The Identification of Memorialization and Art

Memorialization and its Effects on National and Urban Identities

Anna von Ravensberg
“Reenacting German and American Identities” - Berlin and Jena, Summer 2015
University of Washington Honors Program

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Abstract
Memorials and monuments are lenses into the past, often depicting events integral
to a nation’s history and formation. Our group is interested in investigating different types
of memorialization in Berlin and connecting these structures back to national and urban
identities. There are several different types of memorials that we intend to explore, such
as government commissioned memorials, uncommissioned memorials, historical
buildings, and unintentional memorials. Likewise, we view memorials as non-static
structures; monuments can change over time, both influencing and being influenced by
individuals who interact with them. Therefore, we plan on studying the ways that
memorialization practices affect the formation and constant reformation of both urban
and national identities. We hope to further our project by discovering to what extent these
memorials serve as a representation of the national or urban populace, and how this
representation leads to practices of exclusion and inclusion. Our project will focus on
several different forms of data collection-- primarily interviews with a variety of people,
but also observations on memorial sites, and general surveys. We also intend on speaking
with students and instructors at Humboldt- Universität zu Berlin and Friedrich-SchillerUniversität Jena to get their perspective on German and Berlin history. Through our
individual and group investigations, we will answer our main research questions: How do
practices of memorialization compare in the United States and Germany? To what extent
do memorialization and street art represent a changing Berlin identity? How do sites of
commemoration resulting from the East/West divide and the fall of the Third Reich both
highlight and shape a shifting Berlin identity? What are different people nowadays think
about Nazi architecture, and how does that represent the shift of German identity
throughout these years?

Question
While in Berlin, I will focus on the connections between street art and memorials,
and how these relate to the identities of Berliners and Germans. Specifically, I would like
to answer: To what extent do Berliners identify the Berlin Wall as a memorial or as an 

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“open­air gallery,” and how does this represent a changing Berlin identity? Berlin is a
dynamic, global city, with a constantly changing identity due to its increasingly diverse
population. I want to explore how this identity is changing, in hopes of understanding
where this urban identity originated from (what distinguished Berlin as “Berlin” from the
rest of Germany? From the rest of the world?) and how this identity will continue to be
developed. “Monuments are nothing if not selective aids to memory: they encourage us to
remember some things and to forget others. The process of creating monuments,
especially where it is openly contested, as in Berlin, shapes public memory and collective
identity” (Ladd, p. 11). As Ladd depicts, memorials reflect on the shared history of a
population, and it will be important to find who identifies with the Berlin Wall and the
East Side Gallery, and just as important, who doesn’t, and why. What do these people
identify the Berlin Wall as? Consequently, how do these people identify themselves?
What is, assuming there is one, the connection between these identifications? What is the
collective identity associated with the Berlin Wall? This will give insight into Berlin’s
historical identity, and this identity’s perception today. Street art, on the other hand, is a
way for minorities and immigrants, who often are overlooked in society, to give a voice
to the issues that impact them. These minorities and immigrants are an integral part of
Berlin’s modern, shifting population and identity, and it is therefore important to
understand where these perspectives emerge from, and why. Do these groups identify
themselves as Berliners? As Germans? Why or why not? Consequently, how do these
groups identify Berlin memorials that are supposed to instill “collective identity”?

Background
Monuments and Memorialization
Monuments are broadly defined as “anything that is enduring; an ancient building
or site that has survived... because of its historical significance” (Mitter, 2013, p. 159).
Likewise, Harjes (2005) describes the main three functions of memorials: “to mourn and
commemorate the dead, to educate their audiences, and to politically and socially
represent contemporary German citizens” (p. 139). However, several different types of

