“I come right here to learn my poetry tonight as a black feminist lesbian poet,” mentioned Audre Lorde, standing onstage in a dashiki and head wrap, to a mesmerized West Berlin viewers on the Amerika Haus in June 1984.
On the time, the Wall was nonetheless standing, and the western a part of the divided metropolis was a hotbed of radical politics, Chilly Warfare angst and scrappy, state-subsidized bohemia. Nevertheless it had by no means seen something fairly like Lorde, the poet, essayist and activist born in New York Metropolis’s Harlem to Caribbean mother and father in 1934, whose concepts about feminine rage, intersectional feminism and the political dimensions of self-care have maybe by no means been as related or embraced as they’re as we speak. Throughout Delight month in June, Lorde and her politics have been incessantly invoked, from acknowledgements on the Stonewall Inn rally in New York Metropolis to the official landmarking of her Staten Island residence.
The 1984 journey was the primary of many prolonged visits Lorde would make to Berlin, a metropolis she depicted in poetry and prose, the place she performed a pivotal position within the delivery of the Afro-German identification motion within the years earlier than she succumbed to liver most cancers in 1992 at age 58. Since her dying, Lorde’s momentous affect on the American left has change into clear. However she additionally lives on in as we speak’s Berlin, now a really worldwide metropolis grappling with what it means to be pluralistic and humane.
“The town itself could be very completely different from what I’d anticipated,” Lorde wrote in her journal in June 1984. “It’s full of life and delightful, however its previous is rarely very distant, not less than not for me.” She went on: “The silence about Jews is completely deafening, chilling. There is just one memorial in the entire metropolis and it’s to the Resistance.”
The previous remains to be shut in Berlin, however Lorde’s second remark appears virtually inconceivable as we speak. The Resistance memorial at Plötzensee, which impressed her 1984 poem, “This Urn Incorporates Earth from German Focus Camps,” is now one of many least recognized Holocaust memorials in a metropolis filled with them — most notably the Stolperstein venture and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman. What would Lorde have thought to see the Amerika Haus, the place she gave that first public tackle, on a current night time, as guests filed into the modernist construction to view pictures of Holocaust atrocities, a part of an exhibition on pictures of dying? Since 2014, the Amerika Haus has been residence to C/O Berlin, certainly one of innumerable native venues now that includes the type of culturally various, socially engaged materials that Lorde usually discovered missing.
The place to seek out Lorde as we speak
The perfect beginning place for any Lorde pilgrim is audrelordeberlin.com, a complete English-language web site created by Dagmar Schultz, a German sociologist and writer who helped safe Lorde a visiting professorship on the Free College of Berlin in 1984. The 2 girls would change into shut pals, and Ms. Schultz recorded copious footage of Lorde’s time in Berlin, which ultimately grew to become a 2012 documentary, “Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992,” screened frequently in artwork home cinemas in Berlin and past. The movie and its supporting materials, together with pictures, interviews, letters and posters, now type the premise of the Free College’s Audre Lorde Archive, which could be seen by appointment on the campus in Lankwitz. A lot of this materials can be on the web site, as is an interactive map of serious areas.
Throughout her first keep, Lorde lived in a purple condominium constructing that also stands at Auf dem Grat 26, overlooking Thiel Park, a sloping stretch of inexperienced marshland close to the college within the lush, villa-laden western district of Dahlem. The yellow telephone sales space that used to face on the park’s edge figures in her haunting 1984 poem, “Berlin Is Arduous on Coloured Women,” which mixes the language of border crossings with imagery evoking the African diaspora: “I cross her borders at midnight / the guards confused by a dream / Mom Christopher’s heat bread / an finish to struggle maybe … A nightingale waits within the alley / subsequent to the yellow telephone sales space…”
Via her lectures and workshops in 1984, Lorde started to attach with younger German girls of African descent — girls like Could Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye — who would later play vital roles in what grew to become often called the Afro-German motion. It was Lorde who coined the time period, “Afro-German,” as she inspired the ladies to inform their tales and forge an identification. The ensuing co-authored 1986 ebook, “Farbe Bekennen,” translated into English as “Displaying Our Colours,” tells the story of black German girls reaching again to the Center Ages, a narrative that had largely been ignored within the nationwide discourse as much as that time.
“I’m excited by these girls,” Lorde wrote in a journal entry that grew to become the ebook’s ahead, “as they’re starting to say in a method or one other, ‘Allow us to be ourselves now as we outline us. We aren’t a figment of your creativeness or an unique reply to your wishes.’”
“Displaying Our Colours” and the controversy that arose round it, resulted within the founding of two organizations dedicated to Germans of African heritage, the ladies’s group ADEFRA and the Initiative of Black Individuals in Germany (ISD), each of that are essential assets as we speak within the wake of the refugee disaster.
