Author Archive

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Never Again

June 23, 2010

Never again

The saying “never again” or some variation on it is embedded in the nomenclature of Germany.  Summing up the idea that the holocaust and atrocities under Hitler should never be repeated, “never again” is almost a mantra.

So throughout my stay in Berlin, I became thoroughly acquainted with many of the exhibits, museums, memorial sites and other places that really drive home the idea that theses types of atrocities should never happen again.

Maybe I am cynical or just plain jaded, but I keep asking myself over and over and over again how exactly these memorials make a never again scenario even remotely possible. And after a few weeks of reflection I have come to many conclusions and here are a few….

It is possible that the memorials and sites of reflection do, in fact, get the ball rolling and the conversation started about humanity, life, and the extermination of it. Maybe the thousands of tourists that come and see theses cites in Berlin each year go back to their homes and respective communities and really spread the word about how brutal humans can be. Maybe much more of the world is now better versed in the dark aspects of German history. Better yet, perhaps everyone goes home and votes for policies and politicians that do not resemble the ugly history they have just seen firsthand.

Not just tourists, however, are effected by the memorial cites. One group of people who are thankful for the memorial cites are those persons who decided to become history majors because without tourism and memorial cites, many of them would be out of a job. At nearly every memorial cite or exhibition our class went to, I made it a habit to ask the speaker/guide about their academic background, and the large majority were history majors.

The city of Berlin and the country of Germany benefit as well–the memorials act as a huge Public Relations boost by making public apologies and large and expensive measures to regain the trust of the public. In fact, I would say that from a PR perspective the Germans have done far better at Vergangenheitsbewältigung than any other country guilty of similar crimes.

But alas, after reflecting and expounding upon my experience I have come to the conclusion that these memorials and sites seem like the biggest Elephant in a room ever.

People are so caught up in wanting to go see the tourist attractions that in their journey to remember the past by exploring history they forget about the history that is be created as we speak. It feels as though spending ones time to learn about genocide and then not actively engaging conversation and activism related to contemporary genocides being committed in Darfur and Palestine is counterproductive to the learning achieved at a memorial cite.

Especially at GDR prison, I got this overwhelming feeling of guilt because of my country’s policy on torture. Here I was at a former prison where torture tactics were used readily and frequently and many of them, especially the water torture and sleep deprivation, seemed very analogous to tactics used at Guantanamo Bay. But is this a feeling that is shared by all? When hundreds and hundreds of American tourists come and visit this site, do they somehow leave with a changed view of U.S. foreign policy? The statistics gauging US support for torture would tell a different story, with at least half of all Americans supporting torture at one time or another.

And to close, aside from the genocide and violence perpetrated against countless human beings that is still happening despite these memorials in place, other negative elements from the “bad years” memorialized are still ever-present in western society and culture. To list a few: homophobia, racism, classism, the “othering” of humans (especially gypsies), and anti-intellectualism.

Finally, I admit that, yes, apologies need to be made and histories need to be accurately told from all points of views and perspectives. However, I argue that the idea of “never again” should be the focus. And for this student, I saw far too many inconsistencies in my great stay in Berlin between memorials and actually following through with “Never Again”.

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KISS and Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung

June 21, 2010

As per part of our study in Berlin it is our task to evaluate how well Germany has done with remembering their past and trying to move forward. In Germany this process, this ever changing vibe and flow in regards to the past, present, and future is referred to with a word far too big, to ever properly translate into English, Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

Essentially, describing how a country deals with its historical skeletons in their closet be it genocide, slavery, imperialism, war, or the holocaust, the really long German word aforementioned is one of the core themes of our class.

 Thanks to my graduate education my eye has been keenly trained to interpret all physical space and look far beyond the material manifestations in front of me. For that reason, I am able to interpret even the most innocuous details or aspects of the city in an effort to bring to the forefront what ever theoretical disposition I am working from.

 Well, upon arriving in Berlin I became aware of advertisements for my favorite band KISS who were coming to play the O2 center as part of their latest world tour.

German Concert Flyer

However, after glancing at the advertisement, I noticed a stark difference between the logo on the advertisement and the actual logo of the band. To make this clearer I took a picture of a man in a KISS shirt on his way to the concert.

Notice the difference in the band’s logo from t-shirt to German advertisement for the band. The bands original logo is present on the t-shirt with the letter s in a lighting bolt style with the advertisement having modified the font for the letter S.

As per explanations for this discrepancy I am sure there are as many as the day is long. However, I claim it has much to do with the idea of Vergangenheitsbewältigung and the German establishment and or government attempting to not invoke any king of nostalgia for Germany’s past especially under Hitler’s third Reich. And as per this agenda the rules and regulations regarding use of the swastika in any manner are band as well as a restriction of free speech in general. In German as I understand it, there is no guarantee whatsoever of freedom of speech and the alteration of this bands logo stand as evidence.