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monuments exist and have different effects on those who interact with the sites. For
example, Mitter (2013) claims that there are two different kinds of memorials: durable
and ephemeral. Durable monuments are “material ones such as sites, buildings, and
images,” while ephemeral monuments are “transitory and mobile ones made of fragile
materials” (p. 159). For the purposes of our project, we will focus on connecting national
and urban identities to four different types of monuments found in Berlin and other
countries: commissioned monuments, uncommissioned monuments, historical buildings,
and unintentional monuments.
National and Urban Identity
The formation of a nation has been highly documented in the literature, and Sharp
(1996) describes this process as “the repetition of symbols that come to represent the
nation’s origin and uniqueness” (p. 98). Likewise, even though “it is not possible for all
members of any nation to know even a small fraction of the other citizens of the country,”
a sense of national identity is achievable because “nations are communities, [containing]
very real bonds... perceived as linking distant people in the same territory” (p. 98). Mitter
(2013) focuses extensively on the connections between memorials and national identity,
specifically focusing on the phenomenon of collective memory, which “has a dialectical
relationship with historical reconstructions of the past because both contribute to the idea
of nationhood” (p. 163). The idea of a nation is described as “a construct that serves to
forge a sense of unity and the feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’” Nationhood, then, is upheld
and constructed through collective memory, which “helps to fix our identity in the
modern re-use of the past” (p. 163). Through this analysis, we can see that
memorialization, which plays a role in establishing a collective memory, has a huge
influence on the formation and upkeep of a national identity, a topic which we will be
developing further through our individual research questions.
Commissioned Memorials
We define commissioned memorials as monuments that are constructed with
consent or direction from a governing body. Because a group that represents the large

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community, city, or nation builds these memorials, a very specific and carefully planned
narrative is constructed through these monuments, often attempting to “speak for” an
entire population. For example, Harjes (2005) describes in detail the intricacies of the
Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, a publically funded memorial established in
2005 (p. 138). She describes the purpose for this memorial as being “the unified
government’s wish to set a signal of integration: the integration of east and west German
collective memory” which eventually became almost synonymous to a “democratic form
of collective memory” (p. 141). In a similar vein, Sodaro (2013) writes about The Jewish
Museum, established in Berlin in 2001 (p. 77). The Jewish Museum was not intended to
be a Holocaust museum, but instead to focus on “a celebration of German-Jewish culture
and history” (p. 77). Sodaro hypothesizes that the construction of this museum, then, is
considered to be a “countermemorial museum” because it rejects the categorization of a
Holocaust memorial and thus challenges the typically self-reflexive purposes other
memorial sites serve (p. 76-77).
Uncommissioned Memorials
While a governmental body publically funds commissioned memorials,
uncommissioned memorials are privately sponsored. Because the monuments then are
representative of the goals of a private group or individual, the narratives offered through
the memorial are often different than a commissioned memorial. Harjes (2005) describes
one example of an uncommissioned memorial, a “countermonument” known as the
“stumbling stone” project by Gunter Demnig. This memorial features metal plates and
signs being installed in various places around Berlin, each with a reference to the
systematic killing of the Jewish population, such as plaques denoting a victim of the
Holocaust installed in front of their former place of residence (p.145). Because of the
decentralized structure of the monument, people do not seek out these commemorations
like they would a commissioned memorial, but rather something they stumble upon and
are interrupted by (p. 144). As Harjes points out, uncommissioned memorials have no
obligation to support a “particular vision of national identity” and in this way are able to
create a more organic form of collective memory, one that sprouts from individual
interpretation rather than government construction (p. 144-5).

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Historical Buildings and Other Unintentional Memorials
Many times, memorials are not intentionally created, but rather become
memorials after “they had lost the purpose for which they were built” (Mitter, 2013, p.
162). For example, Nazi architecture riddles many German cities, including Berlin, even
though they were once used to further Hitler’s Nazi regime. Despite this sordid past,
many of the Nazi buildings, such as Zoologischer Garten rail station, the 1936 Olympic
Stadium, and many government buildings, are integrated into daily Berlin life, albeit
serving a different function now than in the 1930s (“Nazi Past Lives on in Berlin’s
Buildings,” 2005.) Thus, these buildings have become a sort of “hidden” memorial, as
they are representative of German history but are not distinctly marked as sites of
remembrance. Perhaps the most striking example of an unintentional memorial is the
Berlin Wall, originally serving to divide East and West Germany, but has since
transitioned into a monument that is maintained through government funding. Likewise,
street art can function as an unintentional memorial, especially when considering the
Berlin Wall. As described by Eva Youkhana (2014), street art often serves as a way for
marginalized or oppressed groups to have their voices heard, and can be considered a
memorial for their own experiences, often ignored in hegemonic narratives.
Individual Background
Berlin is world-renowned for its colorful yet often controversial street art. Over
time, graffiti has switched from aesthetically pleasing public art to collective and
collaborative art with a message. As Eva Youkhana (2014) explains, “creative activism
and urban art are increasingly being used as an instrument to collectively re-appropriate
the urban space and thus articulate themselves as being part of the urban collective, being
an urban citizen” (p. 175). An example of this appropriation is with the Berlin Wall, in
particular the East Side Gallery, which once signified a clear divide between the Socialist
East Berlin and the Democratic West, but now serves as a canvas for modern artists to
express and bring to light important issues. With the fall of the Wall in 1989, the East
Side Gallery became a forum for artists to express their distaste for the former Soviet
Bloc, WWII themes still present in the world, reunification, environmental issues, human

