It’s all about wood: urban oaks between beetles and beeches

Doing research in Kassel, a middle-sized city in the very middle of Germany, I quickly became pulled into an urban oak wood that has a rich history and some time ago was turned into a nature conservation area – the “Eichwald” (literally “oak wood”). Its history is well documented by a local initiative called “Erinnerungen im Netz” (engl: memories online, translation CL). Local residents remember playing in the wood as children, drinking coffee at the “Eichwaldrestaurant” – a popular destination for day trippers – and much more. Humans have long used the Eichwald in their everyday lives and it plays a vital role in individual and collective memories. “After all, the wood is for the people, isn’t it?” one interview partner claims as he shows me where the playground once was. Standing there in 2019 we see fallen leaves showing through shrubs and ivy on the ground. The wood is full of scions growing up between dead oaks and beeches. Both the summers of 2018 and 2019 have been unusually dry – many healthy trees died throughout Germany. For woods to cope better with hot and dry summers, which are very likely to appear more often in Germany under climate change, they need to be diverse. Biodiversity is key to render forests resilient to climate change. Governing a wood – from an imperial park to a nature conservation area It had always been a tidy wood – until 2013. In the 18th century landgrave Wilhelm VIII had installed a pheasantry and an alley framed by oaks. The pheasantry, like all buildings in the Eichwald, does not exist anymore. Still everyone of my interview partners referred to it and pointed to the places where they remembered it. While oaks are not necessarily common in North Hesse (most woods are dominated by beeches) they have been in wide use in German parks for centuries, a circumstance that brings us to the hermit beetle (Osmoderma eremita), an endangered species under special protection, which lives in old oaks (preferably 200 years or more of age). Osmoderma eremita is basically the reason I was drawn to do research in that wood, because a conflict arose between the local forest authority, the city administration and the citizens from the area after the Eichwald was turned into an area of nature conservation in 2013. The beetle gained a protected area to live but some people feel they lost an area that has been so vital throughout their lives. Who is the wood for? The Eichwald is supposed to develop into a “virgin forest” and be a biodiverse habitat for the endangered hermit beetle and other species....

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Acropolis: Marbled by Monumental Myths and Stories 

“During my first days in the city for fieldwork, I strolled around the small streets in Anafiotika, a Greek island-like neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis. There, I started chatting with a shop owner in his 60s, who was trying to sell his summer linen clothes and straw hats to tourists. When he asked me how long I was planning to stay and I told him that I will be staying to do some research, he became curious. His first reaction to the topic of my research was to tell me the story of Konstantinos Koukidis.”[1] He’s the one who committed suicide, preventing the Greek flag to not get lost to the Germans during the German occupation in Greece (1941-1944), by wrapping his body in the fabric and throwing himself from the Acropolis hill. Though there are speculations that Koukidis himself did not really exist, but rather became a myth told for almost 80 years now, for the shopkeeper I talked to, this story represents the beginning of the Greek resistance against the Nazis as well as many following movements. “It is one of these stories that often remain in the shadow of an impressive historic monument and the endless queues of tourists in front of souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, ice cream shops and shops selling Greek frozen yogurt. I am certain that on this day in late June 2018, when I was told this story by the shop keeper, thousands of tourists had already passed by the plaque commemorating Koukidis’ act of resistance on their way to climb the Acropolis hill – most likely without even noticing it. I was still at the beginning of my fieldwork and yet the shopkeeper’s story already made me aware of the gap between heroic testimonies of antiquity and heroes of modern Greek history in official Greek historical representation, as exemplified by the Acropolis.”[2] However, this is not the only story surrounding a fabric – here a flag – and the ancient site. There is another one, a bit less mythologized, as the main protagonists definitely existed: Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas became icons of the anti-fascist resistance during the German occupation in 1941, by taking down the swastika flag hoisted on the hill of the Acropolis. “I really like it cause it’s amazing how a piece of fabric can have such a big meaning of belonging,” states Della, whom I interviewed during a fieldtrip in 2018, when we are talking about acts of resistance and the Acropolis. Glezos himself remained politically active amongst others as the oldest member of the European Parliament for Syriza in 2014 and 2015, at the age...

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Lost in Malmö. Or: The Ever-changing Imaginations of a City
Jan30

Lost in Malmö. Or: The Ever-changing Imaginations of a City

There are different things you notice about a city. They depend on your starting point or your destination, on the purpose of you being there, and of course on yourself – your experiences and prehistory with and of the city itself and other places, your anticipations and imaginations.[1] Sometimes, we just like to dream of other places and try to imagine what it would be like to live or at least go there. The first time I ever went to Malmö was in 2015. I was visiting Sweden as a tourist and I was just amazed by how quiet this city was, how less traffic there seemed to be compared to what I’m used to. Malmö gave me the impression of a cosy, little city. Over the time, this perspective, the feeling of walking through the city, changed. Imagining cities Fantasy and imagination are important parts of every modern society and they have an even more significant effect in the present social life, because of the process of deterritorialization of persons and ideas. Mass media, for example, made it easier for people not only to look at different possible lifestyles, but also to imagine living somewhere else. Fantasy and imagination are social practice, they are an inspirational force for the social lives of people.[2] We make up our own imaginations of different places, and of course those imaginations are not static, they change overtime and through experiences. With each visit to Malmö, I started recognizing the size of the city: not as big as a metropolis like the nearby Copenhagen, but also not a small town. It felt like a middle-sized city. When I started to explore the whole city – by train, bus, and foot – I suddenly felt lost and not cosy at all. I did not feel the same way about Malmö as I did before. View over Malmö I always travel to Malmö via airplane to Copenhagen for certain reasons, one of them being the Öresund bridge; driving over the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö is always a nice experience. During my last flight to Copenhagen, the wind and weather of that day forced the plane to fly over the coast of Malmö. The sky above the east sea was clear, so I was able to see what was going on at the ground. It took me a while to realize that the city I was looking at was Malmö – one can always identify the Turning Torso. As I was watching the city from above, it reminded me of Orvar Löfgren’s description of different perceptions of landscapes depending on the mode of transportation: from...

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Living the reaspora: Afropolitans back home

In the web series ‘An African City’, five highly qualified and fashion obsessed young women decide to return to the continent where their ancestors were born – to Africa. Is this the new African elite?

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Being cosmopolitans, in the name of Japan!

A fieldnote from Japanese universities (Tokyo, Nagoya, Ibaraki, Fukushima)

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“Eat like a queen for free” – dumpster diving and wasteful consumer culture
Nov11

“Eat like a queen for free” – dumpster diving and wasteful consumer culture

More than 50% of produced food is wasted and some urban “divers” search for this waste. They explore dark courtyards of supermarkets and lay the dining table with the eatable content of trash bins.

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