Relegating this against the American experience I commend Germany and give them a completely satisfactory score in relation to remaining culturally and historically sensitive in regards to speech and art production in their country. To this day America continues to add insult to injury with professional sports teams being named the Redskins, the Braves, and even in California a high school football team referred to as the “wetbacks”.

Nonetheless, Germany has not done such a good job that it does not deserve the same level of critical analyses as my country does. In that vain I think it is fair to engage the whole picture as in relates to the KISS logo.

Founded in the early, 70’s by front men Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons the current logo for KISS came about after long discussion. And in that discussion the idea of the letter s for the band being done in a lighting bolt style almost entirely revolved around the idea of it looking cooler than a regular s, not any nostalgic throwback to the Nazi SS or Hitler. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Gene Simmons was actually born in Israel and his mother was a Holocaust survivor.

So if Gene Simmons himself and his mother (who has attended every kiss concert ever played in NYC) did not find any offense to the lighting bolt style s for the band logo, it does not seem logical for Germany to modify the logo.

I mean where or how do they even begin to draw the line between what is blatantly offensive and what is benevolently so. Understandably, benevolent racism or ignorance can be just as harmful if not more so as the manifest form (see AVATAR). But in a sense almost anything can be interpreted as innocently malicious. I mean not drawing a line can provide for some large inconsistencies that could make the force trying to implement Vergangenheitsbewältigung hypocritical and maybe even complicit in the process they are trying to manipulate and or overcome.

So to close I will now continue on a small tangent channeling the discrepancy I see in German application of Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

So if the logo of the band KISS can be so insightful or feared by the government why even allow the band to play in the country at all. Why allow the songs on the radio and the endless promotion for the band thorough the city when they are on tour if you think they mean ill with their logo. And if it is really the lightning style letter s that offends German sensibilities then why stop with KISS. Why not sensor or modify issues of National Geographic that cover lighting storms, prohibit all Germans from being outside in a lighting storm to prevent them from viewing it.

I mean aside form lighting bolts many things can be interpreted in a bad fashion going against a positive notion of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. For example if you ever watch superman fly his position resembles a Nazi soldier salute, however I have yet to see a modified superman in flight.

And finally I don’t k now where the blame lies but for certain be it Vergangenheitsbewältigung or just a new international norm understood the world over the Hitler/ Himmler style moustache can not been see on to many faces if any at all in today’s world.  And if it is not illegal in Germany to have this style of facial hair I could definitely see it being next on the chopping block if the style were to become popular again.

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I heart OST Berlin

May 26, 2010

There is something truly magical for me about the city of East Berlin. I have always been enamored by the city and urban space itself. Historically, cities have always been a safe haven for radicals, punks, the addicted, homosexuals, queers, and artists. Enamored cannot even begin to describe the very special connection I feel to this incredible city. It is a city amongst cites it’s a top dog it massive and full of life and energy, revolutionary spirit with history seeping from the pores of everything in the city.

The city is soooooo beautiful. The art is amazing; the city is plastered with a colorful skin of graffiti mainly composed of overt political language and tags of peoples names and crews.  Right near the train station there is a vinyl sign that reads “suicide circus’ (pic coming soon) and underneath is a glorious masterpiece for all getting off the train to see.

            The city is ripe for organizing and social reproduction. Around every corner there is a park, or a plot of benches, or wide open spaces where people can picnic and relax in PUBLIC.

            Some would describe East Berlin as dirty and unclean. However, I would strongly disagree. East Berlin isn’t trashy or dirty its well used, lived in, genuinely experienced by a diverse and beautiful public. It is clearly evident that East Berlin has many many more functions than those lending towards a more capitalist nature.

            And lastly for this post….a nod to Nationalism.

If you had asked me three days ago weather or not I was an American Nationalist I would more than likely have responded with a long draw out history via Howard Zinn ultimately concluding on some ridiculous tangent about how I plan to renounce my citizenship after completing my PHD in western critical theory. However, being in EAST Berlin, seeing the wall meeting the people, and becoming acquainted with city I can see and understand the nationalistic culture surrounding the city.

Part of the wall at Potsdasmer Plotz

I have observed first hand what it is to live in a city that was once your and no longer. The architecture and the streets and even the air stand as a constant reminder of a city and a life that is no longer. I feel as though if this was my experience the city would haunt me constantly making me urn for the city that once was the city I once loved the community and the environment I was once apart of. Translating this observation to my experience as an American, I realized that REGARDLESS, of the history associated with a particular state, be it the GDR and its violent authoritarian overtones or America and its own Authoritarian overtones of slavery, genocide, and torture the country is the peoples. America, weather or not I agree with her, she is my lady, my peoples, America is my home girl, and as her friend, her brother, and comrade I owe it to her and the other people inhabiting it to constantly be there for her through better and worse. Because if America really wants to be just and be a truly incredible country she needs support help and people constantly pointing her in the right direction.

Adam Uddin (Living my Utopia)

P.S. Uncle Karl has a very comfy lap,

Uncle Karl

P.S.S.  Were going to see baby white tigers fed by bottle tomorrow at the zoo.