Spiritual Hermannova

A short field trip to Spiritual Hermannova

I wrote this short project description in English in preparation for an excursion of a group of doctoral students and a postdoc researcher on 10 December 2021. On our field trip, we explored three spiritual and historical sites on Hermannova and had a conversation with Anja Seibert-Bright, who runs the project Spirit&Soul.

My research project partly anchores in urban Berlin, and partly in rural Bosnia. In Berlin-Neukölln — where our little excursion will lead us on Friday — my research field is located in a semi-fictionalized, administratively inofficial, yet also very real quarter that I coined Hermannova. Hermannova is located in northern Neukölln, which counts for one of Berlin’s popular districts. It is characterized by a highly diverse populace, partly due to the post-WWII migrations to Germany, but also inherited from its very inception as a hub of immigrants from Bohemia; as a workers‘ and communists‘ stronghold, it was also known as „red Neukölln“. In a more narrow sense, Hermannova consists of ca. ten Kieze (sg. Kiez), which is a Berlin localism for neighborhoods (the word has Slavic roots). It stretches between S+U station Hermannstraße (south), U station Hermannplatz (north), Tempelhofer Feld (west) and Sonnenallee (east). Borrowing from Ulrich Beck’s terminology, Hermannova offers a primary sample of a ‚cosmopolitized space of action‚, as it is highly interconnected with countless other places all over the world. In addition (and also for specific historical reasons), Hermannova is packed with representative and less visible religious sites — like churches, mosques, temples, and especially cemeteries: all this makes it an outstanding, yet also underresearched field for research.

Hermannova between Neuköllner Schiffahrtskanal and Tempelhofer Feld, one of Berlin’s former airports.

Inspired by my field studies and long-term residence in Bosnia, where people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds traditionally live together, I developed the conceptual pairing of „tested“ and „untested communities of difference“ (erprobte / unerprobte Differenzgemeinschaft).

Tested communities of difference, like in Bosnia, have developed routinized forms of space sharing, while they also experienced various forms of interethnic violence, lastly during the the wars of the 1990s. Difference — unlike in other concepts, such as diversity or multiculturalism — works as an ambivalent discrimen: while in rural, traditional Bosnia’s Krivaja valley, more or less strict rules of endogamy and segregation dominate many aspects of daily life, the valley’s inhabitants have also developed practices that can bridge these gaps. These practices become apparent especially on the occasion of the Others‘ feast days: for instance, members of a Catholic household in central Bosnia will know exactly what to say, when to visit, and what to bring to their Muslim neighbors when they celebrate Bajram (Eid in Arabic); in return, Muslims will visit their Catholic neighbors on the second day of Christmas, when the Christian family will make sure to also serve non-pork meals to their Muslim visitors.

On the contrary, Hermannova in Neukölln can rather be seen as an untested community of difference. In cosmopolitized Neukölln, there is much more diversity than in traditional Bosnia. Yet, there is much less routinized practice of space sharing and shared rituals, supposedly due to the effects on the modern urban setting and the ensemble’s relative recentness. These observations lead me to one of my central research questions: can untested communities of difference learn from their tested counterparts, be it in direct or subtle ways? And if so — which aspects of the urban daily life could benefit from the tested rural experience, if applicable? Can these experiences contribute to grounded research, theory development, and community policies?

Practically, I plan to triangulate these different horizons of experience through a Multi Methods Research approach, by grasping tested and untested toeholds of this figuration as a ‚cosmopolitized space of action’ (Ulrich Beck). I plan to retrace Hermannova dwellers’ life-stories back to their (yet to be identified) place(s) of origin; ideally, this approach appreciates migrant trajectories as a benefit to society, which is an unusual approach to Berlin-Neukölln: in the public discourse, Neukölln either appears as a site of „problems“, or as one of the „hippest“ places in Europe, as international media outlets would praise it. The process of research is planned to be conducted in a hybrid way of open research: through science blogging, the use of social media, and the organization of public events, members of the community who would not read a classical monography can become directly active in the research process.

On our excursion, we will meet Anja Siebert-Bright at the Genezareth Church on Herrfurthplatz (on the map above: marked in red at the very center), who is a priest in the Martin Luther Genezareth Community, and runs the project Spirit&Soul. Her colleague Jasmin El-Manhy liaised us — Thanks to both of them (also thanks to Oliver Kontny for the initial idea)! She will tell us more about their joint initiative Startbahn and the thriving social and spiritual environment where their community is based. If you fancy coffee or tea, you are invited to support their shelter for homeless people by buying a hot beverage — should be also good against the grim winter weather, as forecasted! If you like, you can share your impressions on this blog, after our visit.

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