I travel with G. to the archive in Potsdam, in the former east. Right across the Glienicke Bridge, where Cold War spy swaps took place. The U-Bahn glides over the leafy neighborhood of Wannsee. The “Final Solution” was decided somewhere down there. This doesn’t seem right. Off the train and onto a bus that stops after crossing the spy bridge. The archive must be here somewhere but all we see are a few Soviet troops, loitering in front of a non-descript building. But this building is the one I’m looking for.
I’m not as comfortable during this stay in Germany as I was on my first visit. A xenophobic fever runs high after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Neo-Nazis attack foreigners, asylum seekers, with impunity. There are attacks in Berlin on buses, despite Prussian-like police presence. Further east, the police infrastructure is weak or non-existent. I must travel east to an archive in Merseburg. G. tells me I can’t travel alone. One of my friends from New York sends me several sheets of American flag stickers, which will keep me safe.
East and West Berlin is still divided by culture. The former East Germans are called Ossies by West Germans, the Wessies. When I look for an apartment at a rental agency, the nice young man points to the map of Berlin, identifying each Nazigebiet (Nazi area) in East Berlin. The apartments are cheap because they have no central heating. I encounter an Englishwoman, who reports she was attacked by skinheads. The new fascism is equal opportunity.
At a party, I meet a skinhead who is anti-fascist. He’s part of an anti-fascist skinhead group.
Kreuzberg is where the Turkish “guest-workers” live. No neo-Nazi or fascist skinhead turns up there because the Turks fight back. So do the Autonome, the anarchists who break up skinhead rallies with bricks and wooden clubs
Now at ___ University, straight out of Straight Man. These people, my putative colleagues, are beleaguered. What was an attempt at making unity turns rancorous. The lead organizer, accused of exclusion, which he denies, but which everyone knows is true, leaves the table, the room, the universe, ten minutes before quitin’ time. Then, before that, another one – one of my putative colleagues – says something like “I am the only ___ woman left and that tells me I HAVE NO FUTURE HERE.” You can fill in that blank. I stifled the urge to laugh for this person had challenged some logical laws, if not physical ones. “This is really bad,” I conclude, washing my mind of an hour and a quarter of wasted words.
Despite appearances, Williamsburg is a bit gritty, looks like East Berlin in the right light. Additionally, houses with vinyl siding give Billburg a working-class feel.
Comparatively, the late 80s was no golden age. Streets of the East Village and Lower East Side were littered with needles and crack vials (in the Bronx, with bullet casings). It was an era of libertine excess. The presence of gentrifiers, who attract police protection, lowered the body count. Now it is hopeless, a desolate high rent district marred by Frank Gehry’s melting monstrosity. Only the art star scene clings to life there.
Williamsburg was a refuge from the universal march of commodification in Manhattan, and still retains its less than posh character despite the influx of trust funders with liberal arts degrees. Unlike the EV/LES, the Billburg hipster scene is low key, understated. Its addictions to free wifi, lattes brewed and poured with artisanal care, and American Spirits are preferable to crack rock and concealed glocks. Not every woman there is a Hannah Horvath.