Sunday, January 21, 2018

Resistencia: En Pequeño -- or, The Small Powerful Acts Que Cuentan! From "A Chicana in Germany"

"[W]e are not wholly at the mercy of circumstance, nor are our lives completely out of our hands . . . We are each accountable for what is happening down the street, south of the border, or across the sea." -- Gloria Anzaldúa

"You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.  And you have to do it all the time." --Angela Davis

Primero-- Felicidades to all who are marching for women this weekend. I send you a photo from last year's Women's March in Belgrade, Serbia (by Andrej Isakovic).  Sign translation:  "Women March Against Fascism!"

The following is from my recent trip to Germany (January 7 - 19, 2018).  Since I had been invited to give a lecture at The University of Augsburg in Bavaria, I decided to also spend a few days in Munich and Berlin.  I was most interested in understanding the small acts of resistance during Nazi rule and what is happening today. This is what I bring to you, dear La Bloga readers . . .

MUNICH (or) MÜNCHEN (or) MUNICHEN (translation: "by the monks")

"By the Monks" points to The Benedictine Order of monks who had a monastery here in 1158. It later grew to a town and then continued into its present metropolis.  The picture below is the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal's Hall) where Hitler began his ascent to power.  The year was 1923.  He organized a coup by trying to take the Bavarian Defense Ministry (shown in this photo below). It was a failure and 16 Nazis were killed and Hitler was arrested and tried for treason. He could have been imprisoned for many years or even executed, but the judge presiding over the case was a Nazi sympathizer, and soon Hitler was freed. Ten years later, the Nazis did take power, and when they did, Hitler made this area a memorial to the Nazis who had been killed in the failed coup.

A DIGRESSION:  Below is a photo from the square last year, the site of The Women's March! (photo by MunichNow news)

A closer historical look:  The photo below is where Hitler had installed a memorial (no longer there) to commemorate the 16 Nazis who had died in the failed coup. He also had two guards around the monument at all times who demanded that anyone passing the memorial must stop and give the Nazi salute.

The alley behind this area was and is still known as "Viscardigasse."  However, among the Munich/Bavarian citizens this street began to be called "Drueckebergergasse," meaning "Deserter's Alley" or "Shirker's Alley." Why?  Because to RESIST having to honor Hitler's memorial and give the Nazi salute, citizens began walking through "Viscardigasse" alley. Daily, they were walking behind Hitler's memorial and through the alley to avoid it.

Today, you can walk this alley where many Bavarian citizens practiced this act of resistance.  Munich has commemorated it by placing bronzed stones to show the route which they took to avoid the monument (see the three photos below).

The Nazis caught on to what the citizens were doing.  At the end of where these bronze stones lead, Hitler placed another SS guard who would then ask pedestrians why they were taking this route and not the other.  Or, other times, they didn't even ask.  Instead they would demand that these pedestrians give them their names and the names of their family.  

By taking down names, they wanted to instill fear and obedience-- to have the people forcefully go past the Nazi monument and salute it.  But it still did not stop people from practicing this daily resistance. And many were arrested and persecuted in other ways. Still, they resisted.  

I decided that each day I was in Munich, I would make sure to come to this alley, and walk over these bronzed cobblestones in honor of those who resisted, who refused to go along despite the possible consequences of their actions.  This area is also very close to the picture below which is the Englischer Garten, the main public park in the center of Munich.  Again-- during Nazi rule, this garden area was the site of Hitler's "Haus der Kunst" that held all Nazi art. After the war, it was turned into an international art museum, "Museum Brandhorst."  All traces of anything Nazi were removed.

Englischer Garten, Munich

I was invited to the University of Augsburg by Anzalduán colega y amiga, Dr. Romana Radlwimmer.
Augsburg is a quick train trip west of Munich (just about 30 minutes).  It is a college town and has much history dating back to 15BC.

The University of Augsburg is not that old, however.  It was founded in 1970.  I am grateful to Dr. Romana Radlwimmer for inviting me.

Dr. Amelia Montes and Dr. Romana Radlwimmer at The University of Augsburg, Germany
Before giving my lecture, I sat in on one of Romana's classes where students were giving presentations on various aspects of colonization -- deconstructing classic Spanish texts, pointing out colonial aspects embedded within the narratives.  It was interesting to witness spirited students delving deeply into literature and noting how just a word, a phrase they found, can influence the reader, a community, state, a nation.  Romana is empowering these students with the art of careful reading and critical thinking.  It was a pleasure meeting with them.  Her classes are a diverse group of students:  women from Peru, El Salvador, Berlin, and other areas of Germany or Europe.

Dr. Romana Radlwimmer and some of her students.  (I am at the very right.)
Later, Romana gave me a tour of Augsburg.  My favorite stop was "The Grandhotel Cosmopolis."  This is a hotel/co-op that was founded by artists.  In collaboration with the Bavarian government, they have created a welcome space for refugees as well as artists and musicians.  Here is an article/interview with the founders of The Grandhotel Cosmopolis (click here).  The following are the photographs I took of various places in and outside the hotel.  

As you walk up to the front door, on the right and left are little "luminarias." These are candles lighted inside brown paper bags.  The last time I had seen luminarias was in New Mexico-- so it was interesting to see these.  

Just outside the front steps and to the right there is graffiti on the wall.  

Hotel Graffiti

More hotel wall graffiti

Inside the hotel, near one of their large hall meeting places, this is on the wall.  