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rights, etc. “By 1993, when the East Side Gallery’s preservation was officially decreed,
word had spread that this was the place to experience the historic Wall” (Ladd, p. 35).
Preservation of the East Side Gallery is an example of how street art and memorialization
work hand-in-hand to represent Berlin’s changing identity into a global city with farreaching influence. This is important as recognizing a developing identity through art is
the first step in understanding why and how a collective identity is changing.

Research Methods
Much of my data gathering consisted of interviews, surveys, and text analysis. I
started by visiting the East Side Gallery in order to get a feel for the layout of the site, and
to analyze what stood out to me for further research. At my “beginning” of the East Side
Gallery on Mühlenstraße, near Oberbaumbrüke, stood murals depicting the news of
1989- the fall of the Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, Judaism and the presence of
Israel, etc. It was at this of the Wall that I saw the Dmitri Vrubel’s famed mural “My God,
Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” (Figure 1). This image depicts the kiss in 1979
between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker during the 30th anniversary celebration of
the founding of the GDR. While the Cold War is still visible in many areas of the world
today, I assessed this as an “early” image of the Wall, as its use of Honecker and
Brezhnev as Cold War actors, and depiction of a Cold War event, and the use of Russian
as the primary language (placed above and on the painting, before German although the

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image is in Germany) of the work, despite
German being the main language of Berlin,
made me feel as if I was looking into the
past as opposed to experiencing a modern
painting.
By moving down the Wall, I realized
the images before me turned away from
1990’s current events to modern struggles
with environmentalism and human rights. In
many ways, I felt as if I was “reading” the
Wall as a book, detailing not only the history
Figure 1- "My God, Help Me to Survive This
Deadly Love" by Dmitri Vrubel

of a monument, but also of a city and of the
world. I then arrived at the

“uncommissioned” side of the Wall (Figure 2), where I reached the chapter of the book
currently being written. Much graffiti filled the other side of the Wall, and I witnessed
groups of people spray-painting their messages onto the concrete. It was here that I saw
the Wall as an interactive space, no longer a border, no longer a monument, but an open
gallery and canvas inviting participation. The two sides of the Wall became quite
obvious, leading me to ask- is the Wall a memorial or is it an “open-air gallery?”
Next, I moved to widespread research regarding the Berlin Wall. This consisted of
researching the origins of the East Side Gallery, its preservation, contributing artists, and
current controversy. To start, while the East Side Gallery is technically a protected site by
law, it is the East Side Gallery Artists Initiative who has taken it upon them to maintain
preservation of the murals. Berlin has three pieces of the Wall still in tact: the Berlin Wall
Memorial at Bernauerstraße, the Topography of Terror, and the East Side Gallery. “But 
while the Berlin Wall Memorial and Topography of Terror Foundation are further 
supported by the state and the federal government, the East Side Gallery currently 
receives no secured, long­term funding from Berlin” (Yi, 2013). All funding to support 
the upkeep of the site comes from the Artists Initiative group, although the organization 
has no claim over the site. The Artists Initiative group doesn’t work without controversy 

