to act further” and to resist the continued misuse of cultural archives that continue to divide rather than unite.

Of course, solidarity is not only answered by critically sifting through the differentiating claims to truth and reading widely; nevertheless, fiction is one step forward towards social cohesion and political action. When asked to write a critical piece on “critical whiteness,” Sharon Dodua Otoo chose to write her award-winning fiction piece, “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin,” a subversive text on the deep-seated internalization of cultural scripts and the unstable boundaries between Germanness and otherness.

Through the interchange of third-person limited and the creative first-person narration from the perspective of an Ei (egg), Otoo satirically portrays the unraveling of the white, German Herr Gröttrup, unsettled by a resistant, anthropomorphic egg that refuses to boil to the preferred setting. By focusing on the breakfast table, which epitomizes routine and a time-space of idle criticality, Otoo also creatively questions our practices of “epistemic laziness” (Sarah Colvin’s terminology for “not needing to know”) portrayed by Herr Gröttrup who is ever so content in his secure space of white male privilege and—until the subversive egg incident—unbothered by his dominating influence over his wife and maid, Ada, whose name he cannot even recall.

Though we begin with Gröttrup’s third-person limited consciousness, the text’s impact comes through the humor and resistant nature of the post-human egg subject, which sympathizes more with Frau Gröttrup and Ada. German texts such as the above play the crucial role of bringing awareness to subaltern voices and shaking some of us out of our own epistemic ignorance.Recent German productions have also foregrounded the reality of migrants on the move, rather than embracing standardized narratives with a clear-cut start and finish.

Take Christian Petzold’s 2017 film Transit, for example, which highlights the continued precarity of refugee lives through the Jewish protagonist Georg’s attempts to find political safety amidst the rise of fascist forces. Based on Anne Seghers’ 1942 historical novel of the same title, and concretely situated in Nazi Germany, Petzold restages the narrative as a metaphor for the universal refugee, who is repeatedly subject to bureaucratic, psychological, racial, and social challenges. Similar conditions are also highlighted in Abbas Khider’s Der falsche Inder (2008) and Ohrfeige (2016).

Such texts have us critically consider the social and political impacts of human flows, along with their interpolation with public and private cultural archives. How might subaltern voices break into dominant national and cultural narratives, and what can we learn through such processes? Active re-readings of archives, per Orich’s suggestion, is one way to reveal the nuances of integration and assimilation, while underscoring the unrelenting dynamisms of cultural meaning-making. Through Germany’s ongoing status as a nation of immigration and the critical engagements of its German-language writers, German Studies continues to productively question, redefine, and invigorate questions of: Who belongs? Who decides? And finally, what now?

Works Cited

Adelson, Leslie A. The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Towards a New Critical Grammar of Migration. 1st ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Colvin, Sarah. “Talking Back: Sharon Dodua Otoo’s Herr Gröttrup Setzt Sich Hin and the Epistemology of Resistance.” German Life & Letters, vol. 73, issue 4, 2000, pp. 659–79.

Göktürk, Deniz, David Gramling, Anton Kaes, Andreas Langenohl, eds., Transit Deutschland : Debatten zu Nation und Migration; eine Dokumentation. Konstanz: Konstanz Univ. Press, 2011. 

Göktürk, Deniz, David Gramling, and Anton Kaes, eds. Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration, 1955-2005. U of California P, 2007.

Gramling, David. “Researching Multilingually in German Studies: A Brief Retrospective,” German Studies Review 39, no. 3, 2016, pp. 529–40.

Orich, Annika. 2020. “Archival Resistance: Reading the New Right.” German Politics & Society, vol. 38, issue 2, 2020, pp.1–34.

Otoo, Sharon Dodua. Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin / Herr Gröttrup Takes a Seat / Herr Gröttrup Sits Down. Translated into British English by Katy Derbyshire. Translated into American English by Patrick Ploschnitzki and Judith Menzl. Ed. Brittany Hazelwood, Berlin 2019.

Petzold, Christian. Transit, Germany: Schramm Film, 2018. 

Yildiz, Yasemin. Beyond the Mother Tongue, New York, USA: Fordham University Press, 2013.

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Traveling in Pandemic Times: Yoko Tawada and Poetic Border-Crossing

Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel" von Yoko Tawada, Buch der Woche -  Bücher - Sendungen - WDR 5 - Radio - WDR

Yoko Tawada’s guest appearance in the third installation of “Archives of Migration” sparked a lively and contemporarily relevant conversation on the potential of poetic border-crossing in pandemic times, where physical mobility has been intensely challenged by closed-off national borders and the anxiety over cross-person contamination. A native of Japan, Tawada writes and publishes prolifically in the Japanese and German languages; in the past three decades, she has gained international prominence for her playful and perceptive engagements with the complexities of intercultural and cross-linguistic exchange. By restaging the feelings of estrangement and displacement as productive qualities, rather than the negative conditions of immigration and assimilation, Tawada demonstrates the benefits of multilingualism and transculturality in her impressive range of literary works.

In 2012, Rivka Galchen aptly wrote in The New Yorker: “Often in Tawada’s work, one has the feeling of having wandered into a mythology that is not one’s own. This is, of course, precisely what it feels like to speak in a non-mother tongue.” Wandering, meandering, and traversing across ideological, linguistic, and physical spaces—these are particularly suitable ways to describe the experience that is Tawada’s newest novel, Paul Celan und der chinesischen Engel (Paul Celan and the Chinese Angel). Tasked with giving a lecture on Celan’s Fadensonnen at an academic conference, the socially anxious protagonist Patrick finds comfort in the auditory-somatic qualities of language, or in other words, the bodily feelings evoked by hearing and voicing certain sounds.

For the non-native speaker, the process of speaking brings about a corporeal intimacy that often eludes the native speaker. As the narrator of Tawada’s “Canned Foreign” expresses, “Most of the words that came out of my mouth had nothing to do with how I felt.  But at the same time I realized that my native tongue didn’t have words for how I felt either.  It’s just that this never occurred to me until I’d begun to live in a foreign language.” By universalizing the feeling of displacement commonly associated with living in a new culture and language, Tawada illuminates a poetic language that is built on feeling and sound, rather than semantic content. As Tawada expressed during the workshop, Celan’s poetry similarly foregrounds sound and feeling, transcending cultural and linguistic boundaries. In “Celan Reads Japanese,” Tawada further expresses that Celan’s language and poetry exist in an in-between space or gateway that is especially favorable for translation.

Through the process of free association that characterizes Tawada’s texts, Paul Celan und der chinesischen Engel’s protagonist Patrick ambles along a journey guided by the evocation of words, akin to a magic spell. The elicitation of the word “Meridian,” for example, takes Patrick on an intellectual journey across geographic, medicinal, corporeal, and poetic spaces—within the span of minutes, he and the mysterious Leo-Eric Fu navigate conversationally from the Paris-Stockholm meridian to the 12 meridians of the body and finally to Paul Celan’s 1960 acceptance speech for the Georg Büchner Prize, Meridian.

While Tawada’s newest text recognizes the reduced mobility of our current time, Patrick and Leo’s free-flowing conversation shows that physical movement is not the only kind of traveling one may consider. At other times, these associations move by way of phonic resemblance; Patrick playfully refers to Populists as poplar-ists, for example, suggesting a desire to denounce the socio-political for the ecological. The German word Pappelisten shares the same syllabic beginning with both Patrick’s name and his nickname for himself: The Patient. “The Patient,” of course, evokes situations of sickliness and hospitalization—indicative of pandemic times to the contemporary reader—while suggesting preference for an impersonal mode of existence. However, more so than a desire to lose individuality, Patrick’s habit of addressing himself as “The Patient” indicates denunciation of a self-centered form of existence.

The story takes flight particularly after Patrick’s transcultural encounter with the esoteric Leo-Eric Fu, who is of “transtibetan” qualities and shifts in Patrick’s perception as a North Korean spy, a Tibetan monk, and a Zen-Buddhist from France. Before meeting Leo-Eric Fu, Patrick is inundated by his free association of words, which contributes to his inability to articulate a conference-level argument on Celan’s Fadensonnen: “He would rather be on the move, than think too much.” (“Er will nicht zu viel denken, sondern gehen.”). Through his dream-like correspondence with Leo-Eric, Patrick attains the insight that offers him a breakthrough in his interpretation of Celan’s poetry.

Significantly, what Leo-Eric brings is not merely the suggestion of intercultural productivity, but the encouragement to think beyond linguistic and disciplinary boundaries. In other words, Tawada’s aim in writing this text is not simply to convey the usefulness of East Asian thought and science, but to encourage a mode of living that transcends categorization. Such a transdisciplinary focus aligns with Tawada’s authorly aims—from the beginning of her career, Tawada has eschewed categorization, which shows through her incorporation of various literary genres, characters’ free-flowing travel between the psychic and physical realms, and playful satire of cultural essentialism.

The attempt to transcend boundaries and categories also brings us into considerations of the post-human. A central theme of our third “Archives of Migration” workshop was the two-part question—what does it mean to be human, and what does it mean to be something other than human? With the publication of Memoirs of a Polar Bear (2011), we saw the world through the eyes of an anthropomorphized family. In Where Europe Begins (1991), characters express feelings of disembodiment through physical transformations into mythic creatures. In Paul Celan und der chinesischen Engel, Tawada asks: What does it mean to be sick?

For many of us, these pandemic times have urged us to become intimately aware of our bodies like never before, whether through the experience of sickness or extended confinement, or both. When we are sick, we become private beings, physically and mentally confined within the spaces of our abodes. Such an intimacy with words, foreignness, and the body, is a relationship that Tawada has been exploring for decades. Through her sustained focus on such a relationship, we move towards a somaticized understanding of affect that unsettles the boundary of mind and body, while taking inspiration from animal and mythic forms. And through her characters’ dizzying travels across vast intellectual realms, we are reminded of new possibilities of travel, as long as we keep an open mind.

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Pandemic Palimpsest: Yoko Tawada’s “Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel”

MGP editor Qingyang Zhou and Jezell Lee, both participants in our series of Zoom workshops with authors, reflect on our event with poet, playwright, and novelist Yoko Tawada, examining the transnational homage and fragmentary intertextuality of her latest novel, 2020’s Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel.

