Hybrid Identities Instead of “Überfremdung”

On Why the Death of Stuart Hall Is a Loss for our Academy Programs

Stuart Hall, the renowned British cultural theorist and sociologist, passed away exactly one month ago, on 10 February 2014. His death prompted in us a deep sense of personal loss. His groundbreaking writings on cultural studies, in particular on racial inequality, were first translated into German in the mid 1990s—a time when people here were beginning to acknowledge the importance of racism as an issue.

Demonstrators in front of a memorial with the Magen David and a poster with the words "Ausländerfeindlichkeit" (xenophobia) and "We need more courage."

Silent vigil of the Jewish Community at the Putlitz Bridge Deportation Memorial
Photo: Michael Kerstgens, Berlin Tiergarten, 1992

Hall’s approach incited a new discussion and coined a new vocabulary: until then, Germans in the Federal Republic had spoken of “Fremdenfeindlichkeit” (xenophobia), which they regarded as a marginal social phenomenon. Politicians and the media spoke matter-of-factly of society “reaching breaking point” when “the boat gets too full” owing to “Überfremdung.” The latter term denotes the state of ‘being overrun by foreigners.’ It is itself deeply racist and was accordingly voted Non-word of the Year 1993. “Being overrun” was presumed however to be explanation enough for the fire-bombings and other attacks then being carried out almost daily on asylum-seekers’ accommodation centers or immigrants’ apartments—and likewise for the hate campaigns, man-hunts, and pogrom-type riots erupting in Rostock, Hoyerswerda, and elsewhere, or the emergence of no-go areas in other towns and rural centers. In consequence, the law on asylum was altered in 1993 such that judicial opinion held it to have been “de facto repealed.” Therefore, anyone who wished to address the issue of racism as a structural phenomenon and thereby draw on theoretically sound academic sources had necessarily to turn to authors from England, France, the USA, or Canada—and repeatedly to Stuart Hall.   continue reading


Alarm Clocks, Cell Phones, and Table with Nothing on it

Stories from the Student Exhibition “TimeThings”

The exhibition poster

Students exhibition “TimeThings”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Ernst Fesseler

Some may ask themselves why, from May 29 to June 1 at the Jewish Museum Berlin, there was a little exhibition of students’ work that had nothing to do with ‘Jewish subjects.’ I would like to answer this question: since last summer, we have been working with three Berlin schools to reinforce positive ways to handle ‘diversity‘ as well as cultural heterogeneity. We advocate creative forms of work that offer the possibility for individual development. That is why we gave the schools an opportunity to conceive with their students of an exhibition that would actually be shown in the museum. As an open-ended, overarching theme we chose ‘Time,’ in order to leave the participants with a lot of latitude.

View of the exhibition room

Students exhibition “TimeThings”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Ernst Fesseler

As the project leader I was only seldom directly involved in the implementation. I was thus surprised and impressed by the diversity of themes and objects on display. Two pieces struck me in particular and I would like to share their stories:  continue reading