About cacostabileheming

I'm a professor of German at the University of North Texas

Musings on travel and terrorism

Summer is the time for vacations. For academics, especially those of us in language, cultural and area studies, it’s a time to reconnect with our objects of study. For me, that means Germany, most specifically Berlin. I’ve lived there multiple times since 1990, that tumultuous year when East and West Berlin started relearning how to be one city.

Berlin always feels unfinished, an attribute that even art historian Karl Scheffler noted back in 1910. It’s that edginess, that constant change, the unexpected surprise around the corner. I feel at home in Berlin, which is an odd statement, since every time I visit, I first have to reorient myself, for given its transitional nature, there is always some kind of change since my last visit. Since I spend the majority of my time in the historic center, still being (re)constructed, this is no surprise.

But there are also parts of Berlin that have undergone fewer changes in the last decades. Here I think of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) and the Breitscheidplatz, the public space that was rocked by terror last December, when a truck plowed into pedestrians enjoying the Christmas market there. How will this space have changed? How are such acts of terrorism changing public spaces in London, Nice, Paris, Brussels…..? And how do the consequences of these acts affect our relationship to these spaces?

For now, I don’t have any answers. Stay tuned, for my next installment in July….from Berlin!

Works cited:

Scheffler, Karl. 1910. Berlin. Ein Stadtschicksal. 2nd ed. Berlin: Erich Reiss Verlag.

The relationship between universities and the cities where they are located

Steven J. Diner discusses his new book, Universities and Their Cities: Urban Higher Education in America, in a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed. Read the interview here: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/04/author-discusses-new-book-relationships-including-tensions-over-race-and-economics?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=a5c8c771da-DNU20170504&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-a5c8c771da-197367501&mc_cid=a5c8c771da&mc_eid=8edda0c773


The Other Berlin Zoo: The Tierpark Friedrichsfelde

The impact of some forty years of division on the city of Berlin manifested itself in interesting ways in terms of cultural, recreational, and social activities. While most people think immediately of the physical barricade in the form of the Berlin Wall as it impacted traffic patterns and cut through streets and neighborhoods, the division also forced both sides of the city to create mirrored recreational and cultural opportunities. For many cultural institutions that existed in the East such as museums and opera houses, West Berlin needed a cultural equivalent. But what about recreational areas? The Berlin Zoological Garden is a well-known tourist destination and beloved by Berliners as well. But, Berlin actually has two zoos: The Tierpark Friedrichsfelde was founded in 1955 on the grounds of the Friedrichsfelde Palace as an attempt by the East Berlin city magistrate to provide recreation for East Berliners, and thus also encourage East Berliners to remain in their half of the city, for at the time, the borders between East and West were still fluid. Deutschland Archiv has published an interview with the journalist Jan Mohnhaupt about the competition between the two zoos. You can read the full interview here.

Looking for intentional monuments in Berlin

Last week, I was exploring the topic of resistance during the Third Reich with my students in a German conversation and composition class. One student brought up the question of gender differences in the resistance movement, and explained a research project that she had worked on a few semesters ago about the Rosenstraße Demonstration (1943). In February 1943, police gathered some 2000 Jews (mostly men married to non-Jewish women) and held them in the Jewish community building at Rosenstraße 2-4. The partners feared that the men would be deported to one of the concentration campus. Over the course of several days, some 200 non-Jewish Germans demonstrated outside the building, calling for the release of the inhabitants. Ultimately, all but 25 of the prisoners were released. The protest was the topic of the 2003 film Rosenstraße (dir. Margarete von Trotta), which may have served to popularize it, but it is still relatively unknown. None of the other students in the class had heard of it.

Coincidentally, I have been rereading Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia (2001), particularly the distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia. Boym draws on Alois Riegl’s concepts of intentional and unintentional monuments. Both sets of concepts present an interesting framework for my research on the construction of monuments in the city of Berlin. There is a monument that commemorates the Rosenstraße demonstration, on a small side in the former Jewish quarter street near the Hackesche Höfe and in the shadow of Alexanderplatz, both of which are popular tourist destinations in Berlin.

During summer 2016, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Berlin, and the view from my hotel room looked out onto the Rosenstraße memorial. Despite its proximity to popular attractions, traffic to the site is minimal. This prompted me to ponder why and reflect on what kind of memorial this might be.

As Boym explains it, an intentional monument tries to mark a specific moment in time and make it meaningful for the present. By contrast, an unintentional monument occurs does not seek to commemorate. Certainly, the Rosenstraße memorial is intended to mark a specific event from history. But the visitors I witnessed last summer did not seem intentional. Rather, it appeared that they had stumbled upon the site by accident. Nonetheless, I also witnessed their desire to learn and engage with the monument as well.

I invite readers to share their experiences about monuments and Berlin or their other favorite cities and to consider if these monuments do imbue the present with meaning.