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though. In 2009, the group undertook a massive
restoration project for the murals along
Mühlenstraße, although original artists such as
Dmitri Vrubel claimed the Initiative did not notify
him of these refurbishments prior. “My picture is
ruined” (Göbel, 2009), was Vrubel’s response.
This struggle over the Wall’s preservation and
subsequent ownership of the pieces led me to ask: 
Who owns the Wall? If a memorial (in this case
the East Side Gallery) represents “collective
identity,” can someone control the perception of a
memorial or does the public do that?
The next articles I ran across talked about
the movement of the Wall around the world to

Figure 2-"Uncommissioned" side of the
East Side Gallery

promote art. The Wende Museum in Los Angeles held an exhibition in 2009 to celebrate 
the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Pieces of the Berlin Wall were cut up and 
shipped to Los Angeles, where established and emerging artists, including Thierry Noir, 
an original painter of the Wall, were invited to paint the pieces. “The key impetus 
behind The Wall Project was to replicate the Berlin Wall’s function as a site for political 
and personal expression, through reproducing elements of the art and creativity that it 
once inspired” (The Wall Project). These segments remain in Los Angeles for the 
foreseeable future. “Berlin will long remain the city of the Wall, even if the concrete ends
up in Florida, because the Wall, as an unintentional monument, came to define the urban 
space of Berlin. It was thus an exemplary, if by no means typical, case of a monument 
giving form to collective identity” (Ladd, p. 37). But how does the Berlin Wall give rise 
to Berlin’s collective identity if it no longer stands in the city that gave it its namesake? It
was here I asked: Where does the Wall end and the art begin? When does the Wall cease 
to be a Wall and simply a canvas?
From there I began to read on preservation of the East Side Gallery from the 
perspective of the artists, a debate that has continued today. Thierry Noir, as stated 

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previously, was an original artist of the East Side Gallery. Unlike Dmitri Vrubel’s 
statement above, Noir doesn’t believe his mural could ever be ruined in its current state. 
“With this method of speed and unsophistication, ‘it was just impossible to ruin my 
paintings.’ [Noir] could always do it again” (Yi, 2013). Here we see why Noir currently 
serves as Vice­Chairman of the East Side Gallery Artists Initiative, an organization that 
openly believes in restoration of the 
Wall, of “doing it again.” However, a 
fellow artist of the Wall, Jim Avignon, 
morally detests the preservation of not 
only the Gallery, but of art in general. 
“In [Avignon’s] eyes, the Gallery’s 
artwork — as distinct from the concrete 
wall itself — is not a monument worth 
preserving” (Yi, 2013). Avignon 
viciously opposes restoration of the 
Gallery, believing the art should be 
allowed to decay, and continuously 
interact with the public (in other words, 
if the public decides to write upon the 
art, then let it be). As Avignon said, 
Figure 3-Luxury condominium built in former
"Death Strip" at East Side Gallery

“’Working on the street, on a wall — 
you accept that it’s going to change, that 

somebody’s going to add something and write over it. I even like that’”(Yi, 2013). The 
Wall is not a static structure, but a forum, a place for everyone to interact appropriately 
(however the individual defines that) with the Wall and the art depending on the value 
they see in it. This was why when I visited the East Side Gallery, I saw some people 
taking pictures of the murals, and others writing on them. “Symbols and monuments are
invested with their meaning through human action, so we can best understand the Wall
(and its physical and metaphoric demise) by looking at the way it has been treated”
(Ladd, p. 10). This begged the questions: To what extent does an artist have a say in how

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their art is maintained once it enters the public sphere? How does art’s message change
when it connects with the community?
In addition, I researched the luxury condominium I spotted between the East Side
Gallery and the River Spree (Figure 3), a stark symbol of extravagance in an otherwise
desolate landscape. I found this complex was built in the former “Death Strip” of the
Wall, where soldiers guarded the border intensely, and many lost their lives trying to 
cross here. There was much controvery
surrounding its building, as pieces of
the Wall were to be removed in order
to bring materials to the site, and
operation that was met with abundant
protest. This led me to ask: How do
people see the Wall today? Does
removing pieces of the East Side
Gallery remove its value, or add to it?
All this information led me to refine
my original research question to the
one presented in the “Question”
section of this paper, and create my
survey questions that I presented to

Memorialization and National Identity 
 
We are researchers from the University of Washington who are interested in learning 
about the connections between memorialization and national identity. We appreciate 
your participation in this preliminary study. All responses are anonymous. If you have 
questions, please ask. 
 
