Tracing Memory

Why is this history not remembered?

Reading and researching about the history of Ihnestraße 22, one immediate question came to mind: Why is this colonial history not remembered? Why is this history not part of the collective memory at the Otto Suhr Institut for Political Science.

Motivated by these questions, we first investigated the existing remembrance projects on the history of the building and what is being remembered: (1) the Memorial Plaque at the main entrance of Ihnestraße 22 and (2) the Max Planck Society research program History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in the National Socialist Era. Through personal interviews with contemporary witnesses such as Dr. Christl Wickert (initiator of the Memorial Plaque), Prof.. Hans-Walter Schmuhl (author of Crossing Boundaries: The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, 1927-1945) and Prof. Carola Sachse (director of the research program) we can show how memory politics around this history have worked in the past and still work in the present.

Our research about the colonial past also shows that this particular part of German history has not been remembered yet and is missing remembrance. We interviewed Herero activist Israel Kaunatjike and Ida Hoffmann on their perception of this non-remembrance of colonial history and expectations for new memory politics at the institute and within Germany.

In our last part, we show reflections at the university on how this past is being or not being remembered at the Otto Suhr Institute today. For this, we conducted interviews with professors and students. We asked about their knowledge of the history of Ihnestraße 22, including their awareness of the memorial plaque and of possible continuities between research done during the Nazi regime and Germany’s colonial legacy. Lastly, we collected ideas on how to appropriately remember the building’s colonial history and incorporate ethics and responsibility into contemporary research practice.