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What German media can tell us about our own political climate

November 5, 2021

On Monday, the Department of German hosted a film screening of “Die Wieße Rose” (“The White Rose”) at Smith Auditorium. The film follows the Nazi resistance movement led by Sophie and Hans Schol.

During the Q&A that followed the screening, Assistant Professor of German Jens E. Klenner and Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in German Lucas Riddle spoke about the department’s plans for future events.

“The department is hosting a project called ‘Act Now,’ which hones in on political activism during this time,” Klenner said. “So we screened two movies and currently have a poster exhibit of the resistance in the [Bowdoin College Museum of Art].”

While the department is currently highlighting Nazi resistance through these projects, they are also diverging from World War II-era Germany.

“We look at different artistic expressions of resistance from 1943 all the way to the present,” Riddle said.

These artistic expressions range from Susan Neiman’s “Learning from the Germans,” to Nora Krug’s “Belonging.” Krug’s “Belonging” narrates the shadow cast on Germany by World War II, while Neiman’s “Learning from the Germans” emphasizes how we should learn from history. Both works offer an alternative perspective in German history.

“Neiman talks about Germany, for better or for worse, and how it started reckoning with the atrocities of the Holocaust,” Klenner said. “She compares it to the work that is being done—or not being done—around slavery in the United States, offering the Emmet Till case as a mode of comparison to German anti-fascism.”

Riddle believes that Krug’s works educate Americans about recognizing tyranny and how to actively resist it in quotidian life.

“These works deal with learning from the past and conceptualizing that for American audiences,” Riddle said.

Riddle and Klenner agree, however, that there is more to Germany than its past. While Nazi Germany is discussed widely in the Department of German, its professors often use these concepts to encourage  students to think about contemporary Germany.

“For students who don’t have a background in Germany, we take their presumptions and expand them to get them interested in Germany as a living country now,” Riddle said.

Riddle believes that these strategies have been effective in his first-year writing seminar, “(IR)RESISTABLE: The Act of Defiance in a Changing Nation” and beyond, as students continue to explore the historical and cultural offerings of the Department of German.

“[Students] join because they’re interested in the historical, World War II stuff,” Riddle said. “But, they’re more interested in the contemporary stuff now.”


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