Demographics information: 
● Age:___________________________ 
● Gender:________________________ 
● Do you consider yourself German?__________________________ 
● If you do not consider yourself German, what nationality would you consider 
yourself? 
______________________________ 
● Do you consider yourself a Berliner?_________________________ 
 
Part I 
1.What comes to mind when you think of the Berlin Wall? Explain your answer briefly. 
 
 
 
 
 
2. Do you identify the Berlin Wall more as  
a. a “memorial” or  
b. as an “open air gallery”?  
 
Explain your answer briefly. 
 
 
 
 
 
3. Should the Berlin Wall be preserved as  
a. a collection of art pieces?  
b. as a memorial?  
 
Explain your answer briefly.  
 

American Studies students at
Humboldt University (Figure 4). I

Figure 4- Survey presented to American Studies
students at Humboldt University

wanted to find a connection between personal identification and how people identified 
the Wall, which is why there are two clear parts to the survey. In addition to having 
people respond to my survey with identifying the Wall as a memorial or as an “open­air 
gallery,” I invited responders to justify their answers. In this way, my survey was 
quantitative in determining what the most popular response was, but also qualitative in 
the analysis of the unique explanations, of which both responses I gave equal weight to 
when reaching my conclusion.

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Findings
Note: All quotes present in this section are direct quotations taken from survey responses.
In this section, I will detail the results of my survey, starting with the 
demographics. There were 25 participants, of which there were seven males and 18 
females aged from 19 to 33. Answering the first question, 14 participants self identified 
as German. Nine participants did not identify as German, but rather identified as 
Slovakian, a “global citizen,” Norwegian, American/Kenyan, Russian, American, French,
identified with “Europe as a whole/I more identify with my hometown Berlin,” and as 
“Antinational.” In addition, there were two participants who responded uniquely to this 
question. One said “not sure” when asked if she identified as German, though she 
considered herself “German/Arabic,” and another partaker responded “not completely” 
when asked if she identified as German, but self identified as “Indian.” (Note: BOTH 
these students identified themselves as Berliners later in the survey).
In the second part of my demographics section, I had nine students who did not 
consider themselves Berliners, where three considered themselves German, and six 
identified with another nationality (including “antinational”). However, there were 12 
students who did consider themselves Berliners, six of which identified as German and 
six which identified as non­German or as German and another nationality.
On the first question of the actual survey, I had 15 participants mention key 
historical terms such as “Cold War,” “WWII,” “separation/segregation/divided city,” etc. 
To note, two students explicitly mentioned, “cage,” a term I had never once associated 
with Berlin before now. Of these 15 participants, six considered themselves Berliners, six
did not consider themselves Berliners, one said she was not a Berliner “yet,” and two 
mentioned they were a Berliner “somehow.” Three participants mentioned art in 
association with the Berlin Wall, in particular the “East Side Gallery.” I should note one 
of these three participants I also counted for “historical words” as they mentioned both 
history and art in his or her response. All three of these participants considered 
themselves Berliners. One participant did not answer, and one participant said “the shared
will and force of the people” when he or she thought of the Berlin Wall, and this person 

