I am writing this on my iPhone, because my laptop is currently non-functional. (So please excuse the lack of formatting and pictures; I will make an effort to come back and add those when I am able.) I had 4 parts replaced the week before I left for Germany, but alas, my Mac has failed on me again in the worst possible place and time. Surviving with just my phone for now will have to do until I get my computer fixed, much to my frustration. But! I'm in Berlin, the weather is finally starting to warm up and be sunny, I can do most things with my research without my laptop, and I'm with friends. Alles Gut.
In class this past week, I had a riveting discussion with a classmate as we talked about this week's reflection prompt: how have our experiences in Berlin thus far changed our perspective on German and Berlin identity? I'm not really sure I had a clear idea or guess of what a German identity was before I arrived, but I figured it would be marked similarly to an American identity, like "an American is someone who values freedom, pursuit of happiness, and equality." (Though one can argue that these things are not true in the current state of US society.) A German would be similar-- "a German is someone who...." But I'm finding that this identity is harder to pinpoint than I thought.
One of our peers had mentioned that no one in Germany would ever say that they are "German," but rather that they are "from Germany." I thought this was really interesting, because "I am American" is something that we say all the time without thought, even if we don't have a strong connection to the country. I think this realization complicates the question of what it means to be German, and to a further extent, a Berliner. I think this observation is especially obvious when thinking about the architecture and places in and around Berlin. Another thing we talked about in class is how Germany on the whole, we felt, was very good at facing and confronting their past. On the visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, I noticed that while most things had been destroyed post-liberation, many sites were preserved and today the area serves as a memorial for the Holocaust. Places like this are everywhere-- not necessarily concentration camps, but preserved sites that remind the public of the past. On our tour of the Reichstag, for example, graffiti done by Soviet soldiers as they tried to overtake Berlin still remains a part of the architecture, maintained because it's a part of German history.
These thoughts are only really relevant for a person who has been engulfed in German history and culture for most of their life-- so someone who was born in Germany and/or has several generations of family from Germany. But another interesting topic brought up this week was immigration and migrants in Germany. I learned that it is terribly difficult to become a citizen of Germany due to legal navigations and harsh restrictions on living and working as an immigrant, and this brought up the question of migrant identity. When Rhissa, a former occupant of a refugee camp in Oranienplatz, came to speak to our class, he explained that Italy was "responsible" for him, since that's where he entered the continent after coming from Africa by boat. So he couldn't go back to his home country when he was forced from Germany, but instead was sent to Italy. His experience is not unique-- and this migrant identity is undoubtedly complicated. Where are you "from" when where you're from you cannot return to without much struggle and sacrifice? How can you see yourself fitting into a society that actively, legally, socially, economically, rejects you? These are difficult topics to think about, but it's an interesting lens to think through when we've really only focused on the "typical" German identity, and not the migrant identity.
I can't help but make connections to American history when I think about identity formation. In my preliminary research for my proposal, I found that the only slavery memorial (besides the one erected in New York in March of this year) in America is a statue of a standing white man leading a crawling black man to freedom. How telling of how our society feels about slavery and our past-- we are not ashamed. We do not acknowledge the horrors done at the hands of white people, only the good things we eventually did, even if these good deeds were often done disingenuously. The confederate flag still flies in America. No Nazi symbols or paraphernalia is allowed in Germany. The American identity remains strong, unaffected by the shameful past. The German identity is fractured, unable to be pieced back together, after continuing to face the repercussions of the history.
I'm really looking forward to delving more into my research project, which has a lot to do with comparing national identity in America and Germany. I've already gotten some interesting survey results from the American perspective, and I look forward to see if my impressions of German identity are correct when I receive responses from Berlin inhabitants.