In the third installment of the Zoom conversation series on “Archives of Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News,” renowned author Yoko Tawada led a dynamic discussion with Elisabeth Krimmer (Professor of German, UC Davis) and Jonas Teupert (Ph.D. German, UC Berkeley) on her latest novel, Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel. Originally from Japan, Tawada has written in both Japanese and German and is currently based in Berlin. She has garnered much international acclaim for her intercultural work and is the recipient of numerous literary accolades including the prestigious Goethe Medal, the Akutagawa Prize, the Kleist Prize, the Chamisso Prize, and a National Book Award. 

Tawada’s writing often involves traveling across boundaries, drawing upon her own anecdotal experiences of moving between countries, fostering elements of transculturalism and interlinguistic exchange. Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel is an exquisite, magical treasure case that opens up to a world where Celan’s poetry is woven into a dreamlike encounter between Patrik, a Celan scholar of Polish descent, and his “trans-Tibetan” friend Leo-Eric Fu. The novel explores abstract boundaries such as the linguistic confines of waking life, as well as those that partition thoughts and emotions. 

During the conversation, Tawada traces ways in which Celan’s approach to writing inspired her novel. She mentioned that Celan’s early poems have a distinct musical rhythm to them and could be easily sung during a performance. In his late poems, however, body parts such as mouth, hand, and liver appear frequently as lost, lonely, and strange (verloren, einsam, fremd) beings, as if the author wrote them in a state of bewilderment. In chapter four of Tawada’s novel, body parts such as tooth, beard, heart, and neck likewise become the locus where language disintegrates into letters, so that the symbolic becomes the semiotic and vice versa. 

Tawada’s reappropriation of the trope of lost body parts constitutes an act of “palimpsestic intertextuality” on two levels (Hallensleben 168). First, by putting a scholar of literature in dialogue with an Asian character well versed in traditional Chinese medicine, Tawada criss-crosses her own linguistic attentions over Celan’s words and lines. In chapter two, Leo-Eric invokes the idea of the Meridian to draw a connection between the conception of the body in Chinese acupuncture and geographical locations hinted in Celan’s poetry. By linking the physical to the literary, this interpretation exposes how “[b]ody and text are seen as performative entities, which constantly represent and simultaneously act as media of spatial memory” (Hallensleben 177). The idea of the skin as a “remediated performance space,” where inscribed cultural identities could be erased and rewritten (Hallensleben 173), becomes embodied in Leo-Eric’s mysteriously malleable identity. 

Throughout the novel, Patrick attempts to pinpoint his friend’s cultural and ethnic background based on the way he speaks and the cultural references he makes, but to no avail. Indeed, the very fact that the “trans-Tibetan” character looks like a freedom protestor in Hong Kong, a Tibetan monk, a Zen-Buddhist from France, and a North Korean spy speaks to the very multi-directional potential that the body has as a fluid textual space. At the same time, the lost body parts also prompt the protagonist Patrik to suture the poet’s body whole, so that it is no longer seen as an entity that is unrecognizable. Patrik then assumes the role of not just literary scholar, but also scientist, piecing together how Celan wrote his poems. 

On a second level, Tawada’s use of “palimpsestic intertextuality” allows for a reconfiguration of memory through archival practices. During the discussion, Tawada mentioned that she had initially planned to write an academic essay on Paul Celan for a lecture series at the Freie Universität Berlin. Nevertheless, during her research at the Literaturarchiv Marbach, she realized that her ideas for Celan’s poems were too “wild” to be contained within a scholarly treatise. Breaking out of the strict logical coherence required for literary analysis, Tawada opens the novel for multidirectional, rhizomatic readings through which the original context of Celan’s suffering during the Jewish Holocaust could be linked to alternative memories. 

For instance, Leo-Eric’s grandfather has a peculiar habit of buying books that Celan read and copying Celan’s reading notes onto his own copies. Leo-Eric then validates this history by paying a visit to the Literaturarchiv Marbach. The novel does not explicitly explain the rationale behind the characters’ archival fever, nor do we fully understand why the grandfather decides to practice Chinese medicine in Paris in the 1960s. Rather, the diverse array of languages, cultures, and texts that emerge in the course of these archival engagements speaks to the idea that trauma is not an exclusive mnemonic property belonging to a specific nation or ethnicity, but a nodal point in a complex web of intercultural entanglements. The very last image of the novel epitomizes this approach: the image of Leo-Eric as an angel ready to fly out with his bird wings attests to the way in which poetic ideas roam about freely, in the language of dreams.

During the conversation, Elisabeth Krimmer noted that Patrik’s inability to venture out of his house resonates strongly with the general sense of languor, fatigue, and immobility that characterizes pandemic life. Affirming that this is indeed a pandemic novel, Tawada plays upon the other meanings of the word “corona,” drawing from Paul Celan’s poem of the same name, which was originally published in the volume Mohn und Gedächtnis (Poppy and Memory, 1952). The introduction of the protagonist not by name, but as “the Patient,” is remarkable in that it denotes the existence of a disease that is not named, in which the reader never uncovers what “sickness” ails the character. On a linguistic level, the Patient becomes a part of the sentence that marks the semantic role of the subject affected by a given verb. The play on the wider meanings of the word “corona” as we know it could relate to the crowning of the beloved or a corona around the darkened sun, in conjunction to the “Fadensonnen” (“thread suns”) in Celan’s poem and referenced in Tawada’s novel. The last few lines, when read by Celan himself, possess a languishing yet rhythmic impatience, resonating with the feeling that surrounds contemporary sentiments of the pandemic. The playful interactions of Celan’s words were woven underneath Tawada’s free-flowing exploration of language, thereby creating a layered and fluid palimpsest.

Work cited: 

Hallensleben, Markus. “Rewriting the Face, Transforming the Skin, and Performing the Body as Text: Palimpsestuous Intertexts in Yōko Tawada’s ‘The Bath’.” Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia, edited by Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock, Berghahn, 2014, pp. 168-189.

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Radio Plays about the Crimes of the NSU: Part III – From the Victims’ Perspective

In the last installment of the three-part series on the NSU trial, guest columnist Monika Preuß focuses on the personal narratives of the victims of crimes committed by NSU members. You can read this post in the original German here

The first installment of the series, an introduction to the NSU trials and the major radio plays on the topic, is available in English and German. The second installment on the creative use of polyphonic narrative structures in radio plays is also published in English and German.

„Vergesst mich nicht“ (“Don’t Forget Me,” 2016) is based on the ARD docudrama trilogy „Die Opfer – Vergesst mich nicht“ (“The Victim – Don’t Forget Me”) and the book Schmerzliche Heimat: Deutschland und der Mord an meinem Vater (Painful Homeland: Germany and the Murder of My Father) by Semiya Şimşek und Peter Schwarz. Şimşek, then fourteen years old, was sent to a boarding school by her father Enver Şimşek. On the next day Enver Şimşek is found dead, murdered by NSU members Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt. The police initially interrogated Semiya Şimşek and put her family under supervision, and only much later did the xenophobic, far-right character of the crime come to the fore. The initial interrogation created immense emotional burden on the Şimşek family. By recounting an intimate, personal story rather than adopting a detached stance as previous radio plays on the NSU trial has done, “Vergesst mich nicht” highlights the disastrous impact of the murder and the traumatic experience of victimization.

Tuğsal Moğul’s „Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern“ (“Among the Victims Are Also Germans,” 2017) is an adaptation of a theatrical play by the same name. The opening sequence of the play names the victims of crimes committed by the far-right (cf. 01:27ff.; this includes not only victims of the NSU murders but also other hate crimes such as arson attacks on refugees’ asylums), demonstrating that all parts of society are subject to such violence. The radio play focuses on the racial prejudices that came into play both during police interrogation and in the media. Moğul creatively employs genre conventions of fairy tales (cf. 21:27ff.) and rap (cf. 24:55) to expose the absurdity of the mistakes made by the police (new police recruits were sometimes responsible for compiling evidence for the trial) and the scandalous clandestine collaboration between the Verfassungsschutz and right-wing extremists (See more about this in Part II of this series). 

„Blumen für Otello. Über die Verbrechen von Jena“ (“Flowers for Otello: On the Crimes in Jena,” Deutschlandradio, 2014) by Esther Dischereit is an adaption of the novel Blumen für Otello – Über die Verbrechen von Jena: Klagelieder (Flowers for Otello On the Crimes in Jena: Dirges) and was nominated for the German Radio Prize by the ARD. Through a quiet but thought-provoking form of storytelling, the radio play weaves the background stories of the victims and the perpetrators together into a masterful piece of art.

In Maja Das Gupta’s „Weil Deutschland doch ein Rechtsstaat ist“ (“Since Germany Is Still a Constitutional State,” 2016), a student (Amide) writes a blog post on racism in the daily work of the police. She visits the court proceedings and speaks with Marc, a young police officer. This radio play differs from other approaches in that it combines reflective dialogues with a crime story. Amide, her friend Andrea, and Marc decide to steal documents from the police office, but the play does not reveal what happens next. Such a strategy creates suspense for an unpredictable and perilous outcome, an open ending.


Das Gupta, Maja: Weil Deutschland doch ein Rechtsstaat ist. Südwestrundfunk 2016. The manuscript is available at:

Dischereit, Esther: Blumen für Otello. Über die Verbrechen von Jena. Deutschlandradio 2014. Available at:

Dischereit, Esther: Blumen für Otello. Über die Verbrechen von Jena. Klagelieder. Zürich 2014.

Moğul, Tuğsal: Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern. Westdeutscher Rundfunk 2017. Available at:

Şimşek, Semiya: Vergesst mich nicht. Norddeutscher Rundfunk/ Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg 2016. A part of the radio play is available at :

Şimşek, Semiya/ Schwarz, Peter: Schmerzliche Heimat. Deutschland und der Mord an meinem Vater. Berlin 2013.

Die Opfer – Vergesst mich nicht (feature about the film):

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Hörspiele zum NSU-Verbrechen: Teil III – Einblick in die Perspektive der Opfer

In the last installment of our three-part series on the NSU trial, guest columnist Monika Preuß focuses on the personal narratives of the victims of crimes committed by NSU members. You can read this post in English translation here

The first installment of the series, an introduction to the NSU trials and the major radio plays on the topic, is available in English and German. The second installment on the creative use of polyphonic narrative structures in radio plays is also published in English and German.

