Just as Berlin as a political, social, ethnic, and material entity has undergone considerable change since 1989, so too the cinematic representations of the new capital over the last twenty years or so have projected a diverse set of images of the city. This article considers a selection of fiction films that can be grouped together under three broad thematic category headings: those dealing with Berlin's past, those addressing the city's multicultural identity and, most substantially, those films in which the capital of the new "Berlin Republic" can be read as a metaphor for postunification Germany. What all three categories have in common, it is argued, is that the image of Berlin that emerges from most of these films remains an overwhelmingly negative one, with the city portrayed predominantly as a site of either conflict or disorientation.
Berlin's “Holocaust Trail“
Maria Pia Di Bella
Since the early 1990s, Berlin has developed what I call a “Holocaust trail“-circa twenty-five officially dedicated memorial sites recalling significant historical events leading to the Final Solution-without acknowledging it yet as a “trail.“ Berlin is already well known for its two famous museums-memorials: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (2005) and the Jewish Museum (2001), two strong statements meant to show how the town deals with the heritage of the Holocaust, how it tries to underline the absolute impossibility of its erasure from social memory and to fight revisionism. The different memorial sites of the Holocaust trail came into existence thanks to multiple initiatives that allowed the town to become a true laboratory for the politics of memory concerning the crimes of the Nazi state and the sufferings of the Jewish citizens that fell victim to the state's genocide.
Chisanga N. Siame
A central argument of this article is that Isaiah Berlin's notion of cultural pluralism can be described as relativistic, and that he should not have repudiated the relativism, but simply defended it as part of the reality of the global constellation of cultures. Berlin's relativism emerges into a more generous light, in which radical differences among cultures occupy centre stage. Focusing on cultural relativism and its possible sources in Berlin unveils the neglected role that his famed concept of 'negative' liberty plays in assuring the distinctiveness of individual cultures and shared humanity, both of which constitute cultural pluralism. I conclude that Berlin's notion of cultural pluralism is relativistic based not only on substantive evidence, but also on a more realistic definition of the concept. Moreover, his conception of cultural pluralism and in particular its relativism highlight the subjects of cultural identity and autonomy in a world of immense power imbalances among nations and peoples.
Wolfgang Kil and Hilary Silver
Ethnic enclaves in West Berlin and now, East Berlin are located in denigrated areas of high unemployment, poverty, and devalued or high-rise public housing, but they are also places where immigrants are slowly integrating into the larger city and German society. Despite different national origins and different conditions and periods in which they arrived, socially excluded Vietnamese, Russian, and other migrants to East Berlin are following local incorporation paths surprisingly similar to those of the Turks in West Berlin. In both Kreuzberg and Marzahn, the rise of multicultural forms and events, economic niches, and ethnic associations make local life attractive and ultimately, contribute to immigrant incorporation and neighborhood revitalization.
How does one deal with diversity in an organization known to be hostile to it? Drawing on a Weberian perspective I present in this article one case occurring in actual historical practice: that of Inspector Bobkowski, a teacher, chief of the political education unit at the Berlin police academy and training center, and a hobby historian. With an eye to the case at hand as well as other efforts to deal with difference under the Weimar Republic encountered during my fieldwork, I attempt to uncover the motives underlying the action of officers who contributed to the promotion of diversity within the police force in Germany. Inquiring into their motives enables me to construct an ideal type of a “carrier of diversity,” which, I argue, shares affinities with a liberal agenda of civic equality.
Back to Being Jewish?
In this ethnographic essay, I reflect on the origins and present condition of the new (post-2010) Israeli diaspora in Berlin. Based on 10 months of participant observation, I map out the main sub-streams of this emigration; elicit the economic, professional, and political reasons for leaving Israel; and explore these émigrés’ initial encounter with German society. My observations suggest that many Israeli residents of Berlin (mostly secular) rediscover their Jewishness along diasporic lines and forge ties with the local religious and community organizations. Being a small minority in the German-speaking milieu, Israelis invest in building their own Hebrew-based community networks, including media outlets and cultural and educational institutions. Lastly, I explore these émigrés’ ties with Israel and conclude that many Israelis in Berlin are sojourners rather than immigrants and that Berlin is but one phase in their life journey.
Global Memory, Trauma and the 'Negative Sublime'
Andrew S. Gross
This essay argues that the construction of the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Berlin Holocaust Memorial constitutes a paradigm shift in Holocaust commemoration in Germany. The structures architecturally resemble their US counterparts and particularly the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum more than they do the other memorials and museums in Berlin’s complex commemorative landscape. American responses to the European catastrophe have significantly impacted European commemorative forms. Indeed, an internationally recognizable memorial architecture seems to be emerging, one emphasizing gaps, voids, incongruities and the personal relation to what theorists and commentators have begun to call ‘negative’ or ‘evil sublime’. Contemporary memorials and museums are not designed to ‘merely’ house collections; rather, they draw attention to themselves as symbols and symptoms of traumatic memory. They act out the trauma of the Holocaust as architecture; walking through them is supposed to be a step towards working through that trauma as feeling and experience.
Auto-ethnographical Reflections at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Victoria Bishop Kendzia
This article explores the issue of ethnic attributions versus options pertaining to Jewishness in Germany. The methodology is a combination of standard ethnographic fieldwork with Berlin-based high-school students before, during and after visits to the Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) and auto-ethnography detailing and analysing my own experiences in and outside of the research sites. My goal is to illustrate particularities of interactions in sites like the JMB by contrasting the way in which Jewishness is handled in and outside of the standardised research situation. Further, the material points to continuities between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. My analysis aims to open up further, productive discussion on this point.
Engaging German-Jewishness at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Jackie Feldman and Anja Peleikis
The Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) is a dynamic, performative space that negotiates between representing the Jew as an integral part of German history and as ultimate Other. While this tension has been documented through the political history of the museum (Lackmann 2000; Pieper 2006; Young 2000), we focus on the dynamics of guided tours and special events. We claim that guiding and festival events at JMB marginalise Holocaust memory and present an image of Jews of the past that promotes a multicultural vision of present-day Germany. In guiding performances, the identity of the guide as German/Jewish/Muslim is part of the guiding performance, even when not made explicit. By comparing tour performances for various publics, and the 'storytelling rights' granted by the group, we witness how visitors' scripts and expectations interact with the museum's mission that it serve as a place of encounter (Ort der Begegnung). As German-Jewish history at JMB serves primarily as a cosmopolitan template for intercultural relations, strongly affiliated local Jews may not feel a need for the museum. Organised groups of Jews from abroad, however, visit it as part of the Holocaust memorial landscape of Berlin, while many local Jews with weaker affiliations to the Jewish community may find it an attractive venue for performing their more fluid Jewish identities – for themselves and for others.
Hope M. Harrison
Initially after the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and its state-sponsored demolition over the following year, only a handful of sites remained with pieces of the Berlin Wall still standing. These were magnets for foreign tourists, but Germans themselves, including German officials, were far more interested in creating a united future than in preserving parts of the divided past. With the passage of time, however, the Germans have increasingly come to believe in the importance of explaining the history of the Wall, commemorating its victims, and preserving its few authentic remains in Berlin. This article examines several key moments and debates in the process of the Germans coming-to-terms with the history of the Wall. It charts the process whereby the public and political leaders have devoted greater attention to the Wall in recent years, particularly on the occasions of the fifteenth and twentieth anniversaries of the fall of the Wall in 2004 and 2009 and the fiftieth anniversary of the erection of the Wall in 2011. Finally, the article analyzes lessons German politicians are drawing from the history of the Berlin Wall.