Hello readers! First off, I must apologize for the absence of a post this previous week. Before I begin to delve into my time in Berlin, Germany, it is important to recognize the city as “the queer capital of Europe.” Therefore, I feel extremely lucky to have spent a week there as a scholar of gender, equality, and sexuality.
I must preface by stating that this post will be dealing with a single stop on my Week-Long Study Tour of the Berlin. I must warn you as my engaged readers that I have chosen to tackle a topic nothing short of melancholy. However, in doing this, I will share with you the aspect of my trip that has resonated with me the most from a gender/sexuality analysis and humanitarian standpoint. I wish to clarify that, in no way, do I wish to boil this extremely rewarding experience in Germany down to a single event. Nonetheless, it is imperative that I recognize it as nearly impossible to incorporate every aspect of my time in the city with room for just a few short combinations of apostrophes, commas, consonants and vowels, exclamation points, and periods.
This past week was, without a doubt, one of the most striking experiences of my life thus far. Almost immediately as we set out bags down in the Grand Hostel Berlin, we are in the midst of an academic setting. This was solidified as my seven classmates, my professor, a DIS intern, and myself embarked on a “queer” oriented walking tour of the city, led by Finn Ballard.
It is in this space where Dr. Ballard the little-known fact that since the end of the Second World War, a controversial section (§175 to be exact) of the German penal code continued to criminalize homosexuality. Furthermore, this specification not only recognized sexual intercourse between two men as “unnatural,” but led to an individual’s persecution, and eventual forfeit of their civil rights. This atrocity continued until it was eliminated on June 11th, 1994. It is astonishing to consider the fact that not even 22.5 years ago, people continued to be legally oppressed by the very body which served to guarantee their sovereignty.
The theme, established by my learning of §175 coupled with a “queer” tour of Berlin, set the quintessential framework for my visit to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just north of the city.
I must stress that no amount of words begins to encompass my mood as I set foot on this infamous work camp. Therefore, I am not even going to attempt to describe the feeling. The fact of the matter is that any pursuit to doing so with the constraints of a mere blog post, would be utterly disrespectful (in the full extent of the word) to those who endured such imprisonment.
Dr. Ballard was clear in explaining that at the camp was home to close to 80,000 individuals at the height of its activity. Furthermore, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 individuals perished in camp under the regime of the National Socialist German Worker’s (Nazi) Party. These numbers, whether at former or latter end of the spectrum, are absolutely breathtaking.
As a result of §175, among the groups persecuted by the Nazi’s during this time period were homosexual men. The fact that lesbianism was viewed as relatively non-existent by the national socialists, homosexual women did not see this same persecution. Nonetheless, this does not discredit the oppression faced by individuals of any gender and sexuality under Nazi rule. Although persons of the Jewish faith were the main target of such discrimination, the party sought to exterminate groups such as the Roma people (Gypsies), disabled individuals, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Black Germans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well.
It is no question that this was an extremely dark period in German history – one which sparks a feeling of hatred in every ounce of my being. Although identifying as a heterosexual cis-male, I cannot help but confess a certain preconceived prejudice as a result of my Jewish heritage. However, after being exposed to the beauty of the German people and experiencing life in Berlin, I must convey my deepest regret in this regard.
I learned a great deal from my visit to Berlin, Germany; not only about myself but about the human race as well. We are too quick to erase gender, minority, and sexuality groups in common conversation. Oppression, discrimination, and persecution, while not have been experienced by every individual on this planet to the same extent, are all deeply rooted in our world history. I cannot stress how important it is to understand this fact and recognize people for the character that makes up their current state. Holding Germany accountable for its malevolent past is inherently important. Through recognizing the value of memory culture, I have been exposed to a different side of remembrance; one which is unrivaled by any other. Witnessing what the human race is truly capable of with just a hint of hatred frightens me to my very core. Nonetheless, being the supporter of the progress narrative that I am, I must ask myself and others, when enough is enough and it time to view people based on the individuals with whom we interact rather than for wicked actions a few.
Everyone deserves a chance to disclose their integrity and goodness. I must admit that, like many others, I often lose sight of this and forget the commonality that exists between us all… We are human; not evil, but human. And everyone has an unalienable right to be seen as such.
DIS definitely knows how to set its students up in the best possible living situations! Check out in Grand Hostel Berlin and my living situation for the week I was in Germany!
We ate at some amazing restaurants while in Berlin! Take a look at some of my favorite dishes.
Although it was not a stop on our study tour, my class made it a point to see the Eastside Gallery while we had the opportunity. Check out what is left of the Berlin Wall as well as the beautiful artwork illustrating the history and culture of the city!
**Trigger warning ahead** If you are interested in seeing some photos of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in its current state take a look at the slideshow below. I strongly encourage everyone (if afforded the opportunity), to pay respect to those who fell as a result of Nazi oppression.
Below is a picture of the enterance of to the camp.
Below is a picture of where roll call was taken in the camp.
A huge thank you to Dr. Finn Ballard for his “queer” tour of Berlin and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp! I can honestly say that this was by far one of the best knowlege-enhancing guided expereinces I have had. Everyone should him out on Tripadvisor!