„Vergesst mich nicht“ (2016) basiert auf dem Drehbuch der ARD Trilogie „Die Opfer – Vergesst mich nicht“ und dem Buch Schmerzliche Heimat: Deutschland und der Mord an meinem Vater von Semiya Şimşek und Peter Schwarz. Die 14-jährige Semiya Simsek wird von ihrem Vater Enver Şimşek ins Internat gefahren. Einen Tag später ist er tot, ermordet von Uwe Mundlos und Uwe Böhnhardt. Die Familie gerät unter Verdacht, wird verhört und überwacht. Dies ist für die Familie eine große Belastung. In die Richtung eines rechtsextremen Hintergrunds wird lange nicht ermittelt. Dieses Hörspiel ist das persönlichste aller genannten Hörspiele und kann sich einen distanzierten Blick und das Spiel der Stimmen wie viele der Stücke über den Gerichtsprozess nutzen, nicht leisten. Vielmehr stehen die Ereignisse und die damit verbundenen Erschütterungen im Vordergrund.

Tuğsal Moğuls „Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern“ (2017) basiert auf einem Theaterstück gleichen Namens. Die Universalität des rechten Terrors wird verdeutlicht durch die Aufzählung von Opfern, nicht nur der NSU-Morde, sondern auch weiterer rechter Gewalttaten, wie z.B. der Brandanschläge auf Asylheime. (vgl. 01:29ff.). Zwei Sprecher und eine Sprecherin stellen u.a. auch auf der Basis von Ermittlungsakten und Prozessprotokollen die Mordopfer des NSU in den Vordergrund und zeigen die Widersprüche und die rassistischen Muster während der Ermittlungen auf, und wie sie durch die mediale Berichterstattung reproduziert wurden. Märchenhafte Erzählstrukturen offenbaren die Absurdität mancher Ermittlungsfehler (vgl. 21:27ff.). Rap-Strukturen werden genutzt, um den Einsatz von V-Männern zu hinterfragen (vgl. 24:55ff.).

„Blumen für Otello. Über die Verbrechen von Jena“ (2014) von Esther Dischereit ist eine Adaption des Romans Blumen für Otello – Über die Verbrechen von Jena: Klagelieder und wurde für den Deutschen Hörspielpreis der ARD nominiert. In sehr ruhigen Szenen werden sowohl das Umfeld der Täter als auch die Opfer und die Hinterbliebenen zu einem ebenfalls sehr nachdenklich machenden Gesamtkunstwerk zusammengefügt.

In Maja Das Guptas „Weil Deutschland doch ein Rechtsstaat ist“ (2016) schreibt die Studentin Amide in einem Blog über „Rassismus in der Polizeiarbeit“ über das Verfahren. Mit dem jungen Polizisten Marc kommt sie ins Gespräch. Dieses Stück unterscheidet sich deutlich von den anderen Hörspielen. Es bleibt nicht nur bei den Diskussionen zwischen Amide und Marc. Zusammen mit Andrea, einer Freundin von Amide, entscheiden sie sich, einige Dokumente zu stehlen. Es wird brenzlig und das Ende bleibt offen.

Hörspiele, Texte und Materialien

Das Gupta, Maja: Weil Deutschland doch ein Rechtsstaat ist. Südwestrundfunk 2016. Das Manuskript ist abrufbar unter:

Dischereit, Esther: Blumen für Otello. Über die Verbrechen von Jena. Deutschlandradio 2014. Abrufbar unter:

Dischereit, Esther: Blumen für Otello. Über die Verbrechen von Jena. Klagelieder. Zürich 2014.

Moğul, Tuğsal: Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern. Westdeutscher Rundfunk 2017. Abrufbar unter:

Şimşek, Semiya: Vergesst mich nicht. Norddeutscher Rundfunk/ Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg 2016. Ein Teil des Hörspiels ist abrufbar unter:

Şimşek, Semiya/ Schwarz, Peter: Schmerzliche Heimat. Deutschland und der Mord an meinem Vater. Berlin 2013.

Die Opfer – Vergesst mich nicht (Feature zum Film):

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Archiving Memories in Pandemic Times: Documenting Jewish Exile in Shanghai

In spring 2019, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) hosted an event series titled “Afterimage” to showcase renowned German director Ulrike Ottinger’s critically acclaimed documentaries, while inviting her to discuss her research methods and approach to visual design when making nonfictional films in a Mosse Lecture event and a podcast. From November 2020 to July 18, 2021, BAMPFA again celebrates Ottinger’s transnational oeuvre through the film streaming series “East Meets West,” in a time when encounters with the foreign are precisely hampered by travel restrictions and nationalist sentiments in light of the pandemic.

Ottinger’s fascination for East Asian culture and history is explored in a diverse array of films including Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (Joan of Arc of Mongolia, 1989), Taiga – Eine Reise ins nördliche Land der Mongolen (Taiga – A Journey to the Northern Land of the Mongols, 1992), Seoul Women Happiness (2008), Die koreanische Hochzeitstruhe (The Korean Wedding Chest, 2009), the Japanese-themed documentary Unter Schnee (Under Snow, 2011), China. Die Künste – der Alltag. Eine filmische Reisebeschreibung (China: The Arts—The People, 1985), and most notably, Exil Shanghai (Exile Shanghai, 1997), which portrays the life of Jewish immigrants who came to China for trade after 1840 or for refuge from pogroms in Eastern Europe, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust during the first half of the twentieth century.

Echoing this spirit of investigating German-East Asian entanglements, Shanghai’s municipal government has recently engaged in efforts to document the life of Jewish refugees in the city during World War II by greatly expanding the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, which was first built in 2007 at the site of the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue and reopened in December 2020 after a three-year renovation since 2017. The Shanghai Media Group TV News Center also produced a three-part documentary with a total running time of ninety minutes in 2015, titled Survival in Shanghai, about this unique chapter in the history of the Holocaust. A Chinese version of the film (《生命的记忆——犹太人在上海》) was also released and aired on television in the same year.

The Chinese government’s recent fascination with this minority group obscures its past negligence in the preservation of Jewish history in Shanghai. When I first visited the Bibliotheca Zi-Ka-Wei in January 2018 to research the interactions between the Chinese and the Jewish refugees during World War II, the archive was in a dire situation: the catalog of Jewish newspapers in Shanghai was hand-written on discolored papers; the cover wrapping the documents crumbled with every turn of the page; some cataloged newspapers can no longer be found and retrieved, and I was usually the only person present in the reading room. This was hardly surprising. As Achille Mbembe argues in “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits,” the archive is the result of the exercise of a specific power and authority, through which certain documents are granted a privileged status of “archivable” while others are judged irrelevant and unworthy of preservation (20). Since the Jewish refugees were a minority group largely confined to a poor urban enclave (the Hongkou District, formerly spelled as Hongkew), memories of their lives are relegated to the margins of Chinese history.

Indeed, the government’s revived interest in this group is not devoid of political underpinnings. A report in Xinmin Nightly News (新民晚报) indicates that the costly reconstructions were part of a larger mission: as the northern part of the Bund in Shanghai undergoes new development and attracts more foreign visitors in the future, the museum and the documentary played in the exhibition rooms will bear the tasks of recounting the story of transethnic friendship and highlighting the interconnected nature of human destinies.

Made with different objectives, Ottinger’s approach to documenting Jewish history in Exil Shanghai differs significantly from the Chinese approach. According to Prakash Shambhavi, Ottinger’s film presents a palimpsestic model of memory by mapping scenes of contemporary Shanghai onto the survivors’ reminiscences of their life in the 1930s and 1940s, thereby rejecting a single, authoritative account of the past while opening up possibilities for cross-cultural exchange (72-6). At the same time, however, the Chinese citizens of Shanghai become a background image against which variegated scenes from Jewish life could be painted. In a brief scene from a four-and-half-hour film, only one Chinese interviewee recounts the presence of the émigrés in Hongkou, but the camera refrains from lingering on her face, instead slowly panning away to show details of the house’s interior while her voice fades into illegibility. Although the film’s politics of superimposing refugees’ past memories and modern Shanghai does not deny the possibility of affective alignment between the Jews and the Chinese, it does not actively foster an interaction between these two groups and their accounts of history either.

By contrast, Chinese documentary directed by Yan Xiaoying intersperses accounts of Jewish life in Shanghai with memories of a concurrent atrocity, namely the Japanese invasion of China and the subsequent subjugation of ordinary citizens under colonial rule. The interviewees in Survival in Shanghai invariably mention the horrible conditions under which the poor Chinese had to live and their mistreatment by the Japanese soldiers. These reminiscences of wartime Shanghai are also supplemented by both archival footage of the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese residents’ accounts of their interactions with Jews in Hongkou.

The Jewish survivors also recount detailed incidences of how they interacted with their Chinese neighbors. For instance, Vera Sassoon (薇拉 in the Chinese version) remembers a friendly neighbor, Zhou Zhiji (周志基), who always invited her to have meals at his family and who sometimes hired rickshaw pullers to take her back home after school. The documentary also features Sassoon having a video conversation with his daughter Zhou Huizhen (周惠珍), who played with Vera when they were children. Here, the refugees’ more extensive stories of interactions with the Chinese as compared to those in Ottinger’s film could be partially attributed to the filmmakers’ deliberate choice of whom to interview. Made almost twenty years after Exil Shanghai, the Chinese documentary approaches the younger generation of refugees who either came to China as little children or who were born there as “Shanghai babies,” and thus potentially had more chance to mingle with their Chinese neighbors than the older generation of émigrés in Ottinger’s film. On the other hand, this sudden new interest in public memory making is motivated by the Chinese’s conscious act of self-positioning.

At first glance, the juxtaposition of the violence against and exclusion of the Jewish refugees with the equally tragic sufferings that the Chinese had to endure under colonization in Survival in Shanghai seems to be a more inclusive account of Jewish exile in Shanghai. However, this approach falls short of the complex model of multidirectional memory proposed by Michael Rothberg. Rothberg argues that “multidirectionality encourages us to think of the public sphere as a malleable discursive space in which groups do not simply articulate established positions but actually come into being through their dialogical interactions with others” (5). In other words, collective memory must be “partially disengaged from exclusive versions of cultural identity” (11). Survival in Shanghai seeks to paint a picture of Jewish-Chinese interactionbut does not fully interrogate the deeper consequences of this interaction on either the refugees or the native Shanghainese and how incidents of brutality and segregation changed their previous conceptions or challenged their complete lack of knowledge of European anti-Semitism and Japanese colonialism, respectively.

