The excursion “Knowing (in) the City” posed and revealed many new questions about the space that I have been living in for the past year. I first want to begin this essay with my personal experience of living in Heidelberg and then talk about the changes in my ideas through this excursion to make clear what ideas have been challenged. I guess the keyword that best describes and also aids my thoughts is the concept of (in-)visibility in the city. I also want to emphasize that this is a result of the many discussions that happened between everybody that were involved in this process.
For the final presentation of the excursion, our group decided to draw a mental map of Heidelberg that has arisen through this 5-day experience. It was nonetheless also clear, that the students studying in Heidelberg had previous memories and also an everyday life that exceeded this excursion. In making the mental map, as we wished to highlight each of our individual memories and the sensory experiences of this city, we thought of connecting the idea of the body with the city. It was to display deeply personal and individualized readings of the topology of the city. The idea was that we as individuals with different backgrounds, bodies, and memories sense the space differently than each other, the memories made in the space are also engrained in the bodily sensations that can be connected to emotions like happiness, joy, comfort, or even fear, sadness and anger. We had made collective memories of happiness and joy as friends through the pizza party near the Neckar River after the long day of walking through Bahnstadt and Patrick Henry Village, or even just by grabbing beer and exchanging our thoughts and just joking around. We felt confused and frustrated talking about the racial discrimination that exist in the city, as well as the Nazi history of Germany that was revealed through the walks on Stumbling Stones and the Sinti and Roma documentation center.
I started my mental map by drawing the Theodor-Heuss Bridge in the middle of the blank A4 paper as the neck that connects different places like the University campus, and the Old City with my home (that is across the bridge), and as a constant that I have to cross every day. I drew my shared apartment through the metaphor of a heart, as I sense the most significant comfort and safety in my room. I then connected emotions of tension and fear with walking on the bridge at night, as occasional drunk people would make racial and sexual slurs, which made my female Asian body feel more visible and targeted. At home, I wish to make myself invisible to outsiders to be able to be myself with the people I choose to live in a safe space. I imagine there are many other groups and gatherings of people that decide to be indoors and less visible to secure this safety and comfort. As one of the spokespersons from the Muslimische Akademie came to speak about the architecture competition, IBA, and the new building concept for this organization, he talked about how there is no single space that is made for the Muslims to gather and conduct mundane, everyday life sort of activities in Heidelberg, besides near the river or the park and the playground. He also mentioned the struggles in figuring out the design of the facade, whether something that could be visually read as something Islamic through the German gaze, would make them a target of hatred and discomfort.
How do these multiple groups of people that coexist in the city negotiate and constitute how the city is portrayed? Some visual elements are more evidently apparent, for instance, the Old Bridge, the castle, and the Old City. When walking around the main street or even in the central train station, one can encounter multiple postcards that depict the romanticized medieval city of Heidelberg sold in the little souvenir shops. In considering the nature of postcards, the thoughts are in tune with Professor Sölch’s idea for the booklet as found in Heidelberg. When we started questioning how the “sensory perceptions of material-physical aspects of a city correlate to the aesthetic and social dimensions of the every day,” we began to notice the constitutive characteristics of this place. Seemingly mundane small objects like postcards can also be seen as an element that portrays the wishful reflection of how the city wants to spread its own images. Considering the nature of postcards, that they are only found in that specific city and are meant to be sent outside of it, can be seen as a link between the inside and the outside of the place. As we follow up on the matter and the question, to whom these postcards are addressing, it is nonetheless clear that the seemingly local, regional, or even national aesthetic characteristics of the old city are also strongly perceived and shaped through the eyes of the global tourists and their expectations of what the romantic medieval German city should look like.
What is made visible and invisible in the city through these visual representations? What does the city wish to show and to whom? Who decides on the role of making things(in-)visible? Even on the topic of making the Nazi history of Heidelberg visible, each community had varying responses and thoughts on how their memories should be shown. Whilst the Jewish communities decided on installing stumbling stones, a bronze plaque, on the pavements in front of the locations where they were living or working, mentioning the name, date of birth, and place and date of death, the Sinti community decided to install a stone plaque on the wall with the inscription: “Zum Gedenk an die Heidelberger Sinti, die dem NS-Völkermord zum Opfer fielen (In memory of the Heidelberg Sinti who fell victim to the Nazi genocide).” in Steingasse. In a conversation we had with the museum guard of the Sinti and Roma museum, he said the community linked the physical interaction of the stumbling stones, that they could be stepped on, with the notions of violence that these victims had gone through. It was also memorable how they also want to be remembered through other memories besides mere victimization of their history. It seemed like the present failed to depict and make space for their current realities of living in the city.
Through the postcard workshop conducted by Crossmopollinate on the last day of the excursion, the participants were asked to create their version of their postcards that subverted mere romanticized representations. It was a mode of asking them to become active contributors in creating multiple narratives of how the Heidelberg can be viewed and portrayed. In personalizing postcards, we were questioning how each one of us perceived the city differently. Everyone had different responses in how they sensed moving around the city. Deepali, a student from SPA who came to Heidelberg for the excursion, talked about and depicted how she missed chili and the diversity in vegetarian cuisine that was missing in Germany, and how she had to pack sweaters and t-shirts at the same time due to unpredictable weather. Kattya, have lived in Heidelberg for around 2 years, cut out a sign from the cafeteria and drew a little figure next to it saying “Go eat food at Kattya’s or Inah’s instead!” through the memories of cooking (better tasting) food together. This introspective journey of Heidelberg was nonetheless guided by many discussions and conversations with everybody involved. It unveiled the city’s layers, both visible and concealed, offering a multi- dimensional perspective on urban experience and representation.
Mental map of Heidelberg
Deepali’s personal postcard
Kattya’s personal postcard
As found in Heidelberg. Vom Gefängnis zum Bahnhof. ¿PUBLIC! 1 (2023), hg. Brigitte Sölch and Alexandra Vinzenz.
Inah Kim is a graduate student of M.A. European Art History and Transcultural Studies in Heidelberg. Growing up between South Korea, USA and Germany has shaped her interests in different modes of communication through visual language. She intends to widen her academic interest to more interdisciplinary research, where art history not only speaks about architecture as a built space but also a lived one.