Memory Struggle

The struggle of memory is also the memory of a struggle. The exhibition in the Palais Populaire in Berlin doesn’t leave spectators untouched. It is a struggle to recover memories which were attempted to be eradicated. This is the univeral message of this exhibition. The colonial past and crimes are part of the struggles of artists from these cultures to re-establish their rights to their own views, traditions and memories. Grass and plants may cover the shelled soil and people, but traces or mortars are often left behind. Light from different angles needs to be shed on these places to reveal the shadows of the wounds. The atrocities and exploitation linked to colonialism and imperialism keeps us struggling with those memories. Just before we jump to the conclusion that it is a memory of a past struggle, we are reminded that consequences are still haunting the present and with the Russian aggression in Ukraine we have to realize the fight against imperialism continues in the 21st century. Thanks for memorable moments and impressions in view of a global arts and history experience. (Image of art work installation by Sammy Boloji, untitled 2018, exhibition Palais Populaire, Deutsche Bank foundation)

Sammy Boloji, untitled 2018 exhibition Berlin 2024

Memory Management

It seems a strange combination of words: memory management. In computing it has the function to allocate sufficient memory to specific tasks and has substantial implications for software performance (Yves Younan et al. 2010). It is also a security issue as what is stored somewhere might get accessed from other persons or programs with harmful intentions. Historians have a completely different approach to the issue. Individual as well as collective memories are frequently subject to memory management and manipulation. Therefore, it is necessary to critically deal with neglect and purposeful management of collective memories. In Germany we had numerous incidents of rectifying collective memories about the role of diplomats or the Wehrmacht during the Nazi period. Huge efforts were necessary to correct wrong representations of professions during and immediately after the 2WW. They are still necessary today. All children have to learn the concept of time, the past times and the concept of future. Periods after wars particularly generate a narrow focus on the present and the bare necessities of survival in societies. Dealing with and reworking the past and cherished memories is rarely attempted. It appears to be a paradox that without a coherent concept of the past the imagination about the potentials of the future are narrowed down. ‘Burned fingers’ cause additional restrictions. Literature for children and young adults has an important role to open up fictional spaces or laboratories for imagination. Freeing yourself from past restrictions while being aware of responsibilities due to the past allows a conscious way forward and human development. Sebastian Bernhardt (JuLit 3/2023) emphