Guest Article by Sarp Balcı on his six-week Volunteer Service

  • Veröffentlicht in:" Berlin

Gastbeitrag von Sarp Balcı über seinen sechswöchigen Freiwilligendienst

Sarp Balcı at the Joseph Wulf Library

I was given the opportunity to stay in the Wannsee House for six weeks, and it was made possible thanks to the support of Beraberce Xchange Program: Memory Sites established by Beraberce Association and DVVI, financed by German Federal Foreign Office.

Although I am a lecturer on Political Science at Ankara University, and my dissertation is on the democratic transition processes in Turkey, and not the topics directly focused on in the House, this fellowship has contributed in a three-tiered effect on my future endeavor. Firstly, in broadening my understanding of the issues related to memory, history and democratic debate, I can certainly say that it was a time well-spent. Secondly, I should like to stress my special appreciation on opening new doors to my perception on anti-Semitism, and civic and political challenges of the Holocaust education. Finally, for their thoughtful and astute comments and criticisms on different aspects of curation in storytelling and display, I feel obliged.

My initial motivation for applying to the program was to further my grasp in challenging the hegemonic apprehension of the memory culture in Turkey, both as a member of the Ankara Branch of the Human Rights Association in Turkey, and an academic on political science. Moreover, I have always been inclined to take an active part in the efforts on stimulating participation and building pathways for a democratic dialogue. Hence, the research design that I had in mind, required reflection and formulation of my ideas on the guiding principles in curating a project. Thus, the design involves in, telling the story of, and contextualizing political killings, which have taken place in Ankara, after 1986.

During my days in Berlin, I felt more than lucky on many instances, including interviews with the staff of the GHWK, and kindred organizations such as the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen,  Central Welfare Office of the Jews in Germany (ZWST), and the Kreuzberg Initiative against Anti-Semitism (KIgA), along with visits to other different memorial sites such as the Topography of Terror Documentation Center, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,  Platform 17 Memorial, Otto Weidt's Workshop for the Blind, etc., and witnessing the processes and ways of conduct on the alteration of the Second Permanent Exhibition in the Wannsee House. This last point has also given me an opportunity to interview and discuss with Katharina Zeiher, from the curators’ team of the upcoming exhibition, in the benefit of my own project design, as well as, to observe the inclusive mindset of the staff in the GHWK. My crude views on the existing Second Permanent Exhibition, have received nothing but appreciative comments and insightful counter-argumentations accentuating the pedagogical practicalities, if not necessities. More to these, throughout my days in the House, I have contributed to the Blog of the Beraberce Değişim Association, drafted a report on my research design, piled documents for the future from the Joseph Wulf Library, together with the Berlin State Library, and also benefited from the impressive audiovisual archive of the House.

Thus, I am leaving with very good memories, and a freshened perspective. Frankly, it was well beyond my expectations, spending days, on discussions with Tillman Mueller-Kuckelberg, against his tight schedule, talking about numerous topics that have to be considered within the scope of the GHWK, along with his mordant wit and benevolent attitude. His candid approach made me feel like, as if I was hosting him back in Cebeci Campus of Ankara University not vice versa, except the food, of course. Excursions to different memory sites, and hangouts with Eren Yetkin Yıldırım were definitely well exceeding both his, and Tillman’s newly added work definition of being ‘the contact person’. Likewise, the most welcoming approach of Dr. Hans-Christian Jasch as the director of the Wannsee Conference House, Dr. Elke Gryglewski’s sincere comments on the principles of education and contextualization, Dr. Matthias Hass’ patience in answering my questions on curation, along with many other topics and sharing his extensive acumen, Kerstin Stubenvoll’s friendly and exuberant demeanor, Aya Zarfati’s meticulous approach and, frankness on her personal experiences,  Dr. Ruth Preusse’s ambition and earnestness in counter-hegemonic approaches, were nothing but riveting, just as Michael Haupt’s eagerness in sharing his personal photo archive and books on Wannsee, insights given by Monika Sommerer in her gentle way on the institution, staff, literature, arts, Berlin and so; witnessing the amazing support and enthusiasm, kindness and friendship, along with the riant vein of the rest of the staff in the House and the Joseph Wulf Library as an integral part of it.

Nowadays, the shift in the political landscape is a global, and therefore a European phenomenon, not to mention Turkey and Germany. The upsurge of right wing, nationalistic, isolationist, and chauvinistic movements are clear signs of turbulent times ahead of us all. Although in different levels and settings, politics in both countries are undergoing processes, which pave the ground for weakening of the aspirations in siding with the very basic principles of equality and freedom. Besides, it is, in my view, forthwith a necessity to stand by radical approaches to democratic constructions. Hence, it is needed to be able to stand firm, defend and uphold the very basic premises of a radicalized democratic setting in wider Europe or else. The era of cosmopolitanism and its liberal agenda is at the threshold of bankruptcy. Partial reform demands and implementations would not bring solutions to the deep rooted and extensive social problems. Pessimism is gaining much ground among those who are critical to history and politics, not only within the limits of nation-states, but also in a globalized context and Europe in particular. Day by day, countering oppression, discrimination and victimization as part and parcel of critical social understanding, and attempts to advocate for the complexity of historical narrative, factuality, and to tackle the layers of intricacy and versatility in representation of historical political construction becomes much more difficult, more to that, extreme right wing demands and violent actions are on the rise, and the tide is strong.

I sincerely hope that the GHWK, and its well-targeted aims would endure and persevere in the long run. As a public institution, GHWK’s emphasis to continue mainstreaming and reinforcing a critical stance on topics such as gender, migration, anti-discrimination, and victimization, is important. Yet, approaches that are championing for liberal consensus based politics, attempts for impartiality, putting emotions and social classes and class based analysis aside, should be submitted to change. Hence, I reckon in the long-run, this necessity would be particularly crucial when it comes to memory-centered institutions including the GHWK.  Still, as I have already mentioned in another blog piece, the Wannsee Conference House is, in my view, a lantern for hope with its people, aims, and more...