Historical Clarity, Contemporary Nuance

As a dancer, artist, and historian, Berlin is a dream city. The contemporary dance scene and famous street art in modern day Berlin is progressive, socially conscious, and internationally renowned. Her history is rich, vibrant, complicated, and well handled. As a student in both the arts and history, I take on the complicated burden of gauging Berlin’s complex and problematic history with her successes in the 21st century. My favorite dance works happening in the world right now are in Berlin, but I know they took root in the 1930s through artists who collaborated with the Nazis and cooperated with Goebbels. How, as a student in 2018, am I to make of this nuance?

Well, ultimately, no one can change the past. Berlin handles history well. From the German Heritage Museum, to the Wannsee House, to the German Resistance Museum, and all the way through to the Berlinische Galerie which I visited days after the trip, World War II was discussed in earnest. Never do curators of these historical landmarks attempt to deny, justify or glorify Germany’s perpetrator role in the war. In true German fashion, I noticed all history was told in a very matter of fact way. Facts were laid out, and audiences could choose, or not choose, to make what they will of them. Even the placement of a large Holocaust memorial, directly in city center, is a blatant acknowledgement and apology for the undeniably bleak nature of German history.

This sort of history then encouraged me to think about the way in which all the German art I love is made. It is unapologetic, narrative, and experimental. It is the work of a people who needed to start new and reconcile with their own pasts as well. The dance specifically is violent. It is unashamed to show the brutality of humankind. Artists are responsible for relaying the world around them as they see it, just as historians are meant to relay the world behind them as their modern eyes perceive it. My favorite German dance artists from Pina Bausch to Sasha Waltz all create raw work that does not indulge in their complicated roots, but there is an acknowledgement that the roots are there.  I had the opportunity to catch a few performances during my time in Berlin, including one from Sasha Waltz, and they all demonstrated the latter statement to me.

As I said, no one can change the past, it is how the past is handled that shows character. Modern Germany does the best she can with her history being one of the most vulgar in human history, and if anything that is something I can respect.

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