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identified as German but not as a Berliner. Two students identified the Wall as 
“historically significant.” One of these participants identified as Berliner but not as 
German, and mentioned, “[the Wall] is something that is historically significant for 
Germany but doesn’t affect me personally because I wasn’t born then.” The other 
participant identified not as a Berliner but as a “global citizen,” and talked of how the 
Wall is a huge part of our history, and while we have to keep that in mind, we at the same
time must let go­ “We’re a new nation now without boundaries.” One participant 
mentioned how easily one can still tell the East and the West apart, while another student 
voiced how it wasn’t too long ago when the Wall was still standing.
In the second and third questions of the survey, I asked students to distinguish the 
Wall as either a memorial or an open­air gallery, and of these two choices, how the Wall 
should be preserved. I had 15 participants identify the Wall as only a memorial, where 
three identified as German and Berliner, three identified as neither German nor Berliner, 
four identified as German but not a Berliner, two identified as German and “somehow” a 
Berliner, and one identified as not German but as a Berliner. A common explanation for 
this response was to prevent history from repeating itself, as being forced to face history 
keeps its messages and teachings present. One student responded, “Art is ephemeral, the 
Wall is not,” a clear indication that the Wall should only be a memorial and not a gallery. 
Two students identified the Wall by its art pieces, where one participant identified as 
neither German nor a Berliner, and one identified not as German but as a Berliner.
I should note here that even though it was not an option, I had five students make 
a third choice on my survey to say the Wall should be identified and preserved as both a 
memorial and an open­air gallery. Three participants identified as German and Berliner, 
one identified as not German but as a Berliner, and one identified as neither a German 
nor a Berliner. Two separate participants mentioned they identified the Wall as neither a 
memorial nor an open­air gallery, and both identified as Berliners. “Why should it be 
more than it is,” was one of the explanations. Lastly, one participant identified the Wall 
as “the history of my city,” and said the Wall should be preserved as both. The participant
identified as a Berliner, and his or her explanation was “Art can be historical too.”

14
In addition to performing this survey, I interviewed Robin Laumann who works at
the Junge Islam Konferenz and presented to our group about his organization. When I 
initially approached him about my project, I wanted to ask about how students of 
“migrant backgrounds” connect to German history, and how it is taught to them. 
However, when Mr. Laumann initially heard I was exploring the Berlin Wall and how it 
is identified and preserved, he had a more closed off answer: “However, it will be 
difficult for me to talk about the Berlin Wall, street art etc., because I’m not from Berlin 
and wasn’t brought up with the Wall as a symbolic icon of (world) history.” Laumann 
later explained he is from Dortmund, a town over 200 miles to the east of Berlin. I found 
his response interesting, seeing as how so many non­Berliners born after the fall from my
survey responses still extended their opinions about the Wall, though Mr. Laumann 
refused to.
Some of my findings of my survey matched with the readings I found when 
developing the questions. For instance, many students think the Wall should be preserved
as a memorial was an idea also expressed by Ladd. “The reason for preservation was thus
to protect a place of national memory and to keep alive the lesson of the Wall: the 
unbreakable unity of the German people” (Ladd, p. 32). On the other hand, the two 
participants who believed the Wall should not be preserved in any way brought up 
thoughts of Jim Avignon. “In [Avignon’s] eyes, the Gallery’s artwork — as distinct from 
the concrete wall itself — is not a monument worth preserving” (Yi, 2013). I found that 
the diversity of ideas offered by the students about the Wall are not necessarily original, 
but they are nonetheless bestowed by a youthful generation, an indication that the battle 
over preservation and presentation of the Berlin Wall and East Side Gallery is an issue 
that will surround Berlin for years to come.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I did not find a correlation between how people identified 
themselves and how they identified the Wall. As one can see from my results, there was 
quite a range in responses to how people believed the Wall should be identified and 

15
preserved, and again, there simply was no trend to how people identified themselves by 
nationality and as a Berliner or not. I admit, this could be due to my small sample size, 
for 25 people is certainly not enough to draw a strong enough conclusion on identity. Or, 
my lack of a conclusion could be due to the assumptions I made in my survey questions 
that may have misguided participants. By assumptions, I mean I expected people would 
identify with a nationality (which was not true as I had students identify “with Europe as 
a whole” or as “antinational”) and they would identify with Berlin or they wouldn’t 
(which was also not true as I had students identify with Berlin “somehow”). In addition, 
the way I phrased my survey questions made students feel as if they had to make a 
choice. For instance, my second and third question assumed students would choose 
“memorial” or “open­air gallery,” and did not initiate the idea that there could be several 
other options on how someone could identify and preserve the Wall. I know this was an 
assumption as I had five of 25 participants, a significant percentage, explain that it should
be both a memorial and an open­air gallery. I believe preservation of the Berlin Wall will 
continue to be a subject for discussion for Berliners and Germans, if the diversity in my 
survey responses is any indication of the future.
However, I believe that this lack of a trend is indicative of Berlin’s globalization 
and establishment as a multicultural hub. The demographics of my sample speak volumes
to this. I had only 25 participants, a small sample size when attempting to find trends in 
statistics, yet look at the diversity I received in the participants self identification. I had 
students identifying as German, Norwegian, Russian, American/Kenyan, students who 
identified with Germany and students who did not (despite studying at a German 
university) and students who identified with both Germany and Berlin, students who 
identified with neither, and students who identified with Berlin but not Germany. I found 
this last identification quite intriguing, as I have grown up the majority of my life in 
Seattle, and I identify as a Seattleite and consequently, an American. Everyone around 
me does the same, as there is no way you can separate Seattle from the country that 
houses it. I have yet to run into someone who identifies with only Seattle and not with 
America as a whole. However, with my survey results, I found it was not uncommon for 
participants to identify as Berliner but not as German, a testament to the diversity of 

