“What are you staring at? Never seen a wall before?”
-- Berlin Wall graffiti
- Berlin as a city of wall
- Berlin as a global city
- Berlin as a city of the European union
- Berlin as a city of immigrants
Of the various narratives of Berlin, Berlin as a city of the Wall is the most notable. As the physical state of the wall has changed, so has German identity. The building of the Wall was seen as a fragmentation of identity, whereas its breaking down can be seen as a rejection of WWII-era ways. Additionally, its status as a monument highlights the lasting effect prior German identity has shaped current identity. As Berlin has changed as a global city and as a city part of the EU, the Wall has changed with it. With regard to American identity, I don’t know of any monument that has had such a profound effect on American identity, at least not in this century. This is what makes Berlin particularly unique.
The notion of Berlin as a global city is another avenue to consider. As Castles and Miller note in their chapter, “international migration is frequently a cause and effect of various forms of conflict.” When different groups of people orient themselves around a hub or locale, in this case Berlin, identity becomes less uniform. The rise of immigration in the post- Cold War era in Germany brought in a slew of clashing identities. While all of these emigrated individuals were living in Germany, German identity could not shape itself to encompass all of the identities of its immigrants. Castles and Miller propose that this is why violence against the Kurdish Worker Party and the Turkish state occurred on German soil, among other conflicts. This inability to form a coherent identity eventually leads to “a tendency to move from policies of individual assimilation to acceptance of some degree of long term cultural difference.” This reminds me of policies such as segregation. I would argue that acceptance of long-term cultural differences instead of assimilation only leads to further stigma against immigrants. This can be seen quite clearly in regard to American identity. For example, immigrants, especially those that are undocumented, are prohibited from certain activities or certain privileges on the basis of citizenship. In essence, as Germany has grown as a global city and a central hub for commerce and opportunity, its identity has altered in a way to amalgamate these new identities, though not without backlash, as noted.
Castles and Miller further note that “ethnic homogeneity, defined in terms of common language, culture, traditions, and history, has been seen as the basis for the nation state. This unity has often been fictitiuous—a construction of the ruling elite”.