For instance, in one of the opening scenes of the Chinese documentary, the filmmakers follow Betty Grebenschikoff (贝蒂), author of the memoir Once My Name Was Sara (1993), through the San Francisco Chinatown, as she dines at a Chinese restaurant and buys soy sauce at an Asian grocery. Later in her home, Betty showcases a jacket made in the style of the Qing Dynasty. The narration attributes Betty’s hobbies to her upbringing in Shanghai, declaring that “almost seventy years after she left Shanghai, traces of China still permeate Betty’s life” (离开上海已近七十年,中国的印痕依然渗透在贝蒂的生活里). At the same time that these scenes might suggest Betty’s special affinity to Chinese culture—with a tinge of orientalism—which she might not have developed had she not lived in Shanghai for over a decade, it also trivializes Jewish-Chinese encounters as nothing beyond ethnic cuisine and exotic clothing. The Chinese filming team seems to be searching hard for imprints of Shanghai in the contemporary life of the Jewish émigrés in order to validate their claim of Shanghai’s lasting impact in providing refuge for the persecuted, whereas a deep and continuous engagement with Chinese culture by the émigrés does not really exist. As Birgit Maier-Katkin mentions in her article on this film, the interviewees observed the horrid malnutrition and brutal treatment that the Chinese experienced from a distance; although the film attempts to put exemplary moments of collaboration under the spotlight, it does not fully deconstruct the deeply engrained Chinese-Western binary mindset.

In this sense, neither Ottinger’s palimpsestic model nor the Chinese documentary’s more interactive approach fully explores the complexity of the exchanges that happened between the Jews and the Chinese in Shanghai. Instead, a more desirable path might lie in the middle: rather than mapping Jewish memories of the past onto contemporary Shanghai at the expense of competing local remembrances of encounter, and rather than creating an exaggerated narrative of impassioned interactions, new narratives of this history could explore how the city of Shanghai functions both as an actor that bridges together diverse perspectives and as a meeting ground where no singular view of the past emerges as representative. Indeed, it is precisely the spirit of multidimensional and transnational ways of remembering that must be celebrated in the age of the pandemic.

Works Cited:

Maier-Katkin, Birgit. “Documentaries about Jewish Exiles in Shanghai: Witness Testimony and Cross-Cultural Public Memory Formation.” Forthcoming in East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to the Present, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho. New York: Routledge, 2022.

Mbembe, Achille. “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits.” Refiguring the Archive, edited by Carolyn Hamilton, Verne Harris, Jane Taylor, Michele Pickover, Graeme Reid, and Razia Saleh, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002, pp. 19-26.

Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford UP, 2009.

Shambhavi, Prakash. “Representations of Jewish Exile and Models of Memory in Shanghai Ghetto and Exil Shanghai.” Transnational encounters between Germany and East Asia since 1900, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho, Routledge, 2018, pp. 62-81.

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Imagining the Other Side of Things: Zafer Şenocak and Hidden Archives

MGP editor Elizabeth Sun and Ardo Ali, both participants in our new series of Zoom workshops with authors, follow up on our recent event with Zafer Şenocak, interrogating the possibilities for resistance that lie in the counter-hegemonic reconstruction of historical narrative.

On Friday, April 2, we welcomed the widely published Turkish-German author Zafer Şenocak to the second installment of “Archives of Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News.” As Şenocak’s readings ranged across decades of writing—Gefährliche Verwandtschaft was published in 1998, while Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt was published in 2018—the theme of archival resistance persisted in various forms: How might we unsettle, challenge, and resist dominant, often totalizing constructions of the historical archive? What aspirations and desires emanate from personal and public archival practices? What is the writer’s role in the imaginative revival of these hidden, buried archives?

The excerpt read aloud from Tom Cheesman’s translation of Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (Perilous Kinship) particularly foregrounded such questions. In this text, the German-Jewish protagonist, Sascha Muhteschem, sets out to reconstruct a family history that is simultaneously entangled with the Holocaust, as victims, and the Armenian genocide, as perpetrators. However, having ascertained the intelligibility of his Turkish grandfather’s Arabic and Cyrillic manuscripts, Sascha decides to rewrite his family biography rather than simply recollect it from the scattered manuscripts at his disposal (“My task was to construct what could not be constructed.”) As Leslie Adelson writes in The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature, this “lassitude” on Sascha’s part contrasts starkly with the monumental historical moments with which his family history is implicated. By accepting the indecipherability of his familial archive, coming from both linguistic and intergenerational differences, Sascha disrupts our oft-complacent acceptance of the undisputed “facts” of collective memory (“I had his diaries which I could not read. What did I need the archives for?”). How can we come to terms with Sascha’s writerly indifference to “objective” historical reconstruction, especially when it contributes to the consciousness of a collective imaginary? To achieve reconciliation, we might take a closer look at the un-used-up side (“unverbrauchte Seite”) of history that speaks to Sascha. This “unverbrauchte Seite” is an untold history that prioritizes affect over detail; it is one that centers on giving voice and personification to Betroffenheit (a state of being moved) over a meticulous reconstruction of historical events.  

Such tensions are exemplified through the juxtaposition of Sascha’s archival methodology with his wife Marie’s steadfast devotion to historical accuracy through her own documentary pursuit of representing the Armenian genocide. One could argue that, though Marie dedicates herself to collecting traces of history that can be revisualized and thereby reconstructed, she overlooks the un-used-up side that is neither written nor voiced, but rather felt. Arjun Appadurai writes in “Archive and Aspiration” that archives are “conscious sites of debate and desire.” At the same time, Şenocak encourages us to become more critically aware of the aspirations that underwrite the incessant formations and reformations of social memory, moving away from the idea of archive as a trace or reflection of cultural history. In other words, the creation and preservation of archives is intrinsically connected to personal and collective aspirations and intentions. Consequently, what inspires Şenocak’s works are dominant, persisting feelings—of loss, guilt, victimization, trauma—which find embodiment through fictional characters. This is where Şenocak separates himself from the task of the documentarian, who seeks to monumentalize historical events and figures, and into the task of exposing the inherent biases of archival practices.

In Cosmopolitanisms, Leela Gandhi suggests a practice of “conjuring” to overwrite dominant, or institutional modes of cultural practices. Through the process of conjuring, one would thereby summon the “other” of alterity, the “queer” of gender theory, or the “stranger” of neo-cosmopolitanism. This practice is especially applicable to Şenocak’s poetic aspiration to evoke the dynamic processes of multilingual and multicultural encounters, and to not only excavate, but revitalize meaning from the “Other Side of Things” (trans. forthcoming in Transit). Indeed, as Marianne Hirsch writes in her text on “The Generation of Postmemory,” the connection between second-generation artistic intellectuals and their familial past is not through recall or recollection, but rather through imagination, investment, and creation. When prompted by the enduring question, “What is the task of the novelist?” Şenocak responded: … dem Schweigen abringen—to wrestle out of silence, an endeavor requiring both intent and struggle. For the novelist, this task entails conjuring and reanimating the un-used-up side that has remained within a silent and dark abyss. Moving away from attempts to metaphoricize this “dark hole” as the “incommensurability or aporia of representation in the face of genocide and its traumatic residue (112),” Adelson argues that Sascha “steps into a particular historical moment by inhabiting and bespeaking (literally, giving voice to)” the abyss within which he resides (114). 

While photographic images operate as the space for artistic revival in Marianne Hirsch’s studies on intergenerational memory, Şenocak and his characters summon and reanimate stories from inherited letters and documents. In an excerpt from the essay collection Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt, titled “Empty Archives—Lost Letters” (translated by Kristin Dickinson), Şenocak reawakens memories of his mother’s desire and longing for more intimate connections in her new German environment. Such connections, however, are curbed by her neighbors’ unwillingness to tell their personal histories. Thus, Şenocak’s mother, like Sascha, is left to speculate about the stories of others. Speculation, for Şenocak and his characters, forms the basis of storytelling. By reanimating hitherto unexpressed sentiments and sculpting Betroffenheit into stories, Şenocak resists and redirects archival practices, giving shape and form to the un-used-up side of history. Through his cross-cultural, cross-lingual, cross-generational poetic interventions, Şenocak deconstructs the totalizing tendencies of public memory and conjures new imaginations from the archive’s Other side.

Works Cited:

Adelson, Leslie. The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of Migration. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Appadurai, Arjun. “Archive and Aspiration” (first published in Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder, eds. Information in Alive: Art and Theory on Archiving and Retrieving Data, Rotterdam: V2_/NAi Publishers, 2003, pp. 14-25 < (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)>)

Ghandi, Leela. “Utonal Life.” Cosmopolitanisms, edited by Bruce Robbins and Paulo Lemos Horta, New York, USA: New York University Press, 2017, pp. 65-88. 

Hirsch, Marianne. “The Generation of Postmemory.” Poetics Today 1 March 2008; 29 (1): pp. 103–128.

Şenocak, Zafer. Perilous Kinship, Tom Cheesman, trans. (Swansea, Wales: Hafan, 2009).

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“Ich bin Diskursfeind”: Zafer Şenocak on Unreadable Archives

The second installment (April 2) of the Zoom event series “Archives of Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News” invited Turkish-German author Zafer Şenocak in conversation with Deniz Göktürk (Professor of German Studies, UC Berkeley) and Kristin Dickinson (Assistant Professor of German Studies, University of Michigan) to discuss his recent book Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt and Eurasia, a novel in progress. Organized by Deniz Göktürk and Elisabeth Krimmer (UC Davis) and sponsored by the German Consulate General in San Francisco, UC Berkeley’s Institute for European Studies, and the German Historical Institute Pacific Regional Office, the workshops invite contemporary German writers to reflect on questions of truth and fiction and acts of border crossing in the age of the pandemic, when populist movements and nationalist policies precisely hamper transcultural encounters. The first installment of the workshop (March 5, recording available here) featured British-German author Sharon Dodua Otoo and her debut novel, Adas Raum, and the third installment (April 16) features a conversation with Japanese-German writer Yoko Tawada on her recent novel Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel.