16
Berlin, and problems Germany has faced for several years with its status as an 
“immigrant nation.” As many students of diverse backgrounds chose to identify with 
Berlin rather than Germany, I believe this speaks volumes to the multiculturalism of 
Berlin as a globalized city.
As stated above, several students made of point of telling me that the Wall should 
be both a memorial and an open­air gallery. I believe this speaks to the Wall not being a 
static space, although I tried to treat it as such in my survey. I believed that the Wall must
be one or the other, that these two identities existed separately and only one could truly 
define the Wall. But my participants showed me that the Wall is both a memorial and a 
gallery, and more. I was forced to ask myself, why must we feel the need to define the 
Wall as one identity? This got me to start thinking about people, and reflect back on the 
experiences I’ve had in this program. In the same way we want to define the Wall by one 
identity, why do we feel the need to only classify others by one identity, usually where 
they come from? This brings back images of our trip to the Youth Museum, where my 
group was set to explore the apartment of young Persian woman (unfortunately, her name
escapes me). Although there were many indications to her family being from Iran, the 
majority of the things in her room reflected her passion for music, art, fashion, and 
Berlin. When reflecting on everything we had seen in the room, our group had the 
opportunity to speak with the girl about how she identifies herself. We told her that we 
knew she was Persian, but that there weren’t many things indicating a connection to her 
ethnicity. She told us this was intentional. While her parents grew up in Iran, she did not, 
and she has only visited once and did not enjoy herself there. She said she is first and 
foremost a Berliner, and that this is her home. In her perfect German, she explained 
people often ask where she is “really” from, and she will always say Berlin. While being 
Persian is a part of her identity, it is only a small part, and sadly people always want to 
classify her by her ethnicity, which often eclipses her passions and aspirations, which are 
what are truly reflective of her personal identity. I believe this realization is where I draw 
the greatest conclusion from my research. In a globalized society, we must realize that 
location is becoming irrelevant when learning someone’s identity. Just because someone 
looks a certain way does not automatically mean they are from a certain culture or 

17
ethnicity. Asking where someone is “really” from, as we have learned, tells you nothing 
about who a person is. When it comes to identity formation, location is important, but it 
comes down to respecting an individual enough to let them define themselves as they see 
fit.
In terms of a future study, I would be interested in exploring how people identify 
themselves in terms of their location, and why. This stems again from the demographics 
of my survey responses, and not all, but a significant portion of my participants identified
with Berlin but not with Germany. Again, being from America, this is hard to understand,
as people who identify with their American city usually identify with America as a whole
as well. It wasn’t until I came to Germany that I realized people felt so othered by their 
larger German society, but found solace in the diversity of Berlin, that they could identify
with the German capital and with the nationality of their families, but not identify with 
Germany.

