October and kingdoms rise And kingdoms fall But you go on And on. (U2 – October, 1982)
I have two beginnings for this blog post. I’m not sure I have a suitable ending.
Opening one: I’m just back from a discussion, with Naika Foroutan, about East-German migration analogies and prejudices against East-Germans, here at the local Literarisches Zentrum. “Here” means: Göttingen, West-Germany, for me, an East German by origin, my home of seven years now. Diaspora as well as home. “Here” also means: amongst an audience of, primarily, West-Germans. Naika Foroutan and host Robert Pausch are West Germans, too. They (“they”) speak about East Germans (“us”). Some of “us” are in the room. Their safeguard is the “objectivity” of the (social) sciences. “Objectivity” implies an object. An object implies a subject. Who’s who? I can feel I am one of the objects here, regardless whether I want to or not, and someone else assumes the role of the subject-agent. I observe.
30 years ago today, the “Wende”, the peaceful revolution in East Germany, truly started. After the brutal crack down of police on protesters and bystanders alike in Magdeburg two days earlier, everyone knew that something would happen. October 9 was a Monday, and hence I was at school (EOS Humbodt) in the morning hours. Directors and staff leaders in pretty much every institution and company approached their staff or students or even children at kindergarten, threatening that if they went out into the streets tonight their (or their parents’!) safety could not be guaranteed.
30 years ago today, the German Democratic Republic was meant to celebrate her 40th anniversary. There was little to celebrate, though. Thousands had fled the country in previous months, and illegal demonstrations happened in every major town, notably on Mondays. This though was a Saturday afternoon, and Sandow were playing in Magdeburg, by the banks of the river Elbe. Heavy rains delayed the soundcheck, and in the meantime lots of police trucks had pulled up and the police surrounded. Men that were much too old for punk music in groups of two or three infiltrated the crowd.
August 1989, and we were the “last legion” to be trained in one of East Germany’s paramilitary camps – one of the things that had become part and parcel of growing up in East Germany. Now we were there for a last time, though we didn’t know that yet.
30 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Three weeks ago I was looking for a present for dad, and as a late thought I considered Gert Dietrich’s Cultural History of East Germany (Kulturgeschichte der DDR) a good idea, albeit an expensive one, perhaps a joint present for us all. So I went to Göttingen’s best academic bookshop, which happens to be located down the road from the publishing house where the book was made. I couldn’t find it on their shelves and asked for it. Their response: it’s “too exotic” for them to have it on stock. East German matters are “too exotic” some 60km from the old border, I get it. You wonder why I feel at home in Africa, kkkkkkkk! Have a happy anniversary next year, you re-united Germany!
The following text is partly in response to friends or anyone really who is rightfully upset and hurt by ongoing racism in the world. My fear is that this pain makes it more and more difficult for us to engage openly, and to challenge ourselves and our prejudice, or if you like: myself and my prejudices. I sense that a lot of people on the receiving end of racism are fed up with finding themselves in a position where they are asked to explain or end racism or are asked to forgive, more so than those who commit acts of racism, directly or indirectly, are willing to do the work to overcome it, or even look at potential racist behaviour, or to admit to their position of privilege.
It’s become longer than I thought, and I believe what truth there is in it is personal, thus not necessarily The capital-T Truth.