Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog

CommuniTEA Promotional Poster (Credit: Malak N.AlSayyad and Mario-Jose Sarmiento)

CommuniTEA took place last Wednesday night in the Factory. Across the dark courtyard you could see the buzzing dance room, lit by fairy lights, inviting you in. CommuniTEA was the second event in a series of three organized by Pankow Conversations. In an attempt to bridge differences of opinion, the events provide a space for the college to connect to its neighbors. Each event has a central theme. Can you guess this one’s?

The event’s slogan was not “What does community mean to you?” Or “How do you define community?” Instead it was simply: “Come celebrate the change of seasons with your neighbors.” The slogan embodies the event’s focus. It centered on its activities rather than discussion. Questions of community and neighborhood were integrated into the activities. The event’s format was fragmented and informal. There were three different workshop stations, and people were free to choose which one they preferred. Bowls of chips and chocolates on the tables, a vague smell of parsley in the air, and late 90’s pop hits playing in the background contributed to the ambience.

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Our very own Honey.(Credit: Lisa Ostrovska)

If you’ve recently set foot in the dorm gardens between W16 and K24, a few medium-sized boxes may have caught your eye. Once you approach, you’ll notice the signs that warn you not to get too close – you’re not supposed to disturb the bees that have been there since spring.

Responsible for them is Daniel Bauer, a local beekeeper who runs an apiary in the botanical garden in Blankenfelde, about 3 kilometers north of campus. I meet him in the office of the administration building to talk about his work with bees, the environment, and how the collaboration with BCB came to be one Friday morning in late August. Before we begin the interview, the beekeeper gives me a jar of honey as a sample, which I gladly take home to my apartment. By the time I sit down to type up the interview, the jar is already half empty and my fingers sticky, a result of my roommate and I shamelessly sneaking spoonfuls straight out of the jar while savoring the last days of summer.

By now the first big batch of honey has arrived at the school and is a part of our cafeteria’s breakfast buffet.

After Daniel Bauer sits down on the couch in the administration building and I have set up the recorder, he points to a small red dot above his left eyebrow that I would have otherwise overlooked: A bee sting. When I ask how often this happens, he shrugs it off with a smile and tells me that being stung is just inevitable if you’re a beekeeper, despite the fact that he wears a protective suit:

When I started, I just wore a sort of veil around my head, but the bees find a way to get through it everywhere. Then I had a jacket with a veil, and by now I’m wearing an overall, a closed suit to prevent the bees from coming through almost entirely. But it still happens occasionally, and I generally get stung around five times a day. The stinger stays in the skin, so you have to pull it out very quickly so you don’t get too much venom in the wound. But you get used to the pain.

Don’t get me wrong – every sting hurts just as badly as the first one, but you learn to look ahead and keep working rather than think about the pain. The thing about beekeeping is that you’re in nature a lot, and there is always something trying to distract you. Either it rains, or it’s cold, the bees buzz around, you get stung, but you just have to try and stay focused. And this way even being stung becomes a minor thing.

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The European Parliament in Strasbourg, 05/02/2014. (Credit: David Iliff)

The European Union will collapse within fifteen years. The EU is a political monster created by the elite. Its goal is to exploit the populations of nations which have nothing in common, all in the interest of globalization and big companies. Its bureaucracy, to use an expression of Nietzsche, is the “coldest of all cold monsters” [*1]. It employs 42 500 [*2] outrageously privileged European civil servants who are supported by the taxpayer to produce nothing. Brussels has absorbed the sovereignty of its state members, which triggered secessionist velleity in Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders, … The European Union is not elected and yet it has the authority to impose its will on countries and their citizens. The EU prefers legislating on the size of the cucumbers and bananas [*3] instead of solving the refugee crisis. The euro is an economic absurdity. The EU is an abomination.

Enough!

Thank you for reading this subtle and optimistic summary of the main critiques concerning the European Union. Today, it is not only the “extreme-right” parties who convey this speech. Sentiments of Euroscepticism and populism have spread to the traditional political parties that have been in power for the last decades. But most people who make claims along the lines of those above don’t even know what they are talking about when it comes to the EU.

So we might ask: What is meant by the “EU”? Let us examine its history and structure more closely before making our evaluation as to its fate.

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My body behind the Egyptian flag in my grandma’s home, Cairo, 2011. (Credit: Farah Khalaf)

Where I come from, I’m the devil’s incarnation

The fallen woman

Lilith.

You see, there’s always a dichotomy at play:

The sinner, not the saint.

The whore and the prostitute.

I am the one without a hymen

The one mothers spend lifetimes

protecting their daughters from becoming.

Even by cutting off their clitoris

By subjecting them to a lifetime of neurosis

And depriving them of sexual pleasure

Of their natural ‘birth-right’.

Their birth was a catastrophe

For they lacked a cock

Dangling between fleshy thighs

I am the adulterous. The mistress.

The one who says fucking and not making love.

The one who is unabashed.

“Have you no shame?” they ask in disgust and disbelief

“No.” I say in front of my people.

