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Thor Steinar storefront in Friedrichsain and other protests

I took an early evening bike ride on Thursday, this time southeast from Greifswalder Strasse along Danzinger, which functions sort of like a ring road.  Danzinger turns into Petersburger Strasse, and as I approached Frankfurter Tor, I noticed a couple of good-looking stickers on an electrical pole, but as I got closer, I could see they were covered with paint.  Looking around further, I saw a storefront with shattered and taped up windows, and in fact, the entire building façade and sidewalk below had been splashed with several layers of pink paint.

The shop was a Thor Steinar outlet, a right-wing company that has been criticized for what has been labeled a neo-Nazi clothing line.  You can see pictures from a protest demo in late February 2012 here.

The German text, “Die Modemarke ‘Thor Steinar’ transportiert rechtsextreme Ideologie und ist fester Bestandteil des rechten Lifestyles” translates roughly to “The fashion brand ‘Thor Steinar’ represents right-wing ideology and is an integral part of the right-wing lifestyle.”

I wrote about Thor Steinar in 2009 (though I didn’t have any stickers to show then), and given the controversy at the time, I thought the store in Berlin had been closed.  Turns out the store in Mitte had shut down (the one I wrote about in 2009) and moved east to Friedrichsain district.  I was surprised to see it yesterday at its location near the Warschauer Strasse U-bahn.  That part of town has always been difficult for me to figure out.  A lot of commuters were coming off trains, so it was busier than usual.  But there were also groups of young hippies and punks who were loitering around, drinking, getting ready to party, it seemed.  Everything was fine, but I didn’t linger.

Thor Steinar recently ran afoul again in the east German city of Chemnitz with an outlet store called Brevik, which to many sounds too overtly similar to the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik of Norway.  I won’t go into detail, but you can read about it here.

On the other side of protest, yesterday my friend Nada showed me a few commercial storefronts in central Mitte that had been stoned by lefties protesting capitalism and gentrification.  I’ll get their company names and add info to this post later.  Lots of protests in Berlin these days, including one in the dark last night with a few hundred people on bikes and cops trailing in cars behind.  An “eco-protest,” I was told.

“The People’s Archive” instructional notes

Below are the notes I sent to the Weaving the Streets & People’s Archives team members today, focusing on the People’s Archive component of the project.

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

“The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest: a job of collecting, sorting, preserving, making available, the records of the society.  But I will stick by what I have said about other scholars, and argue that the archivist, in subtle ways, tends to perpetuate the political and economic status quo simply by going about his ordinary business.  His supposed neutrality is, in other words, a fake.  If so, the rebellion of the archivist against his normal role is not, as so many scholars fear, the politicizing of a neutral craft, but the humanizing of an inevitably political craft.  Scholarship in society is inescapably political.  Our choice is not between being political or not.  Our choice is to follow the politics of the going order, that is, to do our job within the priorities and directions set by the dominant forces of society, or else to promote those human values of peace, equality, and justice, which our present society denies.”

- Howard Zinn, “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest”

Let me begin with something John Collins has used to describe the Weave blog, which is the act of weaving together “texts” and “contexts.”  In Latin, the word textus means “1. construct with elaborate care; 2. plait (together); and 3. weave.”  Likewise, in Latin, contextus means “1. compose, connect, link, combine; 2. make, join, form; and 3. weave, entwine, braid, twist together.”

In literary theory and cultural studies, “texts” are any sort of phenomena that signify meaning, such as written publications, visual works of art, music, videos, oral interviews, etc. as well as clothing styles, architectural design, community-based murals, solidarity gatherings, etc.  Coming from a printmaking perspective, I myself tend to focus on hand-held physical texts or “artifacts,” such as street art stickers, political posters, flyers, leaflets, and photographs of these items (though in some cases, these physical artifacts are ephemeral by design).

Texts tell stories.  It’s up to you to figure out what those stories are.  One of the goals of WSPA is to identify the texts that you think are important and tell the stories surrounding those texts.  That’s the Weaving the Streets blogging component of our project, the contextualization.

