The Little Green Man and Little Green Woman – Berlin Gender Walks
The participants, twenty-two women and eight men, have assembled in the headquarters of the trade union Verdi at the East Train Station. On their city tour, called the “Gender Walk”, they want to develop sensitivity for perceiving gender specifics in public spaces.
City tour with gender glasses
Gender walking is not a new kind of low-impact recreational sport. In 2004, two gender specialists, Stephanie Hüffell and Bettina Knothe, developed the city tour from the gender perspective as a seminar method; a method teaching not before the blackboard, but in the streets. They proceed from the thesis that everyone, man or women, moves through space as a versatilely gendered being and impresses his or her own, gender-specific stamp on space.
“Space shapes gender relations and vice versa”, Stephanie Hüffell explains to the participants. And after a few dry-runs in the Verdi foyer and exhortation to observe things as closely as possible and to pose questions, the tour begins, across the river Spree with the train to Friedrichstraße. In the front hall of the station a participant already puts the first question about the city symbol of Berlin: “Why isn’t the Berlin bear a she-bear?”
The route of the Gender Walks, past the Friedrichstadt Variety Theatre and through the government quarter back to the starting-point, has been deliberately chosen by the staff of the Berlin Genderwerk, but other routes might have been taken just as well. What doesn’t strike one while walking to work or on a pleasant stroll, suddenly prompts one to reflection on a Gender Walk: behind the two-metres thick walls of the Art Bunker, businessman and art patron Christian Boros has furnished a penthouse on the first floor and shows art on the ground floor. How many of the exhibited works are by women artists?
The Reinhardt Street, named after the director Max Reinhardt, is a long street, but, stresses Hüffell, things aren’t that simple. It is not true that all big streets have men’s names and all alleys women’s names. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, city officials took care to name many new streets after women. In the Berlin district of Neukölln, there is even an entire quarter where the streets bear the names of women. Token streets? Despite such efforts, regrets Hüffell, the fact remains that 90 per cent of all streets still have the names of men.
Of medicine and women’s equality, sphinxes and titans
The group remains standing in front of a gigantic stone sculpture. It depicts a colossal wrestling match between titans and the sphinx, and symbolises the victory of health over illness. “Health is a man!” a women participant notes angrily; illness is represented by the female sphinx.
Bettina Knothe, who has a doctorate in biology, fills the group in on the Charité, the hospital to which the sculpture belongs. She tells of the prestigious University Clinic and of one of its meritorious professors: Rudolf Virchow. The monument is dedicated to him for his having driven bubonic plague and cholera from the city through the introduction of an ingenious sewage system.
Why isn’t a woman standing on the pedestal? Up to the end of the twentieth century, explains Knothe, there were only men at the Charité; women were not permitted to study at university, much less to practice medicine. The first German women professor was Rachel Hirsch, at the Charité; to get a degree, she had to study in neighbouring Switzerland. Although of 24 academic positions at the Charité only four are now occupied by women, a near balance prevails at the clinics’ management level, and Knothe is glad to be able to say that the Charité is the first hospital in Germany to have a department of “Gender and Health”.
Reflecting on “he” and “she”
The group moves on, past the pub “The Chancellor’s Corner”. Why isn’t it called “Madame Chancellor’s Corner”? And why isn’t the Crown Prince Bridge called the Crown Princess Bridge, and the Konrad Adenauer Avenue the Angela Merkel Avenue? And why isn’t the little green man on Berlin’s traffic lights a little green woman? The Gender Walk gives no answer to these questions, but it sensitises the participants and prompts them to reflection. And that has its effect.
The Gender Walk is now over and the evening ends in the “Bad Boys’ Bar”. That can’t be by chance. Is this a case of gross gender injustice? Or does the bar owe its name simply to the three euphonious B’s?
lives in Munich and is a freelance writer and editor.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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