LESLIE ADELSON: Well, good afternoon everyone, and a very warm welcome to all. My name is Leslie Adelson, and as a former Director of the Institute for German Cultural Studies, I am truly delighted to be celebrating this remarkable Institute's 25th anniversary with all of you. And to be welcoming back to Cornell, where he has been sorely missed for over a decade, our distinguished colleague Michael P. Steinberg, President of the American Academy in Berlin.
Michael, it's so very good to see you again, and we are all so thankful to you for taking the time to mark this important moment with us. Peter Hohendahl, who founded the Institute for German Cultural Studies in 1992 and served as its first Director for the first 15 years of the Institute, will be giving today's distinguished speaker a proper introduction shortly. At this juncture, I would like to contribute just one important detail that might somehow get lost in Michael Steinberg's other professional listings. Namely, that he, as a Cornell Professor of History with specializations in the cultural history of modern Germany, was among the very earliest members of the Institute's steering committee long before he himself went on to found Brown University's Center for the Humanities in 2005, or assume the presidency of the American Academy in 2015. This just goes to show you where affiliation with the Institute for German Cultural Studies can lead.
Very serious thanks are due to the many cosponsors of today's event, whose generous support has made Michael Steinberg's return visit, and what is sure to be an illuminating lecture, possible. The Institute for German Cultural Studies, the Africana Studies and Research Center, the University Lectures Committee, the Society for the Humanities, the Cornell Institute for European Studies, the Departments of German Studies and History, and the Institute for Comparative Modernities.
Before I turn the podium over to Peter Hohendahl I would, of course, like to thank above all, and on behalf of so many, him. Peter, the Institute for German Cultural Studies owes its very existence to your intellectual vision and intellectual generosity. Under your incomparable leadership as Cornell's Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of German and Comparative Literature, and as Founding Director, you helped make the Institute make its signature mark as a premier venue both within Cornell and in the interdisciplinary field of German studies more generally, for the critical study of German speaking cultures from the medieval period to the present.
Thanks to Peter Hohendahl's foresight and dedication, what began in 1992 as an innovative attempt to work across traditional disciplinary divisions within our home institution has become an indispensable feature of rigorous, interdisciplinary, inquiry in the College of Arts and Sciences and beyond. An extraordinary record of individual scholarship has likewise accompanied this distinguished colleauge's countless accomplishments on behalf of the Institute for German Cultural Studies and on behalf of all of us who have followed in his considerable wake. For this distinguished record, which includes expertise in 18th to 20th century German literature, intellectual history, critical theory, and the History of the university in Europe and the United States, Peter Hohendahl has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and awarded the Alexander Von Humbolt Foundation's most prestigious German research prize for humanists.
With great trepidation on my part, I was privileged to direct the Institute that he had created and that I really prayed that I would not break. And I did my best to help guide the Institute, as of 2007, into a new era of continued rigorous engagement with transatlantic relations, public humanities, and cutting edge research. And that era has been truly blessed, I would say, by new and distinguished leadership in turn-- first in the hands of Paul Fleming, now in the hands of Peter Gilgen, and as of next year in the hands of Patrizia McBride. This list alone bespeaks the vitality and relevance of the Institute for German Cultural Studies for the 21st century.
Colleagues and students alike thank, celebrate, and salute you, Peter. And since the work of the institute is always ongoing, we now look forward to your introduction of Michael Steinberg who will address us today on transatlantic relations and public humanities through the lens of Martin Luther King Jr. in Cold War, Berlin. Peter, thank you.
PETER HOHENDAHL: Leslie, thank you so much for this very generous introduction, an introduction before the real introduction begins. But anyway, thank you so very much.
It gives me profound pleasure to introduce Michael Steinberg, not only because he is a prominent scholar and a highly visible public figure, but also, and more importantly, because he has been a close friend of Cornell, and especially of the Institute of German Cultural Studies during his tenure at Cornell. When I first learned that he had accepted the invitation to give today's lecture to celebrate the Institute's 25th anniversary, I was very excited, since I could not think of a more suitable person for this occasion.
His own distinguished career, his many scholarly achievements and administrative accomplishments resonate with the spirit of this Institute. My own introduction will focus on this shared intellectual horizon it will be personal and admittedly biased, possibly without the balance that a proper scholarly introduction would require. What I want to bring together here and at this moment is the common intellectual ground on which Michael Steinberg's professional life and the history of the Institute are based-- namely the determination to transcend conventional disciplinary boundaries, the readiness to challenge traditional methods, and the willingness to accept professional risks when a project lies outside of accepted horizons of academic inquiry.
This is what makes institute worthwhile as centers of intellectual projects in the humanities, and this is what I see in Michael Steinberg's work, both in his research and his professional commitments. It is no accident, therefore, that he was attracted to institutes and became a close friend and collaborator of our Institute when he was a faculty member in Cornell's history department. And it is not accidental, therefore, that institutes have attracted him. His recent appointment as the new president of the American Academy in Berlin, I feel, is the logical outcome of a trajectory in which the needs of the Institute and the interests and talents of the new leaders are a perfect match. I think that the American Academy is truly lucky that they persuaded him to accept a very difficult and demanding job.
One has to be highly skillful negotiator to make the American voice heard and acknowledged in Berlin right now. If anyone has the gift to successfully mediate between American scholars and German academic life in Berlin, it is Michael Steinberg who is no stranger to this city and its academic and cultural institutions. Among other things, he was a fellow at the [GERMAN] Berlin in 2015, '16.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should have mentioned at least in passing Michael's education-- A B.A. with distinction from Princeton, an M.A. and a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1985. I should have mentioned his appointment as an assistant professor of history at Colgate University in 1986, to be followed by the appointment at Cornell in '89, where he came through the ranks and served as a full professor in modern European history, and in the graduate fields of German studies, music, and gender and sexuality studies from 1999 to 2005.
Here, we have to pause. The breadth of this appointment, the obvious interest in interdisciplinary teaching and research, which had been there from the beginning, becomes manifest. For this reason Michael was not only an important colleague for the German Department, but also a much needed collaborator at the Institute. What we did not realize at that time and found out to our chagrin a few years later, was also the growing interest of competing academic institution. In 2005, Brown University succeeded in luring him away from Ithaca, offering him the directorship of a new Institute, the Cogut center for the Humanities, which he directed from 2005 to 2015.
At that moment, I believe, Michael Steinberg came completely into his own-- education, scholarly expertise, the unusually strong and elaborate academic network that connected him to a variety of fields and areas of knowledge and disciplinary endeavors. Among them, cultural history, the history of music, German intellectual history, and Jewish studies coalesced in a new and challenging task-- the founding and the leadership of an Institute that would serve the humanities at Brown University.
How could he resist? He decided to leave Cornell, his tenure terms as founding director was marked by additional appointments and honors that reflected the growing international visibility. I limit myself to one example. From 2009 to 2013, he was the dramaturg at the Scala and at the Staatsoper in Berlin.
Of course, these appointments reflect more than interests and contacts. They are based on many years of intensive research and scholarly publications that have to be mentioned. The first crucial event was the year 1999, when his book The Meaning of the Salzburg Festival Austria of Theater and Ideology appeared.
The focus of this study was not a person or a historical event. Instead, it was the history of a cultural institution that defined the cultural self-consciousness of the late Habsburg Empire and beyond. From the point of view of the discipline of history, this work was a risk, especially for young historian, since it was neither a proper diplomatic history, nor intellectual history, pure. The moment of innovation that this work so clearly demonstrated became the hallmark of its author.
The Salzburg study became a path breaking event that would shape the career of its author. Not only did it establish a new field, the scrutiny of the broader impact of the major cultural institution, it also establishes author as a public figure and a scholar with a strong public dimension, someone who has a keen awareness of the public relevance of scholarship.
Theater and music have remained areas of interest-- intense interest-- for Michael Steinberg, as we can see in his 2004 Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Cenntury Music, as well as in his 2008 Judaism Musical and Unmusical. The second reminds us that there is another strong preoccupation in his work-- European, and especially German, Jewish culture, the interest in figures as different as [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
While [INAUDIBLE] is by now clearly part of the international intellectual mainstream, neither [NON-ENGLISH] nor [NON-ENGLISH] have quite reached that status in the American Academy. This engagement, therefore, demonstrates a strong personal commitment-- the individual commitment to engage also in the darker and more catastrophic aspects of European-- particularly German-- history, specifically the impact of the Holocaust.
As we can see, Michael Steinberg's scholarship cannot be separated from his role as a public figure and administrator. They have to be seen as a whole, a complex unity that has deeply impacted a broader audience. It is this connection that I wanted to bring to the fore as a way of preparing you for his lecture that deals with an eminently public figure, Martin Luther King. Thank you.
MICHAEL STEINBERG: Thank you, very, very warmly. Peter, I'm really kind of overwhelmed and moved by that introduction. Thank you, Leslie, for an equally touching introduction, and to everybody here, to the Institute, to the Society for the Humanities, and to the cosponsors of this talk. It's really and very personally a touching homecoming for me. And I really mean it as a homecoming.
Peter, I would really like to pay additional tribute to you, as someone who not only founded the Institute for German Cultural Studies, but who brought your own model of German studies to Cornell some years before I arrived. And that's a milestone that I think is as fresh and necessary as ever. People here will know what I mean by German studies, which is critical theory informed interdisciplinary study that really brings the Enlightenment and all the powerful critiques of the Enlightenment into a coherent discourse. And in my experience it really defined the centrality of the humanities at Cornell, beyond its budgets or its numbers of faculty and students.
And this house and this room, in all those years, were equally significant. So the Institute meant the world to me during those years. And what you've both said, let's leave the praise aside, but what you both said in terms of how my career has been defined is absolutely accurate. So the model of the Institute was really the example that carved my sense of what I wanted to do in starting a humanities center, which is now called an Institute, at Brown; and then gave me the sense of grounding, as well, to move on to Berlin, where-- as you correctly mentioned-- the challenges both inside the Academy and in Berlin generally are substantial-- especially, overwhelmingly, in the current moment. But the challenges are interesting and the grounding that I received during those years here and from these models gave me the interest, and in a way the courage, to maneuver through these waters.
I realized in coming here that it's not quite to the day, but certainly to the week or the month, 30 years since I gave my first talk in this room. And that's kind of horrifying. And I was extremely nervous that day. Not only because I was young and it was my first visit to Cornell, but more importantly because my son Andrew was due a few days later.
So as you'll understand, I was nervous standing here, giving this talk. And if you'll indulge me for one minute, the math holds. Andrew is just a few days short of his 30th birthday, and he's here in the back of the room. So that's a kind of very nice trajectory there, so that's that.
What I'm going to do today is actually make the same mistake I've always been making, but it's so well-intentioned mistake, in that I've been sharing ideas a bit too early. So this is really very early and rough thinking. I'll introduce it a bit in a second. But it's something that's been on my mind in both its microhistory and macrohistory, or its macro implications, for a number of years. I'll explain that in a minute.
But I've never spoken about this publicly. I don't exactly know what the future of this material is beyond the ability to think about it. But the fact that I'm talking about it here from my own point of view is a sign of my sense of real homecoming, but also my sense of the serious judgment that has always been part of the experience of this room. And I extremely, sincerely, and urgently invite conversation, feedback, criticism, and direction. This is really why I'm doing this, and I'm really very honored that you all came this afternoon, so thank you. Thank you very much.
There is an institutional prehistory to this. Let me just pause one second to say, Peter, I think my first page was in your papers.
PETER HOHENDAHL: Sorry about that.
MICHAEL STEINBERG: Not a problem. If I hadn't noticed it would have been a problem, but since I noticed, it's not.
So there are two institutional contexts to this. The first one involves Brown, and involves the collaboration, in early 2014, with my great colleague Tricia Rose, who had just been appointed the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. And since I was the director of Humanities, we wanted to do something together. And we had this opening in January of 2014, which we realized was the beginning of the year that would be the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s visit to Berlin, about which very, very little had been written.
We called Taylor Branch, one of their principal King biographers, and asked him about this. And asked him whether he would come and do something with us, and also give the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day lecture at Brown. They had no speaker lined up, and they had the budget to invite him which we obviously didn't, so that worked out.
We had a long phone conversation with him in which we said, well there's a page and a half in your three volume biography about the visit to Berlin, and what else can you tell us? And he said, frankly, that's all I know. That he really hadn't emphasized that for very obvious reasons, but that he would be happy to come and look into it.
So we had a symposium with him in a conversation with the two of us, and he really hadn't found anything out in addition to what he had written in the book. And we all agreed that this would be a topic for, really, more inquiry and more research. And at the end of that symposium, I mentioned to the group gathered, which included a lot of both undergraduates and graduate students, that there was obvious empirical research that needed to be done, and I would be very happy if anybody let me know that they were interested in doing it.
I'm not aware that anybody followed up on that. So this seems to be a slightly more mature crowd. But if you have the same perception I'd really be interested in hearing about this from you. It was a very vital conversation that we had, and really that was the end of the discussion.
Now, the second institutional perspective has to do with my current one, and that's the American Academy in Berlin. When I arrived, I wanted to initiate a couple of key themes that would be good topics for a collective conversation. If you look at the website of the American Academy, you'll see that like many research institutes it's highly individualized. It involves the projects of Fellows in all disciplines except for the natural sciences, and people are invited to come, as they should be, and do their own work. And the question is, does the Institute, as some kind of de facto representation of US based intellectual and artistic life in three main fields, political and economic policy, arts, and humanities, is there some kind of collective thinking or topics that should really inform what we as a group are thinking about.
So I suggested to colleagues that we have a series of themes that wouldn't define or control what people are doing, but would give some sense of important topics that it was our responsibility to think about. So the first one, starting last year, was migration and integration, a key issue for Germany, for Europe, for the comparative history, clearly of Germany and the United States-- Germany having been an emigration society in the Nazi period, and then now in the last few years Germany being a dramatic immigration society, with vast political consequences.
And then the second one, which we're starting on this year, really, we decided to call race in the comparative perspective. How does race signify in the United States for American scholars in these various fields? How does it signify in Germany and in Europe where the issue is very important, where the taboos, in fact, even of the term-- coming partly from the Nazi legacy-- are very strong, and where somehow it's a kind of elephant in the room?
That there is an issue of race, race relations, racism-- including a skin color based racism-- in Germany and in Europe. But it's a category that in different ways is very difficult to talk about and, as I mentioned, somewhat of a taboo. So these are the two contexts that really inform my early attention to this theme. And clearly what we've been experiencing internationally, but certainly in this country over the last year, has made this phenomenon-- both the issues themselves and then the comparative dimensions-- all the more pressing. So that I feel even for-- or especially for-- non-experts-- and this is not my field of expertise-- there is a certain responsibility to think about these issues collectively, and to talk about them.
So let me move on, in a way, with the microhistory, and tell you a bit of the story that some of you may know, but I'm assuming many of you will not. And then if a PowerPoint obeys-- if I obey it, there'll be a few images.
So just to remind you of the kind of basic topography of Cold War Germany, or post-war Germany, post 1945 Germany-- this is a story that you will know-- that Germany at the end of the Second World War was multiply divided. In other words, there was a division within a division, both divisions controlled by the four occupying powers, the winning powers, at the conclusion of World War II-- The British, the French, the Americans, and the Soviets.
And there was a rush by the relevant armies, and an occupation of Germany, generally, and of Berlin. Here you see the four zones of occupation of Germany, with the red zone-- very creative choice of color, and not my decision here-- corresponding to the Soviet zone, which became the German Democratic Republic, or what we also refer to as East Germany. And then where you see the little square deep within the Soviet sector of Germany-- so you have the Federal Republic and the three so-called Western sectors and the GDR, or the DDR, on the right side-- you'll see that square, which is Berlin itself. So there is a kind of area within the area where the city of Berlin inside the German Democratic Republic is also divided into four, with the Soviet zone more or less controlling the east or northeast sectors of the city, and then the three occupying powers from the West controlling the western part of the city.
And the dramatic middle phase of this division-- which lasted from 1945 on a fairly informal basis until 1989-- was the construction of the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1961, an extremely dramatic story, which of course has been written about at great length. So the anti-fascist protection wall-- in the jargon of the German Democratic Republic-- and of course the wall with all of its prison metaphors and cage metaphors that became a kind of dominant metaphor for the Cold War division of Europe-- and the bilateral division of the world, for that matter. And clearly an issue of global and bilateral emphasis from the 1950s through the 1980s.
It was certainly exacerbated during the first years of the early 1960s when the construction of the wall-- which was very fast and very haphazard-- and slowly rationalized into a fearsome military division, a very violent military division of the city, when that expanded into further Cold War, in a way, threats involving, for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis the next year in 1962, and on from there. So this is a context that plays very importantly into the more precise stories that we're talking about here.
Here you have a photograph where you'll see the Berlin Wall in the background slicing through the ceremonial center of the city, in this case exactly on the Western side of the Brandenburg Gate. This, now since 1989, is completely open. So the city is entirely different, obviously, from what it was. But for those of us-- and that includes me as a student-- first visited Berlin in the 1970s, at this point this is as far as you could get in West Berlin, and then climb onto parapets and try to stare over the wall, where everything on the other side was invisible, until as a Western passport holders you were able to cross.
But in September of 1963, which is relevant to the photo you see here, John F. Kennedy very historically visited Berlin, obviously as President of the United States, and invited by the still acting chancellor of the Federal Republic of West Germany, who sits on the right of the photograph, Konrad Adenauer. And in the middle you see Willy Brandt, who was then the mayor of Berlin, but also the leader of the principal opposition party, the SPD, or the Social Democratic Party.
So this is a very well-known press photograph. It shows these three men very deliberately driving and being photographed in front of the Berlin Wall during this visit of JFK to Berlin, which became, really, the landmark visit of an American president. It's probably fair and not entirely irresponsible to say that these three people hated each other.
The one question that remains partially unanswered, I think, is the sympathy that Adenauer might have had for Kennedy as two Catholic leaders. Adenauer was also the post-war founder of the Christian Democratic Union. You will recognize that as Angela Merkel's party. He is credited very powerfully with the return of democracy to Germany after 1945. A very substantial leader, he was actually here in his last weeks of his chancellorship, but he was 87 years old, so it was not an unreasonable transition.
But he did not have much interest in the progressive side of Kennedy's agenda, which, again, is important for the story here, and actually had felt personally snubbed by Kennedy since very early in Kennedy's term, in early 1961 when Kennedy had invited Willy Brandt, not so much as mayor of Berlin, but as leader of the Social Democratic Party. Kennedy invited him to the White House before he had invited Adenauer, who was the federal chancellor. And this was considered a diplomatic error, you might say, but certainly a diplomatic snub by Adenauer.
So this is September in 1963. And in June of 1963-- and again if there are Americanists in the room you'll know more about this than I know-- Kennedy had launched very publicly what became the Civil Rights Initiative in the United States. And that is an enormously fascinating story, not only because of the precedent and the importance of what he was doing, but also for the way it happened. Which in the short term really shows something that I think we historians are always arguing for, which is the very high incidence of contingency as determinants of very important historical events-- or even the importance of accident as determinants of historical events.
The actual initiative, which was only passed in the civil rights legislation that Lyndon Johnson passed in 1964 post-assassination of JFK-- the initiative was announced in television and radio address, but 1963 radio as important demographically as television-- on June 11, 1963. And according to standard accounts, and I know myself no more than that, the speech actually was never fully ready. It was worked on during the afternoon after Kennedy decided he would give the speech.
Robert Kennedy, his brother and the attorney general, was one of the principal speechwriters, along with Ted Sorensen, close aide and speechwriter. And the last part of the speech was never written by 8:00 PM, when Kennedy had made the decision as of mid-afternoon that he would go live and announce this enormous legislative initiative that, as I said, became the Civil Rights Act-- multiple acts of 1964.
That morning of June 11 is the morning where George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, stood in front of the University of Alabama at Birmingham to try to stop African-American students from registering. Obviously, this was well-known and heavily broadcast. And in fact that night, several hours after Kennedy made that speech, Medgar Evers was murdered at his home. So this was an extremely crisis and, in a way, unpredictable day or moment. And the momentum that Kennedy achieved was obviously substantial, but also very risky.
Willy Brandt had been a friend, you might say, or certainly an admirer of JFK. And Willy Brandt, as you know, was later chancellor of Germany between 1969 and the mid-1970s. And in 1964, meaning the year after Kennedy was hit, was instrumental-- partly as an homage-- to Kennedy and to the civil rights legislation. It was Willy Brandt who invited Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Berlin.
Here you have-- this is actually not necessary but I kind of couldn't resist. This is sort of YouTube luxury. It's just too easy and irresistible. This is the speech that Kennedy gave-- a lot of you will know it-- in front of one of the district town halls, these so-called [GERMAN] at the center of Berlin. And let me see if I can manage to do this.
There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to throw a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, Ich bin ein Berliner.
MICHAEL STEINBERG: There is a very small museum in Berlin, called The Kennedys-- plural-- Museum, which is actually a museum in honor of John and Jacqueline Kennedy. It's a very sweet place. I just happened to be there a few weeks ago. I don't even know if I would have decided to go on my own.
And they have a small-- it's mostly a museum of photographs-- but they have a small room of mementos and this one completely overwhelmed me. I've sent it around to several people. There are two reactions. One is, this is really funny, and the other is, this is deeply moving. I'm on the deeply moving side, I have to confess to you.
So this is the index card that he was apparently looking at when he made this speech. He did not speak any German. And he is actually spelling out notes, especially for the now canonic line which people make fun of-- Ich bin ein Berliner. But you see what he did, "ish" I-S-H bin ein "bear" B-E-A-R L double E with an accent for the syllables. And then it goes on for there. So it's one of the most famous lines from his presidency, and here you see the bit of archive fetishism that shows how he had prepared for it.
So in summer of 1964, close to a year following the JFK assassination, Willy Brandt, as mayor of Berlin, invited Martin Luther King to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination, but also to bring aspects of the civil rights agenda of JFK to Berlin in a Cold War context. And he initiates that invitation first by inviting King to open the Berlin Jazz Festival, which was not entirely inappropriate, but a bit bizarre.
And then as he politically makes the case to all his colleagues, he invites King to give an address to an audience in the outdoor concert hall amphitheater in one of the Berlin parks, the so-called Waldbuhne, or Forest Stage, that has a capacity of 20,000 people. And the Berlin public is incredibly enthusiastic about this visit. There's an over capacity audience to this speech, which has a kind of sermon structure, that King gives late in the afternoon, in fact on September 13, 1964.
And then it's when it gets kind of interesting, because King is determined to cross the wall and see East Berlin. And it's very clear at this point that the US embassy does not want him to do this. They do not want the press. They're also very sensitive to the fact that race issues in the United States are being watched closely by the German Democratic Republic government, by the censors, in the same way it is in the Soviet Union.
So that race divisions and race violence in the United States, which is really reaching a peak, you know, exactly, at this time, so far as the World Press is concerned, is in the propaganda machine of East Germany as well as the Soviet Union an indication of the failure of the system, of a failure of American society. And what the US government is very afraid of is that this kind of image is going to be furthered in any way, especially by US citizens. I will have more to say about that in a few minutes. So the result of this is the US embassy managing to confiscate King's passport when he arrives in Berlin, which was actually just that morning. So he's working without a passport and not really telling people what his intentions are.
Just that morning of September 13, there had been a shooting at the wall of a student who actually attempted to escape. He had managed to fall over the wall on the Western side, severely wounded, but he survived. And King asked his guides whether he could visit the spot where this had happened, which is the next photograph.
This happened in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, which is that area in Berlin where the wall begins to go from west, exactly east. And, as you see here, still in September '63, which is just over two years after the construction of the wall, there are still areas where the wall is somewhat makeshift. This changes, even in saturated areas like this one, in future years where the full militarization of the wall, of concrete multilayered walls, guard dogs automatic weapons, et cetera, are really emphasized.
This is not very far from Checkpoint Charlie, which is the official crossing point from the US zone of occupation. And holders of US passports are able to cross, usually with some harassment both going and coming, but they're able to do that. And King crosses into East Berlin. And this is with some apology, what I like to call the Cold War comedy in the story. He crosses using his American Express card for identification.
So, you know, I actually find this a very charming detail of how capitalism can work. And obviously the East German guards are prepared for this thing, they know that it's happening. But nevertheless, it's part of the story.
So he is in East Berlin. He's in East Berlin only for several hours, from about 6:00 PM to 9:00 or 9:30 PM and then comes back, collects his American Express card, and comes back into the west. He flies out of Berlin the next morning.
Now in doing this, and this is a little bit of a digression, he is well aware-- some of what I'm about to talk about so for a few minutes, but some of this is new scholarship-- of a significant prehistory of African-Americans in Germany, which is an extremely interesting history, that is getting some really fascinating new scholarship just right now.
And the scholarship I'd like to refer to-- I want to refer to two people, one a bit later-- is the work of Kira Thurman, who is actually a fellow with us this semester at the American Academy. She teaches in both history and German studies at the University of Michigan. Her PhD is from Rochester, where she also had a minor in music history. So her disciplinary structure is obviously very, very dear to my own.
But Kira has been working on musicians from the late 19th century to the present day-- African-American musicians who found their way to Germany. And her basic argument, which I think is still early-- and which I have to say I question a little bit, but it's really marvelous work-- is that from the 1880s on, both as individuals and in significant groups African-American musicians-- and she works on classical musicians, mostly-- went to Germany with a sense of relief that they were actually responded to, with some hesitation, for their art and their abilities and where the kind of obvious pressures and racist reactions they had been receiving in the United States were somewhat relieved. Whether this is completely sincere, or whether there was a certain sense of behavior or exoticism involved which complicates the reception, rather than relieving these kinds of pressures, I think is in a way a second level of investigation, which is work that still needs to be done.
The famous case of a large group that Kira now has a published article about is the visit of the Fisk University choir from Nashville, Tennessee in the 1890s, a tour of Germany that was very lengthy and very successful, in which they did what African-American singers have done ever since, which is master classical repertoire and then add spirituals to it. And this really started in the 1890s with the Fisk University choir.
Fisk University, as many of you will know, was founded on the site of a civil war hospital in Nashville. It's where WE Du Bois was a student, very intentionally going from the north to the south several decades earlier. Another example that Kira highlights is Roland Hayes, a very gifted tenor, who made the point of touring Germany a couple of decades later by singing mostly Schubert. In other words, German art, song, literature, where the judgment of the performance is based to a great extent-- and this is true uniformly and still today-- on language diction, and very often language and diction as a certain kind of cover for the conceit that you have to be German in order, not only to sing this repertoire, but to understand it. And Hayes knew exactly what he was dealing with when he insisted not only on singing this repertoire all the way through concerts, but actually opening his concerts with this repertoire.
And some are recordings of this experience, which are really incredible to listen to. When he starts singing, there is quite a bit of disturbance in the hall. And you can hear that there are people who are surprised to begin with, and then extremely surprised that he's opening a program with this kind of repertoire. And then slowly, it's actually wonderful to listen to, there's a kind of hush that comes over the crowd because he's really good, and diction is excellent, and he knows exactly what he's doing.
The most famous case is Marian Anderson, who had extremely successful tours singing mostly Bach, obviously the basis of canonic German musical repertoire, and then also German art songs. And the most famous tours took place not to Germany, but to Austria between 1933 in 1938. In other words, after the Nazi accession to power in Germany, but before the annexation of Austria in March of 1938, when a lot of prominent artists who had had engagements in Germany cancel them, and went to Austria instead, and then canceled there after 1938.
So there are tapes, there are very famous photographs, of Marian Anderson singing at the Salzburg Festival in the summer of 1935. You'll know the Marian Anderson story, the refusal of the hall owned by the daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt resigning her membership in protest, and then finally Marian Anderson making her debut at the Metropolitan Opera toward the end of her career in January of 1955.
WE Du Bois is a case that-- perhaps the most famous case-- of a prominent thinker who actually studied for two years at the University of Berlin in the early 1890s and wrote about this through his life. He studied with economic historians as well as political historians, including [GERMAN], well-known anti-liberal and anti-Semite. That's the connection that remains odd in the career. And Du Bois, of course most famous for The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, but he continued to be involved somewhat unevenly with issues of race in Germany, mostly to the end of his very long life, which lasted until the late 1960s.
He made several return trips to Berlin, including in June of 1936-- which was well into the Nazi period-- which became somewhat controversial. And here, I'm using David Levering Lewises biography, who writes that he-- prior to this visit, very involved at Columbia University-- was asked by Franz Boas in 1935 to join an American committee of intellectuals in the founding of the American Committee for Anti-Nazi Literature. And Du Bois at that moment in 1935 declined to join that group.
Boas, one of the founders of cultural anthropology in the United States, himself a German Jewish emigre at that point in 1935. A perspective-- without getting into that digression-- that clearly informed his own work. He declared-- and this is a quote, I'm quoting now from David Levering Lewis, "He," Du Bois, "declared that the terms of a grant he was on, which prohibited political action, as well as his own unarticulated objectives, temporarily precluded a public political gesture before visiting Germany. He assured the eminent anthropologist that he was appalled by the terrible," to quote Du Bois, "'terrible outburst of race prejudice in Germany,'" end quote, "and argued that his contribution as a member of the Anti-Nazi Committee would be greatly enhanced by," quote, "'much useful accumulated knowledge,'" end quote, "after his return. Du Bois," now this is Lewis again, "understandably considered himself well empowered to evaluate the new German order by virtue of education, command of the language, and his Weimar period visit 10 years earlier."
Continuing from Lewis, "Du Bois would characterize the anti-Semitic campaign as," quote, "surpassing in vindictive cruelty and public insult anything he had ever seen." "And Du Bois underscored that he had seen much. In Nazi Germany, the Jew was the Negro, Du Bois explained to readers in an essay in the Pittsburgh Courier." Quoting Du Bois again, "'There has been no tragedy in modern times equal in its awful effects to the fight on the Jews in Germany.'" Continuing the quote, "'It is an attack on civilization comparable only to such horrors as the Spanish Inquisition and the African slave trade. It has set civilization back 100 years." This is 1936.
Later, quite a bit later in 1953, Du Bois became involved in a controversy about references to Jews in chapters of Souls of Black Folk. Remember this is way earlier in 1903. And he writes as follows-- again a quote from Du Bois 1953, quote, "I have had a chance to read The Souls of Black Folk in part, for the first time in years. I find in chapters 7, 8, and 9, five incidental references to Jews. I recall that years ago, Jacob Schiff wrote me, criticizing these references, and that I denied any thought of race or religious prejudice, and promised to go over the passages in future editions. These editions succeeded each other without any consultation with me, and evidently the matter slipped out of my mind.
As I reread these words today, I see that harm might come if they were allowed to stand as they are. First of all--" I apologize, "But even if they were, what I was condemning was the exploitation, and not the race nor religion. And I did not, when writing, realize that by stressing the name of the group instead of what some members of the group may have done, I was unjustly maligning a people in exactly the same way my folk were then, and are now, falsely accused. In view of this, and because of the even greater danger of injustice now than then, I want in the event of republication to change those passages."
And a month later he writes to his publisher, asking that a paragraph be added to the end of the chapter called "Of The Black Belt." And the paragraph is as follows. Quote, "In the foregoing chapter, "Jews"," in quotation marks, "have been mentioned five times, and the late Jacob Schiff once complained that this gave an impression of anti-Semitism. This, at the time, I stoutly denied, but as I read the passages again in the light of subsequent history, I see how I laid myself open to this possible misapprehension. What, of course, I meant to condemn was the exploitation of black labor, and that it was in this country, and at that time, in part, a matter of immigrant Jews was incidental and not essential. My inner sympathy with the Jewish people was expressed better in the last paragraph, page 152. But this illustrates how easily one slips into unconscious condemnation of a whole group." Again, WEB Du Bois 1953.
And perhaps most explicitly, and this is the last example in this digression, is the example or the case of Paul Robeson, another extremely prominent singer, African-American singer, who was well known to himself, and I think probably better known to the State Department as a communist sympathizer, and was watched very closely through most of his career. The interesting episode here is that his passport was invalidated completely by the State Department in 1949-- so it's again a Cold War story-- following his address to the world partisans for peace meeting in Paris. He was also barred from traveling to Canada, which at the time did not require a US passport.