By asking how poetry and fiction yield resistance to totalizing world views through creative engagement with personal archives, the conversation with Zafer Şenocak aimed to complement our understanding of the historian’s use of archives with the writer’s way of activating, animating, and reimagining historical source materials. Born in Ankara, Turkey, raised primarily in Munich, and now based in Berlin, Şenocak is a prolific writer who publishes poems, essays, and novels in both German and Turkish. Despite the sheer variety of subject matters represented in his oeuvre—from a contemporary German writer’s engagement with his grandfather’s crimes during the Armenian genocide (1915-1917) in Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (German original published in 1998; English translation by Tom Cheesman published as Perilous Kinship in 2009) to the Turkish government’s collaboration with the Nazi regime during World War II in Deutsche Schule (originally written in Turkish as Alman Terbiyesi, 2007; second, revised edition of the German translation by Helga Dağyeli-Bohne published in 2019)—a central theme runs through: the protagonists in Şenocak’s stories invariably possess a briefcase full of papers written in an unfamiliar script and thus illegible to the inheritor. This theme also features prominently in Eurasia, an excerpt of which, titled “Die Rückseite der Dinge,” was translated as “The Other Side of Things” and presented during the workshop by students of the Berkeley seminar on “Archival Resistance.” Göktürk’s choice of the title for the Zoom event, “Unreadable Archives,” highlights precisely this aspect of the past that remains inaccessible to younger generations.

During the workshop, Şenocak spoke about his fascination with unreadable archives and traced it back to his familial background: “My father presented a more traditional way of Turkish culture, while my mother came from a secular family. I was brought into an interesting frame, in which different phrases and points of view came together; I have an atypical Turkish identity, not unified. This kind of difference in the family is part of my life, but the key issue is the sound, the meaning, the locations, different symbols that lead you to think about where you come from.” The clash of worldviews that characterized Şenocak’s upbringing is embodied by the unreadable scripts in his novels, as the Turkish texts written with a mix of Arabic and Cyrillic letters in Gefährliche Verwandtschaft testify to the literary characters’ acts of linguistic and cultural border crossing. His protagonists are always situated at the interstices of Eastern and Western cultures, with their complicated personhood inextricably linked to German, Turkish, and Jewish encounters during the long 20th century.

The unreadable archive’s deep connections to one’s personal identity functions as a major point of reference for Şenocak to take issue with grand narratives of national history. He argues that Germany’s engagement with the past is characterized by curious contradictions (Widersprüche). On the one hand, the nation plunges into a fervor of monumentalizing traumatic moments of war and genocide and sacralizing the culture of remembrance by hosting numerous events featuring contemporaneous witnesses of history (Zeitzeugen) and by repeatedly teaching Germany’s past atrocities to the younger generation. On the other hand, parents staunchly refrain from recounting their personal involvement in history, thereby creating a dark hole in familial memory. In other words, the national narrative of collective guilt (Kollektivschuld) contrasts sharply with the prevalent personal conviction that “Grandpa was not a Nazi,” as the book “Opa war kein Nazi”: Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust im Familiengedächtnis by Harald Welzer, Sabine Moller, and Karoline Tschuggnall analyzes. At the same time, Şenocak’s characters embody complex identities that transcend the narrow national framework within which Welzer and his collaborators elaborate their arguments. In Gefährliche Verwandtschaft, for instance, the protagonist Sascha Muhteshem is the symbolic offspring of both German and Turkish perpetrators as well as Jewish victims. He is an “implicated subject” who is not actively involved in acts of violence or suffering, but whose “actions or inactions help produce and reproduce the positions of victims and perpetrators,” as Michael Rothberg persuasively expounds in The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators.

The mysterious, unintelligible literary archive of one’s deceased ancestors therefore functions as a metaphor for this blank spot in the narratives of history, rendered inaccessible and hidden from view, while at the same time providing hope for rediscovery. Indeed, as Kristin Dickinson observed, the archives in Şenocak’s stories are never really completely unreadable. By taking up the task of translation, the protagonists often find ways into the personal narratives of trauma that have no place in dominant national discourses. It is in this context that the author proclaims to be averse to discourses, to be a Diskursfeind: rather than dwelling on the state’s grand official narratives, the personal letters and diaries constitute a treasure case where one can discover the rich mixture of terrible stories, great stories, and love stories written in multiple languages and scripts, which collectively testify to guilt and victimhood from previously unknown angles. At the same time, the mirky terrain of translation, where the constant dilemma of choosing between alternative paths always results in countless possibilities, opens up a myriad of ways to understand the past without giving out one definitive answer. In this sense, Şenocak’s oeuvre echoes that of other contemporary transnational German authors, in that its identitarian politics can never be reduced to fixed categories and labels but must be taken as a fluid concept that is not confined by national, cultural, and temporal borders.

Works cited:

Rothberg, Michael. The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victim and Perpetrators. Stanford UP, 2019.

Welzer, Harald, Sabine Moller, and Karoline Tschuggnall. “Opa war kein Nazi”: Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust im Familiengedächtnis. Fischer Verlag, 2002.

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Hörspiele zum NSU-Prozess: Teil II – Auditive Dissonanzen im Gerichtssaal und in der Öffentlichkeit

In this second installment of the three-part blog post series on the NSU trial, guest columnist Monika Preuß analyzes the polyphonic structure of several radio plays and the resulting “Rashomon” effect created by the layering of diverse perspectives of the trial participants and the general public. 

You can read an English translation of this text here. The first installment of this series is available in English and German.

Die Ermittlungen und der Gerichtsprozess haben eine Vielzahl an Stimmen und Perspektiven zu Tage gefördert. Dabei hat insbesondere die Auseinandersetzung mit der Rolle des Verfassungsschutzes und der eingesetzten V-Männer, also Personen aus der rechten Szene, die dem Verfassungsschutz Informationen liefern sollten, eine breite gesellschaftliche „Sprach- und Fassungslosigkeit“ hervorgerufen. Dieses Spektrum von vielen Stimmen und somit anscheinender Informationsgewinnung, die aber eben nicht zur Aufklärung beitrugen, nähern sich mehrere Hörspiele künstlerisch.

Kathrin Rögglas Hörspiel „Verfahren. Der NSU-Prozess als gespenstische Groteske“ (2020) ist als „audiophone Gerichtsbeschwörung“ (01:36f.) konzipiert. Es spielt mit der Vorstellung von in der Mikrofonanlage des Gerichts verbliebener Stimmen der Prozessbeteiligten, wie z.B. RichterInnen, NebenklägerInnen, Anwälte und Anwältinnen, die aus dieser nicht mehr entkommen können (vgl. 05:33ff.). Hier werden die besonderen Möglichkeiten von Hörspielen genutzt, indem Stimmen sich überlagern und akustisch verzerrt werden. In Figuren, die dem Prozess als GerichtsbeobachterInnen und somit als Teile der Öffentlichkeit beigewohnt haben, „fließen“ (07:33) diese „Geisterstimmen“ (07:17f.) hinein. Sie sind somit gezwungen, die ihnen jeweils zugeordnete Perspektive, z.B. die des Richters, wiederzugeben. Teilweise sperren sich die Figuren dagegen und kommentieren dies entsprechend. Es entsteht somit eine unmittelbare polyphone Struktur, die die Aufmerksamkeit für die einzelnen Perspektiven und die gesellschaftlichen Diskurse stärkt.

Das frühe „Rashomon Hilti“ von Edgar Lipki (2014) ist experimentell und schreckt durch die Überlagerung der vielen Stimmen und der überspitzten, verdichteten Collage von Szenen des Zusammenlebens von Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Bönhardt und Uwe Mundlos auf dem Campingplatz und der Morde und Überfälle am meisten auf. Phrasen wie „Baller sie weg“ (00:29ff.) oder „Volkskörper“ (00:41ff.) werden wiederholt und überlagert. Im starken Kontrast dazu werden die gesellschaftlichen Diskurse (z.B. „Man hat im Berufsleben nur einmal die Chance an so etwas teilzunehmen.“ (03:41ff.); „Stell dir Mal vor, dein Kind wird Nazi“ (03:58ff.) und die unbefriedigenden Zeugenaussagen von Polizei und Verfassungsschutz im Kontext des Prozesses teilweise als Stimmengewirr inszeniert. Dies verdeutlicht den „Rashomon-Effekt“. Dieser beschreibt die Spannungen, die erzeugt werden, wenn ein Ereignis von verschiedenen AkteurInnen vollkommen verschieden aufgenommen werden.

Das vierteilige Hörspiel „Das schweigende Mädchen“ (2015) ist eine Bearbeitung des gleichnamigen Theaterstückes von Elfriede Jelinek. Genutzt werden ebenfalls Prozessprotokolle und Medienberichte. Anleihen an der Bibel werden genutzt, um das Schweigen der Angeklagten und die wenig aufklärende Stimmenvielfalt der Zeugenaussagen und Medienberichte hervorzuheben. 

Hörspiele, Texte und Materialien

Jelinek, Elfriede: Das schweigende Mädchen. Bayerischer Rundfunk 2015.

Jelinek, Elfriede: Das schweigende Mädchen. Ulrike Maria Stuart. Zwei Theaterstücke. Reinbek bei Hamburg 2015.

Lipki, Edgar: Rashomon Hilti. Westdeutscher Rundfunk 2014. Abrufbar unter:

Röggla, Kathrin: Verfahren. Der NSU Prozess als gespenstische Groteske. Westdeutscher Rundfunk/ Bayerischer Rundfunk 2020. Abrufbar unter:—der-nsu-prozess-als-gespenstische-groteske-100.html

SchauspielDo Archiv Voges: Trailer Das schweigende Mädchen Schauspiel Dortmund. 19.01.2016. Abrufbar unter:

Zur Regie der Produktion “Das schweigende Mädchen” von Elfriede Jelinek – Mit Leonhard Koppelmann. Bayerischer Rundfunk 2015. Abrufbar unter:

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The NSU Trial in Radio Plays: Part II – Cacophony in the Courtroom and the Media

In this second installment of the three-part series on the NSU trial, guest columnist Monika Preuß analyzes the polyphonic structure of several radio plays and the resulting “Rashomon” effect created by the layering of diverse perspectives of the trial participants and the general public. 

You can read this post in the original German here. The first installment in this series is available in English and German.

The investigations at the NSU trial brought various voices and perspectives to the fore. In particular, discussions on the role of the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) and their right-wing confidential informants (V-Männer) caused widespread speechlessness and consternation among the general public. The court proceedings demonstrated that the local and federal BfV institutions did not work to contain the influences of right-wing extremists, but rather used and supported their claims. The following radio plays address public reactions to these scandalous events.