Cultural Sensitivity
The surprises of this research project were definitely how wrong my assumptions 
were! I believed, when crafting my questions that I was writing a straightforward, easily 
accessible survey that would deliver me results that I could simply quantify and present 
to an audience. However, when I received the results of my survey, I realized I had 
several errors in my assumptions. As stated above, I assumed that the participants would 
agree with me that the Wall should be either a memorial or an open­air gallery, yet I did 
not consider a third or fourth option. If I were to rewrite this survey, I would include an 
option that said “both” or “other:____” and allow participants to include their own 
response (with justification, of course). Also, the way my demographic questions were 
set up, I would assume students would respond yes or no to saying if they identify as 
German or Berliner, and if no to German, what nationality they identify with. Clean, 
simple, another way to classify my results later. However, I was not prepared for people 
to answer that with “somehow” Berliner, or that they identified as “antinational” or “with
Europe as a whole.” However, after our talk with Catherine, an artist who presented to 

18
our group in Berlin, I noticed how she, just like a participant in my survey, said she 
identified as a “European citizen,” not with only Germany (where she lives now) or only 
Finland (where she lived and studied for several years) or only Austria (where she is from
and where her family is). I realized that this participant was not an outlier in my survey, 
but representative of an emerging identity that doesn’t accept only one nationality, but 
many. And many other participants agreed, as I had few surveys that said they only 
identified with one country. If I were to remake this survey, I would certainly need to put 
more thought into how I approach the demographic questions. Although I am from a 
country where people identify with America and maybe one other country that their 
family is from, Berlin, Germany, and Europe are not like this, and I cannot assume that 
they ever will be. How I ask my questions in this survey is just as, if not more, important 
than what I ask.
I must also speak to the sheer surprise of experiencing how Germany 
memorializes things versus how the US memorializes things. As an American, the 
majority of memorials pay tribute to how great Americans died for a noble cause. Think 
of the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, etc. All of 
these represent the strength of America in a time this was tested, yet how America 
prevailed. Few memorials in America acknowledge the dark side of America’s past­ there
is no tribute to the wrongs of slavery, segregation, the Native American genocide, etc. 
However, in Germany, with the history of WWII and the Holocaust omnipresent, several 
memorials are dedicated to this disturbing side of Germany’s past. What comes to mind 
is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, next to the Brandenburg Gate.
I was amazed how well presented this memorial was, and how, even though it was free to
attend, there were several guards around to maintain the sacredness of the site (mostly to 
prevent hooligans from sitting on top of the structures of the memorial). This memorial 
paid homage to the ugliness of history, but Germany was determined to remember the 
mistakes so that they are not forgotten, even if the wounds are still fresh. I believe Ladd 
said it best: “The Wall and other Berlin monuments recall controversial deeds, mostly of 
the recent past, deeds that prevent any consensus about the sort of things monuments are 
supposed to embody, such as national identity or a common ideal. It is this deep 

19
uncertainty that makes Berlin such a contested landscape, and creates a charged 
atmosphere that foreigners find hard to grasp” (Ladd, p. 11). I certainly agree that Berlin 
held a culture I never felt I truly understood. Is this “charged atmosphere” what allows 
Berliners to face history? It made me wonder, will the US ever openly pay tribute to the 
wrongs of its past the way it respects is successes?
One last major distinction I wanted to make between Berlin and the US is the 
treatment of street art. In the US, street art is often viewed only as graffiti, and therefore 
unpleasing to the eye, a nuisance that must be removed. However, in Berlin, street art is 
integral to the collective identity (thank you Ladd for the term) of the city, and fills every 
urban space. The sprawling metropolitan of Germany’s capital would look incomplete 
without its famed murals stretching over the buildings. By accepting street art as a 
tolerable medium of expression, Berlin is also inviting anonymous people to speak up 
about the issues that impact them at a public forum. This becomes a powerful tool for 
those underrepresented in society, such as minorities and immigrants. Street art creates a 
public discussion, one that rarely occurs today, and I wonder how the US would be better 
served should we allow more street art to flourish. 
Lastly, I would like to highlight a few struggles of this research project. First and 
foremost, the language barrier was constantly present. Especially when it came to 
creating my survey, I wish I knew enough German to communicate with my audience in 
their native tongue. I say this because there were several instances where German words 
did not translate to English, yet captured German feeling perfectly (most notable 
“Heimat” at the Youth Museum). I feel my results may have come out differently should 
my survey be in German. In addition, I struggled to meet with professors, as several of 
the art professors at Humboldt I was guided to talk to by Cindi Schaarschmidt were 
unable to meet with me.

20

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