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Displacement vs. Mobility; or, Who Owns the World: An Aesthetic Inquiry into Infrastructure, Common Possession, and Violence in Karim Aïnouz’s Documentary Film Central Airport THF (2017)

“Central Airport THF” is a documentary film about the temporary housing of refugees in the halls of the former Tempelhof Airport, located at the edge of Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld. As if by accident, the director contrasts the arrested life in the adapted shelter to the mobility of life in the politically contested Tempelhof Park adjacent to it. Beginning with the specific locality of Central Airport Tempelhof, its architecture, history, and current use as refugee housing, the film employs aesthetic means to render an affectively knowable violence that extends to the very ground of what we call ‘infrastructure.’ The analysis of these aesthetic moments leads to questions that are only rarely addressed in the context of displacement and asylum, but are no less central to the relationship between displacement and mobility: What is common possession? Who owns the world? Does the world fall—can it even fall—under the categories of property or ownership?

Lessons from the Southern German Borderlands

This essay engages the borderlands region joining contemporary Austria, Germany, and Switzerland as a ‘central periphery’ in the heart of Europe. As a region in which multiple and varied notions of belonging have long stretched across the borders that animate our modern political maps, the most important borders shaping the inhabitants’ sense of belonging were often in their heads. By drawing on five eclectic museums in the region, where these notions of belonging are being articulated and produced, this essay underscores some of the region’s key characteristics that historians of nation-states have frequently overlooked, but ethnologists generally have not. It argues that directly engaging those characteristics offers us productive ways of globalizing European and German histories that scholars regularly ignore when considering the implications of provincializing or decolonizing them. It also argues that this process has the potential to upend the historiography centered on European nation-states and their empires.

Introduction: German-Polish Borderlands in Contemporary Literature and Culture

This is the introduction to TRANSIT 14.1's special section on the representation of borders and borderlands in the literary and cultural landscapes of Germany and Poland. We have brought together scholarship, excerpts from an essayistic historical study, a creative essay, a poem, and two translated chapters from a Polish novel that explore past and present German and Polish borderlands through the lensof their entangled history. Focusing on works from different time periods, ranging from the end of the Second World War until today, the contributions examine past and present German-Polish borderlands from diverse angles, situating them historically while also underlining their significance within a global future.

Remembering and Remapping Breslaff: Resurfacing German and Queer Topographies in Contemporary Polish Literature

This article focuses on the role of contemporary Polish literature in bringing back that which has been repressed under communism: the Germanness of the so-called “regained territories”, i.e. territories that became Polish due to the changes of national borders after the Second World War, as well as the marginalized queer life. I discuss two novels that feature the city of Wrocław, formerly German Breslau: Marek Krajewski’s Death in Breslau (1999) and Michał Witkowski’s Lovetown (2004). My analysis draws parallels between bringing back the German past of the city and remembering queer life during communism in fiction. Marek Krajewski situates the plot of his highly popular crime novel in Breslau in the 1930s. By doing so, he fictionally recreates the former German city which allows the reader to rediscover its past and foreign layer. Michał Witkowski’s prose performs a similar task by describing parts of the city that were central to queer culture but hidden from the experience of the “general public” under communism. I argue that remembering takes effect through remapping and that this literary remapping destabilizes the narrative about Polish culture as a homogeneous block of monolingualism, Catholicism, and heteronormativity. Furthermore, the fictional topographies of the German Breslau and the queer Wrocław alter the existing geospace by overlaying a suppressed otherness onto it.

Reimagining the German-Polish Borderlands in Nowa Amerika and Slubfurt1

Nowa Amerika and Słubfurt are two related activist art projects that are set in the German-Polish borderland. Nowa Amerika is an imagined country, and Słubfurt its capital. This contribution introduces these projects and examines their underlying cosmopolitan principles and their strategies of reality construction and performance. The analysis highlights how Nowa Amerika intervenes in the borderland’s spatial and temporal reality and creates new narratives that challenge established political, cultural, and social boundaries. On the one hand, the projects engage critically with existing borders and produce a cosmopolitan vision for the borderland by playfully subverting the borders of the nation state: They remap the borderland as a shared space, for example, through the creation of new cartographies or by bringing people together to form cross-border networks within the local community. On the other hand, their decided focus on the present and future means that historical context is at times oversimplified or elided, thus blurring the cosmopolitan vision. This article invites thinking about the tensions and difficulties that are embedded in cosmopolitan projects, as well as the challenges and taboos in the relationship between Germany and Poland.

