Staging Difficult Pasts: The 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Graduate Seminar/Fall 2019

Michal Kobialka, University of Minnesota and Jan Lazardzig, Freie Universität Berlin

West German citizens gather at a newly created opening in the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz in November 1989. DoD photo

While the Berlin Wall was being dismantled in November 1989, it seemed to many that everything was possible, including the creation of a new political and economic system—neither socialism nor capitalism—that would herald a shift towards a new order of things defined by the practices hitherto considered to be utopian or not-yet existent. As Arthur Kroker and Marilouise Kroker argued in Ideology and Power in the Age of Lenin in Ruins,

[w]hen the Berlin Wall finally came tumbling down, all of the old comfortable markers of political debate suddenly shattered, revealing in its wake a desperate urgency to rethinking the meaning of ideology and power in a world dominated by the eclipse of the political legitimation of state socialism and by the seeming triumph everywhere now of the rituals of primitive capitalism.

This utopian ontology tried to prove false the counter-statements in, for example, Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay, “The End of History,” which pronounced “the triumph of the West, of the Western idea [...] evident first of all in the total exhaustion of the viable systematic alternative to Western liberalism” and in the ideological victory of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government; or Jürgen Kocka’s argument that, despite its destructive aspects, modern technological society based on capitalist free market, highly developed technologies, and democratic institutions guaranteed civil liberties, social justice, and cultural pluralism. These narratives promoted the idea that history had ended or was ending, and, therefore, the present or the immanent future would bring about a post-historical condition in the not-yet existent world.

Today, on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall, this graduate seminar will consider a number of possibilities of how to think about that so-called post-historical condition as well as about the different pathways of how to address the idea of staging difficult past. To accomplish this task, the seminar will focus on the performative and historiographic aspects of the commemorations of the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as one the idea of staging difficult pasts on the both sides of the divide. The seminar will be divided into two parts: Part I will focus on the discussion of the following issues:

Theatre/Performance Historiography: Time, Space, Matter; Writing & History; Foundational & Rhetorical Histories Debates; Historical Archives, Events, Facts, & Objects; Materialist History; New Materialism; and the Politics of Regret—this part will be taught jointly. Part II will focus on students’ research and presentations about the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, and 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The class will culminate in a trip to Berlin in December 2019 in order to locate the theoretical discourses in the landscape/topography of Berlin itself.


Staging Difficult Pasts: Of Collateral Archives and Awkward Objects

Hörsaal des Instituts für Theaterwissenschaft

Freie Universität, Berlin

Thursday, December 12, 6 PM

Michal Kobialka ist in dieser Dezemberwoche mit einer Gruppe von Doktoranden in Berlin zu Besuch. Gemeinsam mit Master-Studierenden der FU Theaterwissenschaft veranstalten wir eine Geschichtswerkstatt, die sich aus Anlass des 30. Jahrestags des Mauerfalls den unterschiedlichen Inszenierungen des Mauergedenkens widmet.

Abstract: Recent contestations of the archive ask for a practice that exhibits the mediality of the archive—that is to say, an exploration of how the archive has been crafted by a certain experience of time, space, and matter, which are implicit in it, conditions it, and thereby has to be elucidated. On the one hand the encounter with the objects housed in the archive resonates with Walter Benjamin’s observation that “the world is present, and indeed ordered, in each of his objects”. On the other hand, the encounter with the objects housed in the archive reveals their organization in the form of temporal layers, which have different origins and duration, move at different speeds, have different non-synchronous and asymmetrical depths; as well as their organization in the form of spatial layers, bringing forth contradictions in/within space of their representation (the past) and contradictions of/between spaces of their representation (the past and the present).To substantiate this theoretical discussion, this talk will look at the exhibition, “Awkward Objects of Genocide,” opened at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow in December 2018. It showcased how local, “naïve” artists in Poland attempted to represent the events they witnessed during World War II. The objects on display in the Museum, such as for example, a representation of Jewish suffering via symbolic (Catholic) idiom of Pieta or a Nazi crematorium recalling a nativity crèche, not only expanded the field of Holocaust memory studies to include “minor,” “peripheral,” or “awkward” objects, but also contributed to larger debates about “difficult heritage” or “difficult past.”


Staging Difficult Pasts: Thomas Heise im Gespräch

Vierte Welt (Bezirk Friedrichshain-Kreuzerg, Berlin)

Saturday, December 14,  8 pm

Filmemacher Thomas Heise spricht in der Vierten Welt über die Kinematographie der „difficult pasts“ in seinen Filmen.

Von Thomas Heise läuft gerade der vielfach preisgekrönte Film „Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit“ (2019) im Regenbogenkino in Kreuzberg.

For more information: Staging Difficult Pasts: Thomas Heise im Gespräch

This project is funded by a grant from DAAD.

STAGING DIFFICULT PASTS is an AHRC funded project: Grant reference: AH/R006849/1