Those who condemned me

To a lifelong of oppression

And if they could, they would stone me

Scornful laughter and feet stomping

on the jagged streets of Cairo.

“What a whore… She deserves even more.

We pray to Allah that she rots in hell”

The noises pierce through my damaged body

My cracked bones and open skull

My protruding eye

Bloody lips.

I broke out of society’s contours.

Dictating, policing, destroying, desiring and fearing my body.

Am I a fallen woman because I experienced my sexuality?

Or is it because I dared derive pleasure from it?

Perhaps because they couldn’t detect a trace of shame.

Of regret. Of loss.

They believe a woman gives herself up during sex.

For me, it’s a process of mutual transaction: I give and take pleasure.

Never saw it as a form of sacrifice.

Never sensed a lack upon fucking.

And never did I ‘value’ myself less, because a membrane is gone.

I have inked my body and ripped through many skin tissues.

No one seemed to mind when the scars were red and visible on my arms.

The only wound they saw in me was me: The opening between my thighs.

My vagina. I was my vagina and they saw me as colonized by a foreign invasion that they needed to revolt against.

I am the enemy now.

I am a dangerous force to my home.

I’m calling for sexual-liberation and empowerment. But both the women and men fear me.

Or despise me.

I have been condemned to death by stoning.

Come and enjoy the spectacle tomorrow in the main square.

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A more manageable bubble (Credit: Pinterest)

Campus is a “liberal bubble”, right?

During many discussions on the current political climate, the word ‘bubble’ pops up, as if by magic. It attempts to explain why some recent political developments—Brexit, Trump’s election, AfD’s success, etc.—appear to have come out of the blue. Often, this observation is appropriate. “Birds of a feather flock together”: It’s natural for us to stick to the familiar. However, in the age of social media, this tendency has reached a whole new level. We increasingly find ourselves in online bubbles which, due to Facebook algorithms and our own self-selection, are drifting farther and farther apart.

On Tom Ashbrook’s NPR podcast OnPoint, guest Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio host, observed: “We’re all spending a lot of time building ourselves into communities that look a lot like us, thanks to the Internet, and we are less and less focused on the physical person that lives next door to us.” He’s right—How many of us can say we really know our Niederschönhausen neighbors? No, smiling at the 250 bus driver and saying “Danke!” to the cashier at REWE do not count.

It’s easy to construct a community of like-minded people online. Stepping outside this safe haven can be scary. You never know what you will find. But intuitively we know there can never be progress without discussion. This is true for both society and our own development. Change requires engaging in real disagreement, where the different parties have deeply rooted, contradictory opinions. Social change cannot exclusively happen online; we must also burst our online bubbles.

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“Plato Goes Live” Poster. (Credit: Bard College Berlin)

The contest “Eine Uni – ein Buch” invited German universities to pick a book, any book. The goal: to inspire a semester of events, ideas, and extensive, diverse participation… all with this single text. BCB students entered with Plato’s Republic. And we won. We were among ten universities who received the scholarship. Yay, us! The result: seminars, debates, conversations, film fests, and “a Long Night of Plato” sprouted from the seminal work of an infamous, bearded Ancient. (Shout out to the sponsors: Stifterverband and the Klaus Tschira Foundation, in co-operation with DIE ZEIT.)

Full disclosure: I’m not a student in the Plato course, not a Plato-phile in the slightest. Even so, last Tuesday curiosity led me to the “Wandering Image” event at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry. It was one of those ruggedly sleek buildings tucked away in a Prenzlauer Berg courtyard, packed with well-dressed intellectuals.

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The Book Cover for Michel Houellebecq’s English Edition of Submission. (Credit: https://www.waterstones.com/)

Huge bookstores have always made me feel as excited as a little kid in a toy store. The possibilities of what you can find there – good or bad – gives me the sense of going on a Sunday afternoon adventure. So when I went to Dussmann a few weeks ago, looking for no book in particular, I found myself reading the first two chapters of Michel Houellebecq’s Submission [*1] – a book of speculative fiction about the Islamic take-over in France made possible by a grand coalition aimed at defeating Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

It felt so wrong to enjoy writing from a man I had heard to be notoriously bigoted — it was a justified kind of shame. It was probably the opening line to his second chapter that got me hooked: “The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature – it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 percent of the time”(10). It tapped into my greatest fears of being a literature major: Why am I doing this? Who for? How likely is it that I am one of the talented ones who gets to teach this discipline to the next generation of readers?

Reluctantly, I bought the book. I had to see what this book, whose central theme is politics, looked like, knowing that its author belongs to the social class that would vote for Macron but who doesn’t have a strong partisanship and claims to only cast a “Yes” vote on a “Frexit” referendum. When I bought it, I have to admit, I wasn’t consciously doing so to “engage with the other side”. It was more of an experience elicited by an almost morbid curiosity – it was going to be my guilty pleasure that I was to tell no one about. I had hoped that reading Submission would be like watching a movie whose message you didn’t agree with: You might not like it, but you move on.

However, this is not what engaging with my first Houellebecq book was like. 

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