So this episode of removing, of confiscating, just for one day, King's passport, as he arrives in Berlin has an enormous weight on it, of the inequality of US citizenship, and also very specifically the fear of, somehow, a sense of mutual sympathy in the criticism of US policies, domestic policies, between African-Americans and communist regimes.
Just one more remark here, and again you will remember this, that when Barack Obama as candidate spoke in Berlin in the summer of 2008, with enormous political galvanizing effect certainly in Berlin but in Europe generally, with 250,000 estimated people at [GERMAN] right in the middle of a big park in Berlin. He mentioned illustrious predecessors of his who had spoken in Berlin. He did not mention Martin Luther King at that moment, and he was heavily criticized for not doing so.
So back to the microhistory, OCR King crosses at Checkpoint Charlie around 6:00 PM. He has a destination, and that is one of the most-- and the largest-- surviving Protestant Church in East Berlin, St. Mary's Church, or the Marienkirche. And again, as you'll know, Protestantism and the Protestant Church had an extremely interesting, very troubled history through the GDR regime, and had to negotiate very carefully and very indirectly, in many ways, with the regime in order to survive. And then ultimately in 1989 became one of the engines of the nonviolent, surprisingly nonviolent, civil revolution that caused the fall of the wall.
The invitation came directly from the provost, Propst, of St Mary's Church. And this is kind of interesting minor figure named Heinrich Greuber. And Greuber, not at all young at that point, had been a resistor during the fascist period. And during the war, had been imprisoned several times for it. And then a few years earlier, in 1961, had found himself the only non-Jewish German to testify at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for the prosecution. So he became a kind of celebrity testifying for the prosecution in 1961. And then obviously he came under [NON-ENGLISH] extremely critical eye, and she was not impressed, which again, is somewhat ancillary, but I think of real significance to this story.
Eichmann writes-- sorry, Arendt writes in Eichmann in Jerusalem about Greuber, "He had negotiated with Eichmann, but could not recall details. He had arranged to smuggle unleavened bread to Hungary for Passover. Later on, however, he tried something truly extraordinary, and attempted to visit the concentration camp in [NON-ENGLISH] in Southern France, where 7,500 German Jews were incarcerated, transported on Eichmann's orders in 1940, and according to Greuber are worse off than those deported to Poland." Arendt does not mention here, which is interesting, that she herself had been imprisoned in [NON-ENGLISH], but only for a few weeks.
And she concludes, quote, "apart from testifying to the existence of another Germany, Propst Greuber did not contribute much to either the legal or the historical significance of the trial. He was full of pat judgments about Eichmann, he was," quote, "a block of ice, like a marble, [GERMAN], a bicycle rider," in which she describes as the current German idiom for someone who kowtows to his superiors and kicks his subordinates.
So you'll find that in Eichmann in Jerusalem. And of course, there's something somewhat indirect and toxic about this, because this is the kind of criticism she makes all the way through of Eichmann, of this kind of cliche written, banal, and bad judgments. So this is all, I find, quite interesting.
This is Greuber actually in his testimony at the Eichmann trial. This is St Marys Church, Marienkirche, where King gave a sermon, and then the-- this church holds about 2,000 people. So he had 20,000 in West Berlin at the [GERMAN], he had about 2,000-- over capacity-- crowd here. And then-- and this is the part where we really need more research, especially while certain people who may have been there are still alive, about exactly how this was organized, who was there, whether this was a kind of-- I just don't know about this. I have suspicions, but I just don't know, and I find it frustrating-- whether this was a kind of flash mob, because it was impromptu, it was not announced in any press that we know, and exactly how the momentum was built. Whether the Stasi, or the secret police, controlled this or not, whether they planted people, whether they watched people, etc. They're all obvious questions.
But in any case, in a very impromptu way, a second sermon was arranged for just an hour later at this very beautiful Sophienkirche, again, not terribly far away. And this is I find, really an extraordinary photograph of the crowd in the Sophienkirche as King, on the upper left, is being introduced.
Now the short, sermon-like, address that he gave is virtually identical in both places to the address he gave to 20,000 earlier that afternoon, with a couple of obvious changes. And I want to read you a couple of quotes. This is available online, in many obvious places. So it's an enormously powerful speech. I feel extremely uneasy reading anything in the words of Martin Luther King, I just want to say that. But I think it's important just to get a sense of his language, and really the extraordinary subtlety, and also, frankly, courage that he has in speaking in this way under the protest, functional protest, of the US government to these two groups in East Berlin.
So he says quote, "I am happy to bring you greetings from your Christian brothers and sisters of West Berlin. Certainly I bring you greetings from your Christian brothers and sisters of the United States. In a real sense we are all one in Christ Jesus. For in Christ, there is no east, no west, no north, no south." So if you read that, again, these are just guesses, but somehow it seems to me that the north, south, is a kind of cover, right, for the east, west, because that's the point that he's really making.
And then he goes on, he's more explicit. He says, "for here, on either side of the wall, are God's children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Wherever reconciliation that's taking place, wherever men are breaking down the dividing walls of hostility which separate them from their brothers, there Christ continues to perform his ministry." OK, again just to remind you that he's saying this language about walls and breaking them down in East Berlin just three years after the construction of the Berlin Wall.
And then he addresses questions at home, very explicit references to African-Americans in the United States. And this will be the last quote. He says, quote, "Many have not had the opportunity to get an education, which will prepare them for the promised land. Many are hungry and physically undernourished as a result of the journey. Many bear on their souls the scars of bitterness and hatred seared there by the crowded slum conditions, police brutality, and exploitation." End quote.