Kathrin Rögglas’s radio play “Proceedings: The NSU Trial as the Ghostly Grotesque” (“Verfahren. Der NSU-Prozess als gespenstische Groteske,” 2020) is conceived as an “audiophonic court evocation” (audiophone Gerichtsbeschwörung, 01:36f.). It explores how the ghostly voices (Geisterstimmen, 07:17f.) of judges, defendants, and lawyers were trapped in the microphone long after they had left the courtroom. Special characteristics of radio plays are used to superimpose and distort the lingering voices. These spectral voices sometimes mingled with (hineinfließen, 07:17f.) those of the observing public. Such a form of expression allows the audience of the trial to comment on the individual perspectives of the trial participants, e.g., that of the judge, and even to cast doubt on some of the statements presented in court. This style of representation creates a polyphonic structure that fosters attention to individual points of view.

An earlier experimental radio play “Rashomon Hilti” by Edgar Lipki (released in 2014, only one year after the start of the NSU Trial) produces a startling effect by superimposing a diverse array of exaggerated, condensed voices from the murders, robberies, and collective life of Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Bönhardt, and Uwe Mundlos, as well as from subsequent debates on these events in the media. Phrases such as “pop them” (“Baller sie weg”, hip-hop slang for killing, 00:29ff.) and “national body” (Volkskörper, Nazi terminology, 00:41ff.) are repeated and overlap with other sounds. The contrast between conflicting witness statements, the voices of the media and society, and the replayed scenes creates an intense atmosphere and a Rashomon effect, as one event gets experienced and retold in completely different ways.

The four-part radio play “The Silent Girl” (“Das schweigende Mädchen,” 2015) is an adaptation of a play of the same name by Elfriede Jelinek. The radio play also makes use of transcripts from the trial and media reports, while making references to the Bible to reveal the conflicting witness statements and the general sense of shock in society, after the actions of the BfV and affiliated police departments came to light.


Jelinek, Elfriede: Das schweigende Mädchen. Bayerischer Rundfunk 2015.

Jelinek, Elfriede: Das schweigende Mädchen. Ulrike Maria Stuart. Zwei Theaterstücke. Reinbek bei Hamburg 2015.

Lipki, Edgar: Rashomon Hilti. Westdeutscher Rundfunk 2014. Available at:

Röggla, Kathrin: Verfahren. Der NSU Prozess als gespenstische Groteske. Westdeutscher Rundfunk/ Bayerischer Rundfunk 2020. Available at:—der-nsu-prozess-als-gespenstische-groteske-100.html

SchauspielDo Archiv Voges: Trailer Das schweigende Mädchen Schauspiel Dortmund. 19.01.2016. Available at:

Zur Regie der Produktion “Das schweigende Mädchen” von Elfriede Jelinek – Mit Leonhard Koppelmann. Bayerischer Rundfunk 2015. Available at:

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Against Categorization: On Inanimate Objects as Narrators in Sharon Dodua Otoo’s “Adas Raum”

A village woman who just lost her newborn in 1459 pre-colonial Ghana, a British countess who pioneered the invention of the computer with her exceptional mathematical talents in 1848, a Polish inmate forced into prostitution in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, and a pregnant black woman searching for an apartment in Berlin in 2019 – renowned author Sharon Dodua Otoo’s much anticipated new novel Adas Raum (Ada’s Realm) weaves together the lives of these four women, all named Ada, through gripping images of suffering, loss, friendship, and love. Like Otoo’s Ingeborg Bachmann Prize-winning short story “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin,” the majority of Adas Raum is told through the perspectives of inanimate objects–a broom, a doorknob, a room in a makeshift brothel, and a passport function as the main narrators for each of the four plotlines. At the same time, the text gestures towards a proliferation of objects with anthropomorphic features. Eyeglasses, the breeze, a glass of milk, and the contemporary Ada’s unborn baby, among others, all comment on the unfolding of events in their respective worlds at unexpected turns.

Constantly urging the readers to plunge into a different story while they are still attempting to register the rich blend of shocking events and intense emotions expressed in the current setting, the novel does not allow its audience to dwell on a single heroine’s life. Instead, the time travel structure of the narrative draws attention to the inextricable links between the recurring loops of physical, sexual, and ideological violence committed against the female protagonists across centuries and continents, sometimes with a dizzying effect that forestalls an immediate interpretation of the characters’ cultural milieu. The novel’s unconventional settings also uproot the author from her own places of memory. The fact that Otoo is a second-generation Ghanaian immigrant born and raised in Britain and has lived in Germany for over fifteen years allows her personal connections to each of the stories portrayed. At the same time, however, the novel’s historical settings necessitate a certain degree of distancing from the very countries and cultures with which she is familiar.

Readers of the novel have already made various attempts at deciphering the novel’s enigmatic structure. German critics have highlighted the novel’s use of Afrofuturism (see book reviews in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Standard) and animism (see book reviews in Der Tagesspiegel and Deutschlandfunk), its mixing of generic conventions of historical documentation and science fiction, as well as its affinity to postcolonial literature written by Anglophone Black women writers. The plurality of analytical discourses invoked attests to the difficulty of precisely situating Adas Raum within existing frameworks of reference. Nevertheless, Otoo herself has spoken against such interpretive gestures. During a recent book talk with translator Jon Cho-Polizzi and Deniz Göktürk (see a report of this event by Elizabeth Sun and Ardo Ali), Otoo says, “My understanding of the world isn’t so neatly categorized. My own biography cannot be neatly categorized. And I think, actually, nobody’s can, but yet we keep trying to make these very clear, neat categories to fit in. I wanted to write something that would bring the reader through an experience of directly feeling, on their own bodies, that things cannot be neatly categorized, so if anybody’s reading this novel and feeling confused, that’s the point.”

Indeed, the novel’s ingenious use of inanimate objects as narrative beings precisely echoes Otoo’s statement against classification and conventional interpretation. In her landmark essay “‘Where Have All the Natives Gone?’,” Rey Chow outlines problematic ways of interpreting the native other and proposes alternative solutions through which indigenous subjectivity might retain its integrity during an encounter with Western eyes. She argues that many scholars of postcolonialism define the native as someone from whom something has been stolen; therefore, the anti-imperialist project of subjectivizing the other almost invariably involves restoring that which has been lost, including giving back the native her voice that has been consistently silenced by the colonizer (327). However, such a definition necessarily posits the native as a desirous subject persistently envying that which she does not or no longer possess(es), thus relegating her to the lower end of the hierarchy, beneath the Western subject who is always understood as a unified whole. Resembling an Oedipal complex, this approach attempts revenge by returning the act of violence that the enemy once inflicted on the native, but in so doing, it reinstates the very ideological discourse that it aims to dismantle (Chow 334).

An alternative approach combats the construction of the native as the direct “other” of the colonizer by “add[ing] to this ‘image’ of the native the ability to look” and a gaze that “witnessed the native’s oppression prior to her becoming image,” or victim (Chow 342). “The agency of the native cannot simply be imagined in terms of a resistance against the image [of victimization] – that is, after the image has been formed…. It needs to be rethought as that which bears witness to its own demolition – in a form that is at once image and gaze, but a gaze that exceeds the moment of colonization” (Chow 342, emphasis in the original). In Otoo’s novel, this interstitial, liminal gaze stems precisely from the inanimate objects that frequently mediate between the aggressor and the victim. As a third actor observing the scene of the crime with a more or less detached attitude, the various narrating objects of the novel do not allow the perpetrator to domesticate Ada with the belittling gaze of a conqueror, while simultaneously forestalling a sentimentalization of suffering that a first-person narration by Ada herself might incur. Thus, the diverse array of inanimate objects evoked in the novel plays against the tension inherent in a binary opposition of the oppressor and the oppressed, thereby granting the female protagonists a level of subjectivity rarely seen in postcolonial novels.

Work Cited: Chow, Rey. “‘Where Have All the Natives Gone?’.” Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Reina Lewis and Sara Mills, Routledge, 2003, pp. 324-349.

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Animating Untold Stories: Sharon Dodua Otoo

MGP editor Elizabeth Sun and Ardo Ali, both participants in our new series of Zoom workshops with authors, reflect on the opening event with Berlin-based writer and activist Sharon Dodua Otoo.

The first installment (March 5) of the Zoom workshop series “Archives of Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News” met an audience of over 130 participants and featured Sharon Dodua Otoo, who read aloud excerpts from her newly published novel Adas Raum and engaged in conversations on multilingualism, the political function of fiction, and the black female’s position in German society.

Organized by Deniz Göktürk (UC Berkeley, Department of German, Multicultural Germany Project and Transit Journal) and Elisabeth Krimmer (UC Davis, German Department, Migration and Aesthetics Project), and co-sponsored by the German Consulate General San Francisco, the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington, and UC Berkeley’s Institute for European Studies, the series includes upcoming conversations with Zafer Senocak (April 2) and Yoko Tawada (April 16) and will continue to showcase the diversity of the German literary scene. “Archives of Migration” seeks to foreground issues with increasing relevance in recent times, such as the rise of anti-migrant and racist sentiments, and the conflation of fake news with truth in an increasingly digitized environment. Repositioning the fiction that is set in opposition to truth, to its literary association, the series of conversations with contemporary writers foregrounds the power of fiction to reanimate and activate.

After publishing her first two Berlin-based novellas in English, Sharon Dodua Otoo went on to win the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2016 with her genre-bending short story “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin [Herr Gröttrup Sits Down].” Otoo’s participation in the kickoff event for “Archives of Migration” brought in the momentum of her very first novel, Adas Raum, published by S. Fischer Verlag and premiered at the Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus just a week earlier (February 23). With introductory remarks by Jon Cho-Polizzi (PhD UC Berkeley, Translator), who is currently working with Otoo on the novel’s English translation, the event balanced both the excitement of Otoo’s book launch and the importance of addressing current conversations on migration, multiculturalism, and minority groups, particularly female-presenting POC’s. As an author and activist with the Initiative for Black People in Germany, Otoo’s political and writerly engagements exemplify the nexus of fiction and social change.

Through both German and English excerpt readings and mediated discussions between Prof. Göktürk, Cho-Polizzi, and Otoo, some central questions guided the workshop:

What does it mean to be German today? What is the role of fiction within political activism? How can a writer conceptualize herself across multilingual spheres?

