Thursday, February 28, 2008

No Man's Land - Displacement

We read "Niemandsland" ("no man's land"), a chapter of Lueth's No Such Country, for one of my classes this week. It was an interesting read; I think I might check out the book. I know German because I lived in Germany as a child, a mere year before the wall came down – I knew how to translate the title. But the moment I read the first line of the chapter (“The first time I hear about the Wall coming down…”) I had an idea where he would be going with this. At least, to an extent.

Maybe not at all. I could delete that entire first paragraph but I’m not going to, because I’m trying to verbalize my reaction to what Lueth is saying. What I think I’m trying to say, and I’m saying it badly, is that I can envision two sets of people: The people who lived in the now-former West Berlin and West Germany, and the now former East Berlin and East Germany. The people in the west were people I was by then used to culturally, but on the bus, stopped at Checkpoint Charlie, and then driving through, I don’t actually remember any people; I remember bare streets; I remember the lack of people and the overwhelming gray and orange of the buildings (stereotypes of American 1970s d├ęcor). Mostly I just remember the lack of humanness.

I write this as a reaction because I also remember my mother talking to our German friends – the German couple who rented us an apartment had become family friends, almost a second set of parents to me – and listening while she discussed their reactions to my father, who didn’t speak German. I remember hearing how much happiness there was that the country was once again unified, but as time went on, that reaction, while still an undercurrent, shifted slowly to worry of the economic affects. But I never really considered any initial non-reaction to the unification. If the wall being erected was such a mainstay that the people who were born after its existence, how could they accept being part of a country? This line of thinking is interesting to me because I wonder about countries that have been divided for decades or centuries, and are seen as both the same country, yet different countries at the same time (East Germany / West Germany; Ireland / Northern Ireland / the United Kingdom). It’s a relationship I think I want to explore, perhaps to write about for the paper on “place.”

My only concern is that I’m not sure how successfully I can write about this because, for example, I don’t live in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has the Irish culture, of course, but it “belongs” to the U.K. The accent is distinct, neither Irish nor British (in the same sense that the Welsh and Scottish accents are unique). There is no physical wall but there is a common language, a common culture, and common food. There’s a different government, though, and different money (in Northern Ireland, the pound Sterling is used, as it is in England, but many shops also accept the Euro). I like the blurring of the lines, although less so politically; I like the blurring of the lines, although less so politically; blurred lines as a concept is one I think I want to play with a bit. The more I think of it the more I'm intrigued with the concepts behind displacement, and I want to explore that, but I'm not quite sure how.

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