The Reconciliatory Potential of Objects in Stefan Chwin’s novel Death in Danzig

This article examines the artistic rendering of post-German objects in Stefan Chwin’s 1995 novel Hanemann [Death in Danzig] through the lens of new materialism theories. In his depiction of the historical transformation of Danzig/Gdansk from a German to a Polish city Chwin applies two strategies: he centers portions of the narrative on objects and human-object entanglements and employs an imaginative child’s perspective which tends to view reality in animistic terms. In utilizing these narrative strategies, Chwin’s novel resonates with the works of the key representatives of the field of new materialism (e.g., Jane Bennett, Stacy Alaimo and Donna Haraway). More specifically, their similarity lies in the employment of anthropomorphism to open human perception to a whole world of unnoticed activities and processes of the nonhuman that resemble those of the human. In the concrete context of post-World War II forced migrations, the writer presents both the displaced Germans and Poles—as well as the German material possessions— as active entities, who come into contact with each other with loosened, uncertain identities. The affects that the humans and the objects discharge or respond to involve them in mutually transformative relations. Thus, I argue that seen through the non-dualist and non-hierarchical ontology of new materialism, the human-object relations in Chwin’s novel reveal the reconciliatory potential of materiality, in particular its ability to level hierarchies and soothe animosity.

Train Journeys in Postmemorial Narratives of Heimatverlust: Reinhard Jirgl’s Die Unvollendeten and Sabrina Janesch’s Katzenberge

In the last two decades, flight and expulsion have emerged as critical topics in contemporary German literature and culture, with authors exploring narrative modes in literary texts that open transnational perspectives. Reinhard Jirgl’s Die Unvollendeten (2003) and Sabrina Janesch’s Katzenberge (2010) are examples of such texts, dealing with traumatic experiences of displacement in the aftermath of the Holocaust and Second World War, while challenging exclusionary narratives. Both novels employ the railway journey, including places and objects associated with it such as the platform and the station, tracks and railcars, as a central motif. In the following, I will show the degree to which this motif allows for “multidirectional” (Rothberg) modes of “postmemory” (Hirsch) that transcend national borders and memory discourses. The railway provides a link between generations in both of the texts discussed. However, it also interlinks the traumatic displacement of ethnic Germans and Poles at the end of the Second World War with the experience of Holocaust victims. Can modes of postmemory in Jirgl and Janesch therefore be read as multidirectional, or do they simply equate distinct experiences, blurring distinguishing features of different groups’ suffering and historical contexts?

Contested Memory and Narrative within GDR-Polish Intercultural Landscapes: Ursula Höntsch’s Wir Flüchtlingskinder (1985) and Wir sind keine Kinder mehr (1990)

This article demonstrates how literary studies can contribute to a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of borders, not least by exploring Mark Salter’s concept of the “performativity of the border, the ways that borders are given meaning through practices” in two interlinked works set within these cultural borderlands. In her semi-autobiographical novels Wir Flüchtlingskinder (1985) and Wir sind keine Kinder mehr (1990), the East German writer Ursula Höntsch, unknowingly writing in the final years of the country’s existence, challenges traditional GDR depictions of the German-Polish relationship and offers a dynamic exploration of personal, cultural and political “bordering and de-bordering” (Parker and Vaughan-Williams). Unusually for GDR literature, Höntsch presents Poland as an alternative political reality from which the GDR, still seeking to embody “socialism on German soil,” might learn. Taking as a starting-point the migrant experience of Höntsch’s protagonist and the subsequent cross-border friendship she develops, the article explores the limitations of externally imposed geo-political borders in shaping identity and controlling individual agency within contested spaces of cultural and communicative memory (Jan Assmann, 1988 and Aleida Assmann, 2016). The article concludes that Höntsch’s conscious exploitation of diverse genre forms and narrative voices, linguistic variation and intertextuality constitutes a creative engagement with the very fluidity of narrative boundaries that itself represents an exemplar of Salter’s border performativity.

liedvoll, deutschyzno moja

Poem by Dagmara Kraus with annotations by Paula Wojcik and Karolina May-Chu



(Mäandras Nachlied



vom Stürzchen aufs Frätzchen

und das Kennerfleisch der Literatur

so kopflos)


Introduction to the Translation

Translator's Introduction to Inga Iwasiów's Bambino

Inga Iwasiów: Bambino (2008)

Translation excerpts of Inga Iwasiów's Bambino (2008)

“What Gender is Your Hair Color”

“What Gender is Your Hair Color” by Irina Nekrasov/a; Translated by Nat Modlin and with a Translator's Introduction

Book Reviews

Yael Inokai's Ein Simpler Begriff: Reflections on a Translation

Reflections on translating Yael Inokai's Ein Simpler Begriff

Tales That Touch: Migration, Translation, and Temporality in Twentieth- and Twenty-First- Century German Literature and Culture eds. Bettina Brandt and Yasemin Yildiz

Book Review: Tales That Touch: Migration, Translation, and Temporality in Twentieth- and Twenty-First- Century German Literature and Culture eds. Bettina Brandt and Yasemin Yildiz

Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature in Berlin by Bettina Stoetzer

Book Review: Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature in Berlin by Bettina Stoetzer