So here, one of the pieces of work that needs to be done is what, if any, press there was, or media attention, to this kind of language in East Germany, right after. So again, I recommend this as something that really needs to be done.
His translator on this trip, who apparently followed him on both sides of the city, was a then very young German literature professor who later on had a long career at the Midland Lutheran college in Nebraska. Her name is Alcyone Scott. She published a number of articles on Thomas Mann and other things, and she has written about this, about how extraordinarily moving the event was. And then she writes that somebody, because she doesn't know who, organized the singing of "Go Down Moses" by this East German public, in this case, the Sophienkirche at the end of the event.
And that's, so far as I know, as much that is known about this episode. And as I said at the beginning to which Taylor Branch, I think quite modestly, really, paid little attention, because it was not his emphasis, and he didn't know more, as he readily admitted.
So to conclude, I find that the resonance of the story is enormous and unpredictable. It moves in many directions, and is somehow an absolutely essential story to fan out into issues that I think require a great deal of thinking and rethinking. Beginning with, as I mentioned, how race signifies in various periods of 20th and early 21st century history, how race signifies comparatively, how it signifies between domestic and international or global politics from a US perspective, how it signifies in a distinction that comes up very strongly in the literature I know about, the launching-- JFK's launch-- of the Civil Rights Initiative. And that's the so-called distinction between the moral and the political.
The Kennedy before the June '63 speech was criticized strongly by King, in fact, for not taking a moral position on the question of race and race violence in the United States. And King was elated on the night of June 11, 1963 by what he felt was Kennedy's turnaround, and his commentor, Ralph Abernathy, was that-- they're all sports metaphors-- that he really hit a home run tonight, but that he really got the moral issues, and he's showing the moral leadership for the first time.
My own feeling when this issue comes up, generally, is not to try to divide the moral from the political, that the political becomes to a small a category when it's instrumentalized. There's no question that JFK was extremely savvy and worried about his political standing in the United States, in the Senate, of the north and the south, etc. His Southern Vise President Johnson, on the one side, also extremely aware of international attention to what he was doing on civil rights, and especially from new African leadership, where he was being watched very closely, and especially among the new independent nation states and their leaders in the context of several conventions.
On the comparative side with the Germans, the vocabulary of the "volk", meaning "the people," and its history of racialization from the 19th century on, is very important. This has come up repeatedly in recent years-- especially when the German parliament, after reunification, moved back into the historic [GERMAN] building that was built in the 1880s, and where in 1916, in the middle of the war, an inscription that had been suppressed in the original design was placed on the front here of the building, "To the German people," or Dem Deutschen Volke.
And then the question that had come up then came up again now in the 1990s, as to what this category means. Because, as you know, this category of the "volk", to use a certain kind of language, is both horizontal and vertical. It is a horizontal category in terms of the kind of social and political equalization of the citizenship that all the people, and it is vertical in the sense of inclusion also being exclusion, that the German folk means the distinction-- or even the binary-- between who are the German and who are not German. So the racialization of anti-Semitism clearly meant and clearly ordered, ruled, that the Jews were not part of the German "volk".
And so for many, the kind of re-ratification of this phrase with the rededication of the parliament building was problematic, including for the parliamentarians, many of whom objected to it. And then several years later they commissioned the installation artist, Hans Hocker, in a contentious vote. An installation which you can still see today in one of the courtyards of the parliament building, that you'll see the repetition of the font, but it is a heavily symbolic installation also involving the earth and the grass and this kind of thing. It's a little too German for my taste in that particular context. But you'll see the language is [GERMAN] meaning "to the population." And it's not "the German population," it's "the population."
And I think we're at a point today-- and I think this is the case where the two national situations really do converge-- where this distinction between the "volk" and the [GERMAN]-- the [GERMAN] is much easier to translate than the "volk"-- meaning the population, that this is an essential political and policy divide and decision that is extremely active in Germany, , and obviously of enormous relevance in the United States. In other words, the responsibility in civil society and in government between the people who live here, as one category, and then the people who are-- who live here legally, according to one set of terms, and there are others, as well.
In Germany, as you know in the last election, there was a dramatic gain by the right wing party called the Alternative for Germany, the Alternative fur Deutchland, got about 15% of the national vote and over 20% of the vote in the former east, which is the economically depressed area. And that's the state in which German politics exists today, where there is not yet a new government, and where this right wing party, the Alternative for Germany, will be in the parliament, because of its representational proportions.
And then the question is, what is the role of this party, and will there be some kind of normalization effect on their rhetoric and on their positions, or not? And that's the question that's really being asked today. So the "volk" [GERMAN] distinction is one place where, in a way, the kind of macro and contemporary aspects of the story meet, as is the question of civil rights-- clearly the future of civil rights in this country and its relation to human rights, generally. So that is where I conclude, and thank you very much for your patience and your attention.
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Celebrating its 25th anniversary of cutting-edge inquiries into German cultures in dialogue with the wider world, Cornell University’s Institute for German Cultural Studies proudly featured Michael P. Steinberg, President of the American Academy in Berlin, founding director of Brown University’s Cogut Institute for the Humanities, and acclaimed author of major works of cultural history on the meaning of 19th-century music and 20th-century minorities in the making of modernity. At the center of Steinberg's Nov. 29, 2017 lecture is Martin Luther King, Jr., who once stood at the harsh Cold War divide between East and West and spoke to Germans on both sides of the Berlin Wall about the value and struggle for civil rights.