The conversation surrounding these questions flowed naturally given the scope of Otoo’s debut novel, and the author’s own movement across linguistic and national borders. When asked why she wrote her award-winning short story, “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin,” and the novel Adas Raum in her adopted language of German, Otoo explains that these were stories that principally addressed “critical whiteness” for a German audience, and thus organically grew from the German language. Otoo additionally stressed the importance of multilingualism and how embracing different accents and colloquialisms allows for new levels of intercultural understanding. The title of Adas Raum itself reveals the intricacies and productivity of intercultural translation. Cho-Polizzi’s English translation of the title as Ada’s Realm captures the German word’s meaning as space and realm, but looses the homophonic resemblance to “room” (and the possible allusion to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own). 

Following the lives of four women across 500+ years and the geographical spaces of England, Germany, and Ghana, Adas Raum traces the subjugated individual’s search for recognition and retribution. Despite attempts to categorize the novel as historical fiction, Otoo explains that this is not her intent; rather, Adas Raum is a novel of emotions. It is a novel about the reactivation of violent historical pasts, and the unrelenting ways in which trauma reappears in objects, persons, and interactions. It is a narrative of resistance and rebirth—resistance to dominant narratives written in the colonial voice, and the rebirth, or ascension of the subaltern, post-colonial voice that does not actively reclaim, but waits patiently for retribution and redemption.

Otoo is intentionally using her position as a rising German-language writer to shed light on the sluggish repatriation of African art by European states and private holders. Within Adas Raum, the different female characters are tied together through their association with an ornate, pearl bracelet, which finally reappears as an object listed in the catalogue of a Berlin exhibition. During the workshop, Otoo expressed the hope that her fictional writings might spark political activism. In light of the recent opening of the Humboldt Forum on Berlin’s Museum Island, Otoo remarked that the better allocation of effort and resources would be toward restitution, rather than the continued musealization of artifacts that were stolen during colonial times. Importantly then, Otoo’s contribution to the German literary canon is her determination to reanimate voices that have been systematically excluded within a white-dominated society. It is to give multivalency to the trials of black motherhood and the experiences of navigating the world as a racialized, feminized other. Finally, it is to create new spaces—and rooms—for the historically subdued to finally enter and become heard.

This article is co-written by Elizabeth Sun and UCBerkeley undergraduate student Ardo Ali.

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Hörspiele zum NSU-Prozess: Teil I – “Saal 101”

Saal 101: ARD-Dokumentarhörspiel über den NSU-Prozess | - Kultur -  Hörspiele

The 2021 election year in Germany is destined to be a year of heated political debates on the country’s past and future. While right-wing extremism is still on the rise in some parts of Germany, politicians and legal practitioners are more determined to combat xenophobia and violence than ever. In a new three-part series for the MGP blog, Monika Preuß, research collaborator at the Technical University of Dortmund, directs our attention at a radio documentation of Germany’s largest trial of right-wing terrorism to this date.

You can read an English translation of this text here.

Diese kurze Serie aus drei Blogbeiträgen nimmt Hörspiele in den Blick, die sich mit den Verbrechen des NSU (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund), aber insbesondere auch mit den Versäumnissen in der Aufklärung und dem Gerichtsverfahren auseinandersetzen. Insgesamt wurden bereits acht Hörspiele produziert. Dies zeigt, dass neben Filmen und Fernsehdokumentationen (siehe dazu die Postings von Kumars Salehi vom 20.1 und 21.1) Hörspiele ein wesentliches Element der künstlerischen Auseinandersetzung mit den NSU-Verbrechen und dem NSU-Prozess sind. Das Spektrum der Hörspiele reicht von einem groß angelegten „dokumentarischen“ Hörspielprojekt (Blog Teil I) über Hörspiele, die sich im besonderen Maße mit akustischen Dimensionen des Prozesses bzw. der Vielstimmigkeit und gleichzeitigen Sprachlosigkeit des gesellschaftlichen Diskurses beschäftigen (Blog Teil II) zu Hörspielen, die sich mit einzelnen Morden und Verbrechen auseinandersetzen und die die Perspektive der Opfer in den Vordergrund stellen (Blog Teil III).

Der rechte Terror des Nationalsozialistischen Untergrundes ist viele Jahre unentdeckt geblieben. Von 2000 bis 2006 wurden neun Personen mit türkischem und griechischem Hintergrund und eine Polizistin ermordet. Zunächst ermittelten Behörden in Richtung Drogen- oder organisierte Kriminalität und vernachlässigten Hinweise auf einen rassistischen Hintergrund. Erst als sich Uwe Mundlos und Uwe Böhnhardt nach einem erfolglosen Überfall erschossen und Beate Zschäpe sich der Polizei stellte, nachdem sie die gemeinsame Wohnung angezündet hatte, kamen die Zusammenhänge ans Licht. Dementsprechend war der NSU Prozess vom 6. Mai 2013 bis 11. Juli 2018 mit über einhundert Beteiligten der größte Prozess gegen Rechtsterrorismus in der Bundesrepublik und wurde von der Öffentlichkeit und den Medien intensiv verfolgt. Insbesondere auch die Rolle des Verfassungsschutzes wurde hinterfragt. Nicht alle Aspekte konnten aufgeklärt werden und der Prozess zog sich auch durch viele Verfahrensanträge und Konflikten zwischen der Hauptangeklagten, Beate Zschäpe und ihren Anwälten in die Länge. Beate Zschäpe wurde wegen Brandstiftung, Mitgliedschaft in einer Terrororganisation und der Mittäterschaft bei zehn Morden sowie bei Banküberfällen und zwei Sprengstoffanschlägen zu lebenslanger Haft verurteilt, die Mitangeklagten zu Gefängnisstrafen zwischen zweieinhalb und zehn Jahren.

Das neueste Hörspiel „Saal 101 – Dokumentarhörspiel zum NSU-Prozess”, das von zehn Rundfunkanstalten unter der Leitung des Bayerischen Rundfunks produziert wurde, basiert auf den Mitschriften und Kommentaren der Gerichtsreporter der ARD und des Deutschlandfunks. Sowohl SchauspielerInnen als auch teilweise die GerichtsreporterInnen selbst sprechen die Mitschriften. Ergänzt wird dies durch kurze Interviewsequenzen mit der Chefdramaturgin des Hörspiels und den GerichtsreporterInnen ergänzt. Es ist nach dem „Saal A 101“ im Oberlandesgericht München benannt. In diesem fand der Prozess statt. Das Hörspiel ist in 24 Abschnitte aufgeteilt. Jeder Teil ist um die 30 Minuten lang. Mit einer Gesamtlänge von zehn Stunden und 23 Minuten ist es das längste Hörspiel über den NSU Prozess. Das Hörspiel ist nicht chronologisch organisiert. Vielmehr sind die einzelnen Teile unter thematischen Gesichtspunkten zusammengestellt. So fokussieren manche auf die angeklagten Personen, manche auf die Morde und Sprengstoffanschläge. Andere beleuchten Lebensabschnitte von Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Bönhardt und Uwe Mundlos und ihr Leben im Untergrund. Auch auf die Rolle der verschiedenen Verfassungsschutzbehörden wird in zwei Teilen eingegangen. 

Im ersten Teil “Die Mitschriften” wird der Prozess der Hörspielentstehung thematisiert. Dieser übernimmt somit auch eine poetologische Funktion. Sowohl direkt, als auch indirekt durch die Gestaltung des Hörspiels wird der narrative Prozess offenbart, der sich in der Zusammenstellung der Abschnitte auf Basis von über 6000 Seiten Mitschriften vollzieht. So werden die narrativen Strukturen, die hinter jeder Dokumentation stehen selbst thematisiert (vgl. z.B. 1/24, 01:56ff.). Die Gerichtsprozessen eigene Zeitlichkeit, die sich durch 438 Verhandlungstage, Anträge und Verhandlungspausen und -unterbrechungen auszeichnet, ist dabei ein wiederkehrendes Thema auf verschiedenen Ebenen. So gestalten kleine akustische Zwischenspiele, die an den unregelmäßigen Schlag einer Pendeluhr erinnern, die Übergänge zwischen den einzelnen Abschnitten. 

Auch die medialen Umformungen „Von der Mündlichkeit zur Schriftlichkeit und wieder zur Mündlichkeit“ (1/24, 10:03ff.), die sich dadurch ergeben, dass im deutschen Justizsystem keine elektronischen Aufzeichnungen von Bild oder Ton der eigentlichen Gerichtsverhandlung erlaubt sind, wird im Hörspiel selbst thematisiert.

David Mayonga, Musiker und Buchautor, der sich selbst als „Afro-Bajuware“ (1/24, 00:20) bezeichnet, kontextualisiert das Hörspiel als einen Beitrag dazu, sich jenseits der Kritik, dass der Prozess zu lang gewesen sei, mit diesem und den Strukturen von rechten Netzwerken und den Gefahren, die von ihnen ausgehen, auseinanderzusetzen. Er führt in die jeweiligen Teile thematisch ein und verweist manchmal auch auf andere Episoden. Er spricht die Hörer direkt an und nimmt diese durch die „Wir“-Anrede mit auf einen Gang durch die einzelnen Teile des Hörspiels und der Auseinandersetzung mit den sich aufdrängenden Fragen, z.B. wie die Zusammenhänge der Mordserie so lange unentdeckt bleiben konnte.

Der Ansatz fokussiert auf den Gerichtsprozess und die behördliche sowie gesellschaftliche Auseinandersetzung mit diesem. Es rückt weniger einzelne Verbrechen in den Vordergrund, sondern bemüht sich um ein Bild des Ganzen. So entstand ein Hörspiel, dass viele Elemente der medialen Berichtserstattung wiederaufleben lässt, durch die Ansprache des Hörers und die themenorientierte Zusammenstellung aber auch neue Eindrücke und Einsichten ermöglicht.

Das Hörspiel wurde zuerst am 19.02 und 20.02.2021 gesendet. Bis zum 19.02.2022 ist es möglich, das Hörspiel anzuhören und herunterzuladen: Es ist auch auf CD veröffentlicht.

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The NSU Trial in Radio Plays: Part I – “Saal 101”

Saal 101: ARD-Dokumentarhörspiel über den NSU-Prozess | - Kultur -  Hörspiele

The 2021 election year in Germany is destined to be a year of heated political debates on the country’s past and future. While right-wing extremism is still on the rise in some parts of Germany, politicians and legal practitioners are more determined to combat xenophobia and violence than ever. In a new three-part series for the MGP blog, Monika Preuß, research collaborator at the Technical University of Dortmund, directs our attention at a radio documentation of Germany’s largest trial of right-wing terrorism to this date.

