Goodbyes and Introductions

I cannot believe I’m already home and my year as a Roger M Jones Fellow has come to a close. This past year has been difficult, but every experience and encounter has altered my perception of the world and the people in it, giving me new motivation and reasons to continue exploring and learning. There is so much of my story that I wasn’t able to share here.

Fortunately, the RMJ story will continue. I’m excited to introduce the 2016-17 Fellow: Ashley Kiemen, who will be traveling to London to study the philosophy of science at the London School of Economics! I wish Ashley all the best as she starts her adventure and I look forward to reading about it!

As for me, I will be returning to the University of Michigan to start a PhD in Computer Science, with the aim of studying censorship, surveillance, data protection, and privacy, among other security topics. Part of what I wanted to gain during my year in Germany was an insight into how people address these themes from different directions and fields of study, because I feel that those who design and build technology can sometimes be quite disconnected from the actual users and their needs. In my classes this year, I saw these problems from an entirely new point of view, but at the same time I slowly learned that human rights law is often just as removed from the people it’s trying to help as technology is.

It was really from my classmates and friends that I learned why this field exists at all, and why it really is moving forward — the ambition and hope of the people who believe in it. The people I met were from all over the world, with so many different experiences and motivations for working in human rights, and these people most of all are a source of inspiration to me as I move forward.

I am so grateful to the Roger M Jones Fellowship for giving me this opportunity. It is playing a major role in who I’m becoming and how I will move forward with my education and my life. Thanks for following me on my journey!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Allison

 

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A snapshot of Berlin

When a friend came to visit me for a long weekend, I finally had the chance to check off a few things on my list of sights to see in Berlin before leaving.

Hohenschönhausen Memorial

The first stop was the Hohenschönhausen Memorial in the former East German part of the city. The building was built as a cafeteria during the Nazi era, but was transformed into a Soviet prison after 1945, housing Nazi members and other post-war prisoners. The purpose of the complex changed after it was taken over by the Stasi, the East German Ministry for State Security. Between the building and the fall of the Wall, the prison housed mostly political prisoners and those who had failed at escaping East Germany. The Memorial was created by and is entirely run by former prisoners, who give the tours and share their experiences in East Germany and with the Stasi.

The guide we had was imprisoned for 10 months for attempting to flee to West Germany. He was 18 at the time. Another woman he spoke of had been imprisoned for being Jehovah’s Witnesses (crime: endangering world peace). Hearing the stories directly from eye-witnesses makes the whole experience more vivid. It reminds us that these stories are not so far in the past. Our guide even told us that several years earlier, he was telling his tour group about his escape attempt, and one of the visitors realized that he had been the guard who had shot him.

The people who had lived on both sides of these stories are still around, in the same neighborhoods, living next to one another. The reunification of Germany in 1990 saw immunity for a lot of people — from the people who operated this prison, only one saw a prison sentence himself. But that type of forgiveness, if forgiveness is the right word, was recognized as the only way to rebuild a unified country. The cracks in society are still visible, but so is the desire to move forward, and that’s much stronger.

Teufelsberg

Berlin was heavily bombed during the two world wars. By the time the city emerged in 1945, over half of the buildings were destroyed. With this rubble, a small mountain was built on the western side of the city and named Teufelsberg, which translates literally to Devil’s Mountain. Then, during the Cold War, the NSA built an American listening station at the top. When it was abandoned, the buildings were emptied out but the structures and the domes remained in place. Now it’s occupied by artists and squatters, and you can go wander around the complex. Most of the walls have been covered with street art, there are gardens in the yard, and a honeybee colony in the back.

It was an impressive complex and there was something satisfying about seeing a space built by an organization for the purpose of building institutional power being repurposed as a playground for hippies.

Flughafen Tempelhof

After World War II ended, Germany was divided into four zones, one for each of the Allied powers. Berlin was in the middle of the Soviet zone, but as the capital, the city itself was also divided into four quarters. After relations between the Soviet Union and the other Allies deteriorated, this left the western part of Berlin stranded as an island in the middle of the Soviet-occupied territory. For 11 months during 1948-49, this part of Berlin became accessible only through the Luftbrücke, the Berlin Airlift, which delivered supplies to the city through the Tempelhof airport.

The airport, which was used throughout the years as a commercial airport as well, closed in 2008, but the field was taken over as an urban park. You can walk or bike out onto the runways, windsail on roller blades, fly kites, and barbecue. There’s a community garden, art projects, and a baseball diamond. And in the last few months, there’s been another development: some of the buildings have been taken over as emergency refugee housing. This park really shows what Berlin is about. The residents are invested in what their community is and what it can be, and they act on their ideas. They create the most bizarre and wonderful spaces.

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