This is a photograph within the hotel that shows a group gathering of refugees, artists, musicians.  

This is graffiti near the kitchen.  It says:  "NO BORDER KITCHEN"

This was an interesting display.  There are two pictures here:  one is drawn, the other is a photograph.  The drawing to the left is also below-- bigger, so you can see what is written.  

So it began with a vision.

8 days later, they created "the house vision" at The Grandhotel."  I find 
this very Anzalduán-- we are like turtles, bringing our house with us wherever we go.  

More art at The Grandhotel Cosmopolis

This art mural is obviously a satire on the word "alien."  

This is just a small part of the hotel layout.  I include this one 
because it includes a "safe space" room.  
I wondered if there were more hotels or hostels like this one in other areas of Germany and Europe.  The government of Augsburg is helping to fund this one.  Imagine if there were so many more like these, opening their doors to refugees.  Safe spaces.  


There are almost four million people in this capital of Germany.  Berlin reminded me of cities like Paris, London, and my own hometown of Los Angeles:  all cosmopolitan and sprawling cities.  I wanted to come here for more personal reasons.  My father, José Montes was here in 1945, a soldier participating in WWII.  For years, he talked to me about various sections of Berlin and what he saw.  What he saw was a severely bombed city.  But in those few places still standing that he had told me about, suddenly, I was standing there.  One of them was the plaza in front of The Humboldt University library (see photo below) known as Bebelplatz where, in 1933, Nazi students had carried thousands of books out to burn them:  books by Marx, Karl Kautsky, Freud, Jung, James Joyce, Darwin, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, books on human sexuality, etc.  In the picture below, you can see a window on the floor of the square.  If you stand next to it and look down, you will see empty bookshelves in the floor below--enough shelves to fill 20,000 books, which is how many books they burned that night.  Helen Keller wrote in response to the burnings:  An Open Letter to German Students - "You may burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe,  but the ideas those books contain have passed through millions of channels and will go on."  Keller was correct.  They have gone on.  

Below are three bronze cobblestones.  This type of remembrance is spread throughout the city.  The people described here were victims of the concentration camps, or they were murdered other ways.  The small memorial is placed near where the person lived or worked.  These three family members, Arthur, Meta, and Charlotte Kroner lived here.  The plaques provide information about them.    

Below are other forms of resistance: little stickers placed in open markets, on the street.  These I found most interesting.

In the drawing below, the words above the reading creature say, "EVOLVE"

And, of course, there is The Berlin Wall.  These first two below are taken at Potsdamer Platz.

The cobblestones below mark where The Berlin Wall once stood.  

A remaining section of The Berlin Wall

Below I am at the Tiergarten Park, a large (520 acres) inner city park filled with small lakes, 
jogging, biking, and walking pathways.  It was quite cold that day when we walked 
there-- but so peaceful and beautiful 

Below, right across from the Tiergarten Park is the Soviet War Memorial to honor the 
soldiers who died during WWII.  

And near this Soviet Memorial is The Brandenburg Gate.  I was crossing the 
street and stopped to take the picture below of the Gate.  

Below is a photo from the other side of The Brandenburg Gate.

A DIGRESSION: The photo below (by GettyImages) is from last year's Women's March at The Brandenburg Gate:

A few more photos of The Gate from my trip--

And what better movie to see in Berlin than the film "COCO" -- after having seen so much history from WWII.  "COCO" focuses on our Mexican tradition of "Day of the Dead."  But since I saw this in Berlin, I should also report that my father was not the only Mexican American/Chicano fighting in WWII.  Between 250,000 and 500,000 de nuestra gente served in WWII.

I leave you, dear La Bloga reader, with this photo below--of decorated trees in the Potsdamer Platz area of Berlin.  This photo feels joyous and hopeful-- a kind of respite from the worries of today.  My father, José Montes fought here in Berlin to stop sexual, racial, class hatreds, book burning, to end any kind of censorship, fascism, nationalism, supremacy, fundamentalism.  José proudly served  in The United States Company "L" Infantry during WWII.  José received two Purple Hearts and four Bronze Service Stars for his service between 1943 and 1945.  He believed in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual world, and he put his life on the line for these beliefs.  He resisted Hitler's world threat. José Montes remains an example for me, to live ethically, to question, to know that small acts of resistance are as critically important as are the larger ones.  I think of Gloria Anzaldúa as well -- reminding me to work daily within a "Mestiza Consciousness."  And if you are interested in understanding Anzaldúa's ideas of "Mestiza Consciousness," I have provided a link here to an article by Tereza Kyunclová, a professor at Charles University in Prague, (click here).  Wishing you paz y fuerza as we proceed in 2018!  Gracias for marching!  Gracias for reading! ¡Contigo en la Lucha!

1 comment:

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thank you, Amelia. I love your blogs from abroad because I always learn something new and also we are able to travel contigo and make important connections sans fronteras. How special that you were able to be in some of those same places your father was once in when he fought against Nazi in WWII. I have read about the burning of those 20,000 books by Nazis. Seeing your pictures of the place (and of those bronze stones/memorials throughout the city) is haunting but also a testament to how every little and big act of resistance matters. So so much. Yesterday at the Woman's March in Los Angeles I saw a young man carrying a sign that said, "Build your wall. My generation will bring it down." It's amazing how words on a piece of cardboard, a wall, on a sticker can generate in us hope, ánimo en la lucha, y aún más y más resistance. Gracias!