You can read this post in the original German here.

This short three-part blog series takes a look at radio plays on the crimes of the National Socialist Underground (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund, NSU) and the failure and problems during the investigations and the court proceedings. Until now eight radio plays have been produced. This shows that radio plays are, next to films and television documentations (see the posts from Kumars Salehi from 1/20 and 1/21), an essential part of the artistic media’s engagement with these topics. The scope of the radio play is big. It is a “documentary” radio play project with 24 episodes (Part I) that specifically investigate the acoustic aspects of the trial, as well as the diversity of voices and the simultaneous loss of voices in social discourse (Part II), while shedding light on the individual murders and crimes committed and the effects they had on the victims (Part III).

The right-wing terror of the NSU remained undiscovered for a long time. Between 2000 and 2006 NSU members murdered nine persons with turkish and greek background and one police officer. At first the police investigated in the direction of drug crimes and organized criminality and neglected evidence that points to the organization’s racist ideology. The connections were not drawn until Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt had committed suicide after an unsuccessful bank robbery, and after Beate Zschäpe had turned herself to the police after burning the house she shared with Mundlos and Böhnhardt. The subsequent NSU Trial from May 6, 2013 to July 11, 2018 was, with over one hundred persons involved, the largest trial of right-wing terrorism in Germany. The public and media worldwide observed the court proceedings and closely traced the role of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV). It was widely discussed why the authorities were not able to prevent or at least reveal those crimes. Not all aspects could be clarified, and the trial became a lengthy proceeding due to procedural measures and conflicts between the main defendant, Beate Zschäpe, and her lawyers.  Beate Zschäpe was sentenced to life imprisonment for arson, membership in a terrorist organization, complicity in ten murders, robberies, and two bomb attacks. The co-defendants were sentenced to imprisonments between two and a half and ten years. 

The very recent production of “Saal 101 – Dokumentarhörspiel zum NSU-Prozess” by ten radio stations led by Bavarian Broadcasting is based on the notes and comments of court reporters from ARD and Deutschlandfunk. The transcripts of the court proceedings were dubbed by actors and sometimes also by the reporters themselves. Some short interview parts with the scenario editor of the radio play and the court reporters complement the texts. The radio play is named after the “Saal A 101,” in which the court proceedings took place. “Saal 101” consists of 24 parts. With each episode lasting about thirty minutes, it is the longest radio play on the NSU. The radio play is not organized chronologically, but thematically. Some focus on single defendants, some on the murders and the bomb attacks. Others reveal different stages of Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Böhnhardt, and Uwe Mundlos’s life in the underground. The role of the BfV is also featured in two episodes.

The first episode – “Die Mitschriften” – thematizes the process of producing the radio play. The narrative process takes place through a thematic compilation of 6,000 pages of audio transcripts into different sections. One of the actors also directly names the process of turning the spoken testimonies into notes and then back into spoken words (cf. 1/24, 10:03ff.). This is necessary because filming and audio recordings are not allowed during German court proceedings.

David Mayonga, a self-proclaimed “Afro-Bajuvare”  (1/24, 00:20; Bajuvare here refers to being from Bavaria), introduces every episode, sums up the main issues discussed, and sometimes also draws connections to other episodes. He speaks directly to the listener and also uses the pronoun “we” throughout the episodes while raising questions such as why it took so much time for the authorities to discover the right-wing extremist nature of the crimes.

The radio play does not focus on single crimes in depth, but tries to paint a broad picture using the court proceedings as the central point. It reiterates many elements from existing media reports, but also facilitates new impressions and insights through a direct address to the audience and its thematically oriented format.

 “Saal 101” was first aired on February 19 and 20, 2021. It was also published in CD format and is available for download at until February 19, 2022.

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Jule Thiemann: Digitale Fluchtnarrative und Postmigrantische Perspektiven

Copyright Bild: Adnan Samman; Website: Weiter Schreiben – Ein Portal für Literatur aus Kriegs- und Krisengebieten; einsehbar unter

The latest installment in our Mission Possible series of reflections on the future of German Studies comes courtesy of Dr. Jule Thiemann of the University of Hamburg’s Institut für Germanistik, who argues that the field must turn towards expanding the field of canonical literature to include postmigrant engagement with small forms, digital modes of writing ranging from social media posts to the online curation of poetry and prose by refugees. She writes that centering cultural production from marginalized and precarious voices requires challenging predominant categories of transnational and refugee literature currently delimited by institutions of publication, distribution, and criticism.

Digitale Fluchtnarrative und Postmigrantische Perspektiven: 

Marginalisierte Stimmen – Marginalisierte Formen?

Literarisches Schreiben von nach Deutschland geflüchteten Autor*innen erfährt zwar seit der sogenannten ›Flüchtlingskrise‹ im Jahr 2015 seitens der deutschen Mehrheitsgesellschaft und des Literaturbetriebs verstärkt Interesse und wird von Kulturinstitutionen und staatlichen Initiativen gefördert, verbleibt jedoch noch allzu häufig jenseits der Grenze des Sichtbaren: Die Texte, teilweise in autofiktivem Schreibgestus verfasst, um Themen wie Flucht und Vertreibung, Ankunft und Neubeginn changierend, erscheinen oftmals als kurze Prosastücke – z.B. Essays, Briefe, Blogbeiträge, Feuilletons, Graphic Novels, Comics (vgl. z.B. die Comic-Reportagen Alphabet des Ankommens, unter: – auf digitalen Plattformen, deren Agenda es ist, der Literatur Geflüchteter eine Bühne zu geben (vgl. z.B. das Projekt Weiter Schreiben zur Förderung von Autor*innen mit Fluchterfahrung unter:,  oder aber in den sozialen Medien, z.B. auf twitter oder facebook

Der Sprung in einen etablierten Verlag gelingt jedoch (bisher) nur wenigen Autor*innen: Etablierte Autoren sind u.a. Abbas Khider, Saša Stanišić und Senthuran Varatharajah. Jüngst ausgezeichnet wurde außerdem das lyrische Werk der aus Syrien geflüchteten Dichterin Lina Atfah. Ist dieser ›Sprung‹ erst einmal geschafft, so verändert die Sichtbarkeit, die ein Buchvertrag mit sich bringt, nicht nur die Position der Schreibenden, sondern auch deren Texte: Bis zur Publikation durchlaufen diese mehrere Lektorat- und Korrekturschleifen, teilweise werden sie aus der Erstsprache der Autor*innen ins Deutsche übersetzt. Nach der Übersetzung, dem Lektorat und Korrektorat, erscheinen dann die mit Labels wie ›Transnationale Literatur‹; ›Interkulturelle Literatur‹ oder ›Fluchtliteratur‹ versehenen Texte als auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt sichtbare Prosa. Mit der Aufnahme in ein Verlagsprogramm greift ein Mechanismus der Etablierung und vor allem der Aufwertung von Texten durch eine Autorität.

Digital veröffentlichte Fluchtnarrative (Tweets, Blogposts, Briefe etc.) hingegen lassen sich oftmals formal einem etablierten literarischen Genre zuordnen: der ›Kleinen Form‹. Die literaturwissenschaftliche und literaturtheoretische Verhandlung Kleiner Formen hat derzeit Konjunktur (vgl. z.B. das DFG-Graduiertenkolleg Literatur- und Wissensgeschichte kleiner Formen, unter: und kann als theoretische Rahmung für die Untersuchung dieser digitalen Kurztexte verstanden werden. In diesem Sinne soll gefragt werden, ob sich mit den Fluchtnarrativen in Kleinform nicht gar neue Schreibverfahren sowie Praktiken der (Selbst-)Veröffentlichung etablieren, die eine postmigrantische, flüchtige Realität abbilden. 

So muss sich die Germanistik auch der Frage stellen, ob das Fach es derzeit nicht versäumt, digital publizierte Kurztexte als neue Formen postmigrantischen Schreibens zu untersuchen: Denn sind online publizierte, nicht-lektorierte Texte, denen (wenn überhaupt!) noch ein langer Weg bis zur Rezeption durch ein größeres Publikum oder gar ein Platz in den Bestsellerlisten bevorsteht, nicht eben aufgrund der Unmittelbarkeit ihrer Publikationswege ein wichtiges literarisches Zeugnis der Gegenwart, dem wissenschaftliche Betrachtung gebührt? Welche Reichweite haben diese digitalen Prosastücke, und können sie nicht gerade ob ihrer Positionierung im Internet eine viel größere Sichtbarkeit erreichen, aufgrund ihrer digitalen, uneingeschränkten Distribution? Und was passiert mit solchen Texten, die anfangs ausschließlich digital publiziert werden, bald jedoch im Feuilleton gedruckt oder in Anthologien veröffentlicht werden? Diese Fragen werden Forschende der Germanistik in den nächsten Jahrzehnten beschäftigen. 

Dabei könnte beispielsweise ein Fokus der zukünftigen literatur- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Analysen auf der Auseinandersetzung mit dem Selbstverständnis der Schreibenden als geflüchtete Autor*innen (autofiktive und metapoetologische Kommentierungen, Ablehnung und Reclaiming von Fremdzuschreibungen und Labels als produktive Verfahren, etc.) liegen. Die Texte können als Versuchsanordnungen und künstlerische Selbstbefragungen gelesen werden, im Rahmen derer die Autor*innen in einem neuen Land, einer neuen Stadt und nicht zuletzt in einer neuen Literaturlandschaft Fuß fassen.  

Why German Studies today? Weil wir als Germanist*innen eine Verantwortung dafür tragen, neue literarische Formen und Verfahren der Gegenwart, auch abseits etablierter Publikationswege, zu erforschen. Nur wenn sich die germanistische Forschung für postmigrantische und digitale Schreibweisen öffnet, kann sie den neuartigen künstlerischen Dynamiken und der Schnelllebigkeit von Literatur zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts gerecht werden.


Alphabet des Ankommens, Webauftritt, online abrufbar unter: (zuletzt eingesehen am 21.02.2021)

DFG-Graduiertenkolleg Literatur- und Wissensgeschichte kleiner Formen, Webauftritt, online abrufbar unter: (zuletzt eingesehen am 21.02.2021)

Weiter Schreiben, Webauftritt, online abrufbar unter: (zuletzt eingesehen am 21.02.2021)

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