One of many ISD’s present initiatives, in cooperation with the Berlin Inexperienced Celebration, is the renaming of one of many metropolis’s streets after Lorde. That avenue is but to be decided, however guests can already stroll the Could-Ayim-Ufer, named for certainly one of Lorde’s most vital protégés, a poet, educator and activist born to a German mom and Ghanaian father, who helped discovered ADEFRA and the ISD earlier than taking her personal life in 1996. The willow-lined Could-Ayim-Ufer, which was beforehand named after a 17th-century Prussian colonialist related to the slave commerce, runs alongside the Kreuzberg aspect of the Spree River, reverse the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall in one of the vital various, left-leaning areas of town.
The forest, the lakes and different Lorde haunts
Nevertheless it’s farther west the place Lorde spent most of her time. Alone, together with her associate, Dr. Gloria Joseph, or with the entourage of girls that had begun to coalesce round her, she liked to discover town’s bucolic western edges, part of Berlin that has modified much less dramatically because the 1980s than a lot of the remainder of town.
Considered one of her favourite walks is probably going a lot because it was then: by way of the sprawling Grunewald forest, the place Nabokov as soon as hunted butterflies and wild boars nonetheless roam beneath the towering pines, to the Châlet Suisse, a conventional Swiss restaurant in the course of the woods nonetheless standard for its rustic environment and Alpine fare, and on to the Jagdschloss Grunewald, a placing lakeside 16th-century searching lodge that’s Berlin’s oldest preserved palace, residence to its most in depth assortment of labor by the German Renaissance painters Lucas Cranach the Elder and Youthful.
Lorde additionally liked the wooded lakes west of the Grunewald within the suburb of Zehlendorf — Schlachtensee and Krumme Lanke — each of which nonetheless refill on summer time days with sun-seeking Berliners, many totally within the buff. “Don’t you suppose that’s a uniquely Berlin phenomenon?” Lorde asks in a clip from the Audre Lorde Archive, whereas consuming an ice cream cone towards a backdrop of sunbathing Krumme Lanke nudists.
In an earlier nonetheless picture from the archive, taken when she nonetheless had a thick head of hair, she rows an inflatable boat over the lake, sporting a purple T-shirt emblazoned with a quote by the anarchist Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance I don’t wish to be a part of your revolution.”
Lorde held true to Goldman’s credo. At the same time as she grew more and more in poor health, she was a fixture on the lesbian bar scene that thrived within the 1980s, significantly within the district of Schöneberg, usually dancing till daybreak at bars like Die Zwei (These Two) and Pour Elle (For Her). Each closed years in the past, with the final of town’s 1980s-era lesbian bars, Serene, shutting its doorways for good in 2015. But as we speak Berlin abounds with lesbian events. And even when town’s night time life nonetheless lacks the ethnic variety of Paris or London, there are much more girls of shade concerned within the scene now — one thing Lorde doubtlessly would have celebrated.
Solely certainly one of her former nocturnal haunts stays: Begine, a Schöneberg cafe and cultural middle based in 1986 by feminine squatters that hosts workshops, lessons, live shows and different occasions; Lorde rented an condominium within the constructing in 1988. The district of Schöneberg, with its antiquariats, Jugendstil fronts and cheesy homosexual bars, was the place she spent a lot of her time when she returned to Berlin within the late 1980s and early 1990s, usually for readings and occasions organized by Orlanda, her writer. Considered one of her favourite spots was the open-air farmers market that also takes place each Wednesday and Saturday on Winterfeldtplatz.
Put up-Chilly Warfare visions
After the Wall fell, Lorde was one of many first Western writers to present a studying within the former East, showing in 1990 on the Frannz-Membership in a transformed purple brick brewery within the district of Prenzlauer Berg. The unique Frannz-Membership, a seminal East Berlin music venue, was pressured to shut in 1997 due to rising rents, however it reopened in 2004 beneath the identical identify as a restaurant, bar and Biergarten.
In her poem, “East Berlin 1989,” Lorde beat again towards the Chilly Warfare triumphalism of the occasions with a darkish imaginative and prescient of discord and racial violence, anticipating the surge of far-right hostility that will emerge within the reunified former East: “Already my blood shrieks / by way of the East Berlin streets / misplaced hatreds / volcanic tallies rung upon cement / Afro-German lady stomped to dying / by skinheads in Alexanderplatz…” At a time when the far proper is as soon as once more on the rise in Europe — and in jap Germany specifically — the poem feels as trenchant as ever.
It was “East Berlin 1989” that Lorde learn aloud at her closing studying, which came about in September 1992 on the Schöneberg residence of Dagmar Schultz, persevering with to the tip of her life to talk out for the disenfranchised. Two months later, she died on the Caribbean island of Saint Croix. One of many locations her ashes have been scattered, in accordance together with her needs, was the lake at Krumme Lanke.
“All of us must die not less than as soon as,” Lorde wrote in her journal whereas sitting in Dahlem’s Thielpark throughout that first fateful summer time in Berlin, mere months after her first analysis of most cancers as she started one of the vital productive intervals of her life. “For the primary time I actually really feel that my writing has a substance and stature that can survive me,” she wrote. “There’s a hell of much more I’ve to do. And sitting right here tonight on this pretty inexperienced park in Berlin … I really feel I nonetheless have sufficient moxie to do all of it.”