Group results – Pedagogical concepts for the year 2100

While working on pedagogical methods for the year 2100, our group’s first issue was what kind of topic to chose in history and from what perspective to approach it? Should we speak about a long term reality such as the Berlin wall, should we pick a specific moment in time such as spring 1968 or some other iconic event? And also, should we conceive the class as a history lesson (and then, how do you go about it with objectivity?) or a class where we “teach” a value?

We decided on choosing the construction of the Berlin wall in August 1961 and treating it as an even relevant for building (material and non-material) borders. The intention behind building the wall, defining two separate German states, was made reality with deciding on a more or less arbitrary location. On the one hand, we also though about the fact that physical division preceded the mental one, but, as a later visit to “West: Berlin. Eine Insel auf der Suche nach Festland” showed (for example, in the creation of separate currency for West Germany in 1948), mental divisions had already been created.

Our lesson for the year 2100 targeted adults that work as public servants, so that the lesson bears reminding of the fact that from their position, they can either reinforce the laws and customs without giving any thought to how just or oppressive they are, or they can keep a critical eye on their daily routines and question, if necessary, the authority.

The lesson would, on the one hand, be a multimedia immersion. Footage of personal experiences of people with similar position to theirs who had experienced the building of the wall, accounts on the same event from two opposite positions (Eastern and Western), in order to see differences in ideology and propaganda (e.g. in newspapers) and many more would all offer comprehensive accounts on multiple aspects of the historical event. Personal stories, the official discourse, counter-stories, experiences of minority groups would be experienced by the participants in an individual manner, for as long as they need or desire. On the other hand, our lesson wanted to offer a collective experience, that would move and irritate the participants.

Two trainers would moderate the sessions. At one moment during discussions, they would separate the room using a string that would allow participants to see everything, yet feel a separation. The two trainers would simultaneously show the same images in a synchronized presentation, yet their explanations would be different. The narration on the events or realities shown would represent the two ideologies, politics and interests (Eastern and Western). The participants from the “Eastern” side will be denied access to coffee and refreshments and will be refused breaks for a solid 2-3 hours. Any act of disobedience will be condemned and “punished”. The activity will be followed by the acknowledgement of the fact that it was a simulation, that the trainers played well rehearsed roles and that such feelings of confusion and injustice were common and fueled by the state.

Many points in methodology were also raised during the Q&A session ofter the groups’ presentation, concerning how (much) should trainers use emotions, feelings, how to respect personal boundaries while also making an impact on participants, how to make the content (a past event) relevant for the present etc.

Discussing Stereotypes

The biggest issue for me,  on this day and in the whole training, was the introduction to an input on “The West and the Rest”. I appreciated the input and the attempt to show how categories like “East”, “West”, “European”, and “Oriental” can be deconstructed by looking at the time and place of their creation, and at politically motivated instrumentalization.

What made me feel very uncomfortable was to see this important topic being introduced with the attempt to reproduce stereotypes about “East” and “West” and they way this was conducted:
Refusals to play along were repeatedly rejected and disencouraged by the moderator as well as by parts of the group, which I find to be a disastrous way of dealing with stereotypes. This does not mean that I deny the existence of stereotypes, of course they exist, and are stuck in everybody’s heads, as one person pointed out. In order to make them productive though, it has to be allowed to openly reject them, and express inability to reproduce them (especially when placing random adjectives in either “West” or “East”, without those being further defined. Eastern Germany? Eastern Europe? Eastern Romania? The “global” East?). Otherwise, if the mere fact of their existence defies every attempt at deconstruction, why mention them at all?
It has to be possible to have a proper discussion about both result of the method and the method itself, both of which did only happen in a small circle after the session when lunch was already being served.
I am aware that most people had no problem with this activity though, and that it is probably my “academic bias”, which dreads nothing so much as oversimplification. It is also clear that the group was so mixed that it was difficult to reach and satisfy everyone. Yet, this is place for reflection and further thoughts – so here it goes.

This whole thing left me pondering the question of how to deal with (national) stereotypes in education: Is it okay to invoke them, especially in a multi-national group? How to deal with people who actively reject them? For me, these issues are as central and deserve the same attention as the handling of gender stereotypes. Dealing with them insensitively might cause a lot of damage within a (multi-national) group and cause individuals to feel uncomfortable voicing their opinion.
Furthermore, if we accept the potentially harmful nature of this kind of stereotypes, why not try and act against them? Why not explicitly open a discussion about what makes them so persistent, and about the different functions they have on an individual, social, and political level? I did not attend the Anti-Bias-Workshop, but am generally fond of the idea of creating awareness about personal prejudice and patterns of thinking. Why not create a space in which national or ethnic stereotypes, when they come up, are either immediately discussed or at least made visible, not to shun the individual person but to be able to recognize biases?

During the last feedback round, one participant stated that for her it was rewarding, to meet so many people from Romania, because in the country she comes from, the stereotypical Romanian is a beggar. While this statement is of course potentially hurtful, it also allows many important questions to be reflected upon by everyone in the group individually: Do I feel personally offended by this statement (or not), and why (not)? Do I feel the same as this participant? Did I realize I felt the same before she said it? Would I have dared to say it? Did I suspect that’s what people in this participants country think?
And then, on a more general level: What are the reasons she had this stereotype? In which political/cultural/social/… context was it constructed? And so the deconstruction goes…

To sum it up, this day certainly gave me food for thought. And it convinced me even further that national stereotypes, as well as old tropes about “The West and the Rest”, are still among the most pressing issues to deal with on a European as well as on a global scale.

Field Work in German Remembrance

Sunday was the day of “scouting expeditions” around town, to experience first hand the different ways, in which the events of November 9th, 1989, were remembered 25 years later.

Surely it was a good idea to split the big group into smaller groups and send then out on their own. This way, more events and more approaches could be explored, and also I always find that the smaller the group the more likely I am to step out of my comfort zone and approach other people. Obviously coordination and the opportunity to express and follow individual desires and interests are also a lot easier in small groups. Unfortunately, I found myself in a position which made the day very exhausting and, at times, frustrating for me (adding to the physical discomfort which turned into a proper illness the next day).

The first exhibition we visited was completely in German, and pretty interesting. It gave examples of GDR youth- and counterculture in the district where the museum was, tying the examples to concrete places. There was, however, no immediate connection to November 9th, and there were no other visitors. The other group members were, understandably, disappointed by the place, and wanted to leave as soon as possible. After an hour-long journey I was already frustrated by the fact that I could not look at the exhibition as much as I would have wanted to (which would also have enabled me to translate some parts for the others), so that when we got to the next place and realized that everything was in German again all four of us (that was my impression) felt like all the travelling about had been quite pointless.

To top it all, there was no proper communication within the group about how to deal with the interview questions given to us: Should they be asked and answered word by word, or was a more open, narrative form of conversations with interviewees, from which keywords could be deducted afterwards, more in place? After I had rejected the role of being the sole communicator and “leader” of the group, at last the dynamic changed a bit and some actual conversations with other people happened, despite the different approaches to interviewing.

So while I think the idea of scouting expeditions with short interviews on site is a good one, the fact that the places themselves did not offer any information to non-German-speakers severly challenged the effect of the method. The first visit was practically pointless for everyone but me, and made me and everyone feel awkward. Insufficient communication inside the group complicated the whole experience further. Perhaps in this case, it would have made sense to let people find each other in small groups, instead of drawing lots? And/or choosing only destinations where more could be learned without understanding German?

Although, obviously, this illustrates the fact that November 9th is indeed a date which is central in German history (there is even a wikipedia-page: November 9th in German history)!

Adding to the methodological reflection above, I want to quickly point out what I see as the potential this date has for becoming a central date of remembrance in Germany. The major events which took place on this date:
November 9th, 1918, the German republic was proclaimed (twice!)
November 9th, 1923, the Hitler-Lüdendorff-, or Beer-Hall-Putsch, in Munich happened, and foreshadowed the republic being taken over by national socialists only ten years later
November 9th, 1938, during the “Reichspogromnacht”, the first massive, country-wide attack was launched by anti-semitic and national socialist mobs against the German-Jewish population
November 9th, 1989, the borders separating East- and West-Berlin were opened after 28 years

Only two of these events were commemorated in 2014, with a heavy imbalance in favour of the most recents ones in ’89. Whether big celebrations will be held for the “birth” of the Weimar republic in four years I am not sure. However, I wonder:
Would this date not enable people in Germany to commemorate
very diverse events which all contributed to the formation of the state as it is today? From the abolition of monarchy and the end of WW 1, to the manifestations of anti-democratic fascist, anti-semitic, national socialist forces, to the breakdown of so-called “communist” authority and a brief moment of openness, claim of sovereignity of the people in the East, and anarchy, with all their consequences. Very diverse individual and collective memories could have their place in such a day of remembrance, and perhaps conversations could be opened which would not be more inclusive and not as oblivious as this year’s nationalist hysteria and officially proclaimed success stories.

The Present is the Past of the Future

I liked the idea of creating pedagogical material for the year 2100. Although I would not have phrased the title like that – because in our small group, it fuelled discussion about what 2100 will be like, and how we would have to attune our pedagodical concept to the reality of this time. In order to prevent these sci-fi-discussions, perhaps going even further and creating pedagogical material for aliens might make sense?

Anyway, it was a good exercise to try and step out of our everyday patterns of thinking and extrapolate from concrete historical events broader significance for future generations. I also had the thought that, in times of audio- and video recordings, a lack of contemporary witnesses is not such a big problem anymore. Instead, I think being able to find relevant information in the massive amounts provided will be the real challenge.

Coming back to the task, it nicely demonstrated which questions are relevant when creating such material: Who is adressed? What is to be told? How do we create such material without simply reproducing dominant discourse(s)?

I appreciated the field trips later that afternoon. House of Democracy and Human Rights is now a well-established institution, situated in a representative building close to Alexanderplatz (the centre of former East-Berlin, and a hub of the unified city). Church from Below is basically a punk youth club, ties to the 1980s East-German opposition and, indeed, the church, being represented mostly by individuals and certain practices (decision-making by consensus, youth self organization, lived solidarity on an everyday level…).

They stand for choices oppositional movements must make, when faced with changing political realities: seize the opportunity to grow as an institution and civil society player, which comes with with the potential for broader political and social impact, but also the need for compromise. Or continue work on the grassroots level, with very little attention, but the independence to follow individual convictions?

It was great to visit both, as already the locations spoke volumes about their respective discoursive power. Preparation, in my opinion, would have been useful, to have more background upon which the monologue in House of Democracy could have been turned into a dialogue.


Bonus-points for having a fixed spot for an interims-evaluation! I think most people were glad there was the opportunity to get some things off their chest and have some time to talk about basics.

Realities and Truths

On this day we discussed museums in Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Eisenhüttenstadt, and Vilnius, which all deal with the history between 1945 and 1989. I liked the way this activity was organized, working in small groups was productive and we got a good overview about the five museums and a sixth one presented by the moderator.

While I understood the frustration of one of the participants, after every single museum (except one) had been heavily criticized for their approaches, I felt like there was also an important lesson to be learned from this frustration:
That there cannot be one true interpretation of history, which can claim to represent the reality of a given historical moment in space and time. This also means that a museum aspiring to present a neatly worked out master narrative of the period referred to as “Communism” is most likely to have a distinct ideological agenda, and neither willing nor able to include multiple, contradicting perspectives.
Similar problems occurred when we started discussing words, such as “communism” and “genocide” (“freedom” could inspire similar discussions). While being neatly defined in dictionaries, these words remain abstractions. Using them to represent real-life phenomena makes it extremely difficult to talk about historical events, without stepping into ideological traps and constantly missing each other’s points.

For me, these discussions showed the importance of working with as little abstraction as possible. By this I mean “doing” (as in, researching, studying, teaching) history “from below”, starting for example with an individual person and their experiences. Or with a certain place, a building, monument, or a city. Or with an object, as it is often done in museums nowadays.
Approaches like this, in my opinion, have the advantage of raising interest by their immediate accessibility, by being tangible and material. Literally everything, everywhere, can become a point of interest from which to start. When studying history on this “ethnographic” level, there are always material objects, concrete places, special individuals to hold on to, making it harder to be distracted and confused by abstract ideologies, political and social changes, and propaganda(s).

It was great to have the extra-hour for free discussion! Perhaps one hour “open space” every day would have been useful?

Constructive criticisms and praises were given in the feedback round, so here’s just a thanks for the nice party, which helped wrap everything up nicely and made me wonder why noone, including me, made the effort to go upstairs to get a device which could play music without wifi. I guess there was a subconscious consensus that the permanent breaking off of songs created the special atmosphere of that party.

Speaking about Speaking Out

Speaking of marginalized and dominant discourses, the latter being (naturally) overwhelmingly present on Sunday, on Monday we got a presentation of a theater project which aims at giving a voice to those who were excluded from the national euphoria in the early ’90s.

There is a good chance that Nai Wen’s perspective as someone who came to Germany as an adult helped her to ask the questions and get the answers which the performance project she presented is based on. Working with techniques of the Theatre of the Oppressed, and Brechtian alienation effects, on the site of the well-established memorial site Bernauer Straße, her original project combines multiple dimensions of a de-colonial, subversive approach to history:

By generating a script from interviews with contemporary witnesses, people from the margins of German society are given the opportunity to speak out, and a sense of authenticity is generated.
By using the, sometimes graphic, overacting and alienation techniques, this sense is smashed to pieces, and the individual experience is genera
By acting on-site, starting off with the traditional format of a guided tour around an official memorial site, official discourse is at the same time challenged and
interacted with.
By leaving it to visitors themselves to figure out who and what is part of the play, individual involvement is encouraged.

For me, this performance project stands out as an example of creative, dynamic, and engaging approaches to deal with history. Especially when dealing with people who are neither very fond of “traditional” ways of learning about history, e.g. books and museums, nor represented in official discourses, I imagine projects like this are potential “gateways” to generate interest in historic events in general.

Nai Wen’s presentation was, unfortunately, very disappointing. Some short clips, and then a workshop in Theatre of the Oppressed, or just more room for questions, might have allowed (me) a deeper understanding of her work, and prevented exhaustion!

Thanks to all of you :-)

Dear participants!

We hope that you all had a pleasant travelling back home!

We thank you a lot for your participation and we are happy that we had the pleasure to have you all here in Berlin!

We are happy to find your last posts on this blog and we invite you to use this tool for further information and thoughts.

Best wishes and hoping to see you again in future,

the solar-team


The first performance,  which was about Romania and West, was amazing.Comparisons,which Marina(the member of our group and teacher in this topic) made using different tools like pictures,discussions and games were ideal for me.As for me, the game,when we were writing one  world per person after that  mixing all words together  and at the end every person took randomly one of words and said to which part of Europe(East-West) he/she related this words.This game was more than perfect, because it included at the same time stereotypes,different points of viewes on the same topic and helped us to impove,showing the results in the end.
During evening we had a good tour in some regions on West-Berlin.Firstly,I was very surprised when we were able to see the place,where Kennedy took his famous speech  with words”Ich bin ein Berliner”.

For me this place historical and it was a great idea to visit it.The line during the hole tour was clear.Our guid was answering all questions and also it was amazing,that she has own opinion to this being part of West-Germany.
Maybe I’ll more interesting to listen more about our last station at the church,rather that stay for too long at the Poztdamer Platz because after 5 minutes for me was very difficalt to concentrate because of bright  lights  and the noize from shops.But all in all tour  was full of useful information like story of the West radiostations and ordinary life,which made the tour cognitive.