The People’s Archive will also document the creative ways ordinary people make use of public space to express themselves.  The archive is intended to be a varied repository of selected texts that we gather to share with others.  It will consist of physical artifacts, as I described above, that will be scanned, catalogued, and added to the gallery’s Street Art Graphics digital archive (http://www.stlawu.edu/gallery/digitalcollections/streetartgraphics.php).  Take a look at some of the entries to get a sense of the cataloguing that’s been done.  It’s a work-in-progress, so some items are more thoroughly catalogued than others.  Non-physical artifacts, such as “born digital” documentary photographs, video or sound-based interviews, etc., will also be catalogued as texts and will reside on the WSPA group blog (http://weavenews.org/content/weaving-streets).  In some cases, physical artifacts will appear in both the Street Art Graphics digital archive and the WSPA group blog.

For each physical artifact or born digital item, you will be asked to identify:

  • the creator (artist, organization, sponsor, contributor, or unknown)
  • the geographic location where you found it (be as specific as possible).  For those of you with smart phones, you can even write down GPS coordinates for future reference.
  • a 150-200 word description (what it is about, why it was made, and who the intended audience might be).  Description fields are the most difficult but also the most fun.  You’ll do research to unlock the mysteries surrounding your artifacts or born digital items.  For examples in the Street Art Graphics digital archive, check out the description fields in the German “St. Pauli” stickers and the American “night raiders.”

Cataloguing information is known as “metadata,” or data about data.  Each artifact or born digital item will be catalogued using the fields listed above.  In addition, subject fields for each item will be populated by a university librarian.  Subject fields are tricky and need to follow certain guidelines determined by the Library of Congress and others.  That way, our work will fit into the larger body of knowledge for use by diverse audiences.

Alums can mail physical artifacts to me at the gallery, and students in the field can do the same or bring them back to campus next fall.  The gallery will scan each item and use your metadata to add to the digital archive and/or group blog.  John and I will leave it up to you to decide how many artifacts or born digital items you’d like to incorporate into your research, but we’re imagining somewhere between four to six.  This work is known as digital curation, which is like selecting artworks for an exhibition, for example.  Each of you will be curating your own show, so to speak.  You’ll want to choose your four to six items carefully so that they tell the story you want to share with others.  That is your role as an archivist/activist.

I write about street art stickers on my research blog called Stickerkitty, and for your reference I have listed four links below to posts that weave together texts and contexts.  You’ll see how I often come across some unknown thing I find on the streets and then work to uncover the story behind it.

http://stickerkitty.com/2013/01/26/white-power-and-good-night-white-pride-stickers/

http://stickerkitty.com/2012/04/28/thor-steinar-storefront-in-friedrichsain-and-other-protests/

http://stickerkitty.com/2013/05/20/barbies-not-so-dream-house/

http://stickerkitty.com/2013/05/18/mapping-right-wing-stickers/

A few other references to archivism and activism are listed below.

Lile, Grace.  “Archives for Change: Activist Archives, Archival Activism.”  http://blog.witness.org/2010/09/archives-for-change-activist-archives-archival-activism/.

“Occupy Wall Street from the Streets to the Archives” (New York Times, May 2, 2012).  http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/occupy-wall-street-from-the-streets-to-the-archives/.

See also Ben McCorkle’s “Annotated Obama Poster” for his analysis of the visual rhetoric behind the Obama HOPE poster at http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/mccorkle12/work2.html.

Mapping right-wing stickers?

Yesterday while biking along the Rathausstraße, a popular restaurant and shopping area in Alexanderplatz, I came across several anti-Muslim stickers that are too offensive to post on Stickerkitty.  I’ve been debating what to do and how to write about them in a neutral and ethical way.  Posting offensive images can be a dangerous thing, I think, even if I were to simply describe what was going on in the stickers (i.e., what is being represented and/or communicated).  The stickers were out in public and in plain view, but posting them online seems different.

I’ll share a little of what could be considered acceptable in this situation, though.  When I was there, I took a few photographs and learned that last year, right near where I was standing, a 20-year-old Vietnamese man had been badly beaten and later died.  A shrine with candles and flowers has been created to honor him.

IMG_0120

You can read about the incident in The Local (October 15, 2012) and Der Spiegel (October 17, 2012).  At the time, the alleged perpetrators were identified as “southern Europeans,” though in a more recent story in Der Welt (May 13, 2013), six suspects have been named, with one, a Turk, identified as the main perpetrator.  He fled to Turkey after the beating and returned to Germany just a few days ago to be charged with the murder.

