Think Like a German 2.0

In the spirit of midlife ch-ch-changes, I decided to follow a pocket book “101 solutions to get out of crisis” by Alexander Rios. How hard/fun can it be?! I’ve already cut “crisis” out of my vocab, said no to credit cards and danced every morning! 😉

Number 6. Piense como un aleman (Think like a German)! REDUX

Two years ago, during a weekend in Berlin, I visited streets and landmarks dedicated to top 10 German thinkers (according to Google). It made for a great self-guided tour into nooks ‘n crannies of a city I love. When I shared the original post, my friend Susanne Genneper remarked on the obviously lamentable absence of women from the list. I blamed Google and vowed to return. This winter, during another Berliner weekend, I sought out places dedicated to a dozen notable German women.

BERLIN

Process: I looked up “famous German women” online and correlated results with Google Maps. If Internet had its way, Berlin would be renamed Heidi Klum Stadt. I tried to learn about each woman, her contributions, and … what she looked like. The images of famous men circulated in statues & merchandise for centuries. I confess I did not have a visual on most of the names I encountered now. Ignorance ends starts with me!

Number 6. Piense como un aleman (Think like a German)! Take Two

Kaiserin Augusta

It took two titles (Queen of Prussia & German Empress) to score a station in the B zone of the Berlin metro system. “While her father was an intellectually limited person,” casually drops Wikipedia, she made sure her son became the first academically educated prince. Documented “lack of femininity” didn’t stop Augusta from sticking it to the world.

Princess Viktoria Luise

Seventh child in a bro-only household, she was as much into military exercises as court balls and intrigues. This German girl grew up to be a grandmother of the Queen of Spain and a King of Greece. God, European royalty are a mess! Still, we love a fighting spirit.

Sophie Charlotte

Even for a beloved princess married off to an available king, isn’t a neighborhood, palace, square and metro a bit dunno, overkill? My fave historical takeaway was how she rendered Peter the Great speechless before dying at 36 from coronavirus pneumonia.

In words of Carrie Bradshaw… I couldn’t help but wonder what’s a non-royal woman gotta do to stake her place/space in history?! 

Rosa Luxemburg

It’s not often you see “Revolutionary” on a resume. She became a German citizen at 28 and a Communist martyr at 47. Even her cat was a known Marxist influencer purring for Vladimir Lenin and narrowly escaping imprisonment. A volatile, violent life of valor. 

Käthe Kollwitz

An artist who processed immense grief of her war-ridden people, she was systematically denied recognition by the men responsible for those wars. “A medal for a woman, that would really be going too far,” remarked Kaiser Wilhelm von Arschloch II.  #TeamKäthe

Bettina von Arnim

If you were anybody on the German culture scene in the 19th century, you knew Bettina. Herself an artist, composer, author, and muse, she probably had “a million followers”. Her memoir “Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child” scandalized Europe, but has since been designated as a finer example of fan fiction. All that plus seven children! #MicDrop

Sophie Scholl

Part of White Rose resistance, she became an anti-fascist icon. In 2003, she beat Goethe & Einstein in a poll for the most important Germans of all time. In 2005, a film about her heroism was an Oscar nominee. This is one of dozens of schools named in her honor.

Hannah Arendt

How to measure impact of a political philosopher? What if their work is a best-seller half a century later? The demand for Origins of Totalitarianism took Amazon by surprise after Trump’s ascent to the American throne. Earlier, Pussy Riot were awarded the Hannah-Arendt-Prize for Political Thought. Punk is as punk does. That’s proper radical!

Marlene Dietrich

“Marlene is not a member of any known asteroid family.” A being so celestial, she’s got a minor planet named after her. A fashion renegade before pantsuits were de rigueur. A queer icon before the rainbow flag. I just don’t know if Magic Mike and Blue Men Group playing at Dietrich Platz are signs of progress or failure. Won’t y’all Dietrich me, please?!

May Ayim

Her university thesis literally made history as the first academic survey of Afro-German and Black German culture from the Middle Ages to the 1980’s. An anti-racism activist in an ethnocentric society, she had to endure too many firsts and was killed by suicide. Racism is murder. While no consolation, this particular street name change should set precedent for bending the arc of urban history towards intercultural justice. The May Ayim Embankment was formerly dedicated to Otto Friedrich von der Groeben, “a colonial pioneer” who helped “settle” Prussian interests on the Ghanaian coast of Africa. One Otto down, still too many to go.

Based on this brief inquiry, it seems that to get something named after oneself, a German woman – generally – had to be either married into the State or be murdered by the State. Or be Marlene Dietrich.

May we change the future odds and options today and every day.

P.S. The cover image for this post is of the tennis legend Steffi Graf. Another sport icon, Serena Williams said in an interview: “I remember thinking, thank God I had a chance to play her, because I grew up watching her. Playing Steffi was legendary.” Indeed, it was. I didn’t make it to the Steffi Graff Stadium on this mission, but it was on the list.

UPDATE:

Comedian Dulcé Sloan on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah talks about lack/absence of statues of women in public spaces… I was both not shocked by the story from New York’s Central Park (having just completed my Berlin walkabout) and utterly shocked by it nonetheless (USA has a tendency towards the absurdist). What’s it like where you’re at?!

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