Category Archives: 09.11.2014

Schedule 09.11.2014

A: Experiences of borders in Berlin: A scouting expedition through Berlin as a separated town. With action research interviews.

B: Discussion and preparation of the research results in the small groups.

C: Visiting cultural events together, related to the 25. anniversary of the fall of the wall

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.

To remember or not to remember

The variety of memorial sites that we visited shows the fact that people are willing to remember and to preserve in the collective memory the historical events. Usually, the negative events are more impressive and persistant than positive ones, so the focus of the cultural events organized on the 9th was to raise awareness about the tragic history. This approach was opposite to the attitude expressed by the large crowd of tourists, that seemed to enjoy the entertainment and the shallow, ‘fun’ concerts and balloons, in the spirit of blissful ignorance.

Different layers of rememberance

When the same day stands for different things in history, such as November 9 (1938 – Kristallnacht) and 1989 (not even “fall”, but the opening of the Berlin Wall), each memory needs its (mental and physical) space for rememberance. During the past years, the touristic significance of November 9 marginalizes the 1938 events within collective memory. We have participated in a demonstration for “not forgetting” and “not forgiving” Cristal night, the pogrom against the Jewish population, their homes, shops and synagogs.

Protests prove to be effective means of bringing a topic back into attention because of the their emotional and engaged character. Bringing a past event back into memory takes exactly what the organizers of the march did: bringing together various communities (such as initiatives for housing rights or migrants’ rights) and emphasizing the historical trauma’s links to the present.

Update: While the majority of representations related to rememberance refere to the wall and dismiss comemoration of Kristallnacht, extremist right groups respectfully  commemorate the murders and devastations

“Meanwhile, nationalist activists gathered for a demonstration to commemorate the attacks of the Kristallnacht – or the “Night of Broken Glass” – when in 1938 the Nazi authorities launched a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria.”



Yesterday was a the 25. anniversary of the fall of wall.This day left in my mind unforgettable feelings.
In the morning we were looking for different memorable places in Berlin in a small groups.With my group I was at the Checkpoint Charlie and in the German central museum.
I have lots of feelings because of those places and,of course,they are good.
After researching city we met together with others groups and went to cultural events.And it’s also was very interesting and unusual for me
There were a thousands of people,there was a huge crowd,but because of that I got feeling that it’s really a big holiday and day in the history if German.
We have been near the center,when ballons were going in the sky and it was unbelievable to stay there,to be part of history