One of the stickers that I found in the area read, “Nur ein toter Muslim ist ein guter Muslim,” or “Only a dead Muslim is a good Muslim.”  Another sticker showed the silhouette of a mosque and the words above it, “Gegen Islam[i]s[i]erung” or “Against Islamization.”  Instead of the letter “i,” were tall minarets.  The sticker also included “2045 werden 52 Mio Muslime in Deutschland leben!” or “In 2045, 52 million Muslims will be living in Germany!” and a Web site for <pi news dot net>.  PI stands for Politically Incorrect.  That’s all I’m going to say about these stickers.  The others were much, much worse.

At the end of the block where I was walking, I found a recognizable sticker image from Storch Heinar that read “Hier Verschwand ein Nazi-Aufkleber” or roughly “Here disappeared a Nazi sticker.”  The sticker (though now in my notebook) did indeed cover an offensive anti-Muslim sticker.

Storch Heinar5-17-13

Storch Heinar, with his little Hitler moustache, is a word play on Thor Steinar, a German clothing company that has been criticized for a logo and other designs that are very similar to what were used on SS uniforms during World War II.  Thor Steinar clothing has been banned in government buildings and several football (soccer) stadiums in Germany.  You can read more about Thor Steinar in a previous post.  Doing research today, I found an informative article by Simon Englar that discusses right-wing clothing and a group in Berlin, Rechtes Land, which tracks right-wing and neo-Nazi activities across Germany.  According to Englar,

  • Rechtes Land, or ‘Just Nation,’ is a database of present and historical far-right activity that will be displayed geographically in a searchable map online.  Every beating, every murder, every bombing—Rechtes Land aims to cover it all, in a consolidated and accessible interface.  But the data mapped won’t be limited to events of official illegality.  Felix Hansen [one of the organizers] explained that the project will also map marches and rallies—events which are technically legal, but which play an important role in the far-right scene.  ‘Whether or not [right-wing] groups have broken the law plays no role for us,’ explained Hansen.  It’s with this understanding that Rechtes Land will pay close attention to the commercialized far right.  Brands like Thor Steinar… will be mapped, their networks of distribution exposed….  That’s a new level of exposure for the German far right—an exposure that will be meticulously catalogued and documented.  Rechtes Land follows a simple logic: exposure is necessary for awareness, for research, and, ultimately, for policy.  This strategy of exposure is particularly well suited to Germany, where the most successful far-right groups tend to be dispersed and obscure.”

Interesting how this mapping relates to my geo-tagging project, too.  I looked at Rechtes Land, and markers identify where right-wing activities have taken place (marches, demonstrations), who were the organizers, their mottos or chants, how many participants, etc., as well as news items and a rich collection of historical Nazi sites and more contemporary post-World War II monuments, museums, and documentation centers, such as the Topography of Terror.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 3.34.27 PM

What a great way to learn about the political history of the city.  I’m going to ask people at Rechtes Land about the anti-Muslim stickers I found.  Maybe they will want to add photos of them to their Web site.

Thor #2

Another Thor Steiner reference to what has been attributed as neo-Nazi politics (see post from 11.03.09).

I also just came across a post by John Collins on The Weave entitled Fascists-For Real, in which he discusses contemporary fascist politics in Spain during his year-long sabbatical.  I wonder if he’s come across anti-fascist street art to the extent I have in Berlin.  John’s analysis on various topics is always spot on.

Berlin Day One

Keeping track of where I was, is, and will be.  Yesterday I walked a loop from Greifswalder, right onto Danzinger, right onto Landsberger Allee, which turned into Platz de Vereinten Nationen, whch turned into Mollstrasse, which turned into Greifswalder again.  Lots of political stickers, mostly for antifa demonstrations, one for Warmlaufen fuer den Widerstand – Atomkraft Kaltstellen!  One for a demonstration on November 12 in Berlin that says “Freiheit statt Angst, stoppt den uberwachungswahn,” which translates into “Freedom not Fear, Stop the Surveillance.”

I found one sticker referring to a controversy regarding Thor Steiner clothing that you can read about on Wikipedia.  The manufacturer’s label included two Norwegian runes, and various authorities have identified wearing Thor Steiner clothing as a sign of neo-Nazi membership.  The label is not allowed in certain government buildings or football stadiums.  The sticker shows a fist clenched in front of two clothing labels and reads “Stop Thor Steiner, gegen Nazi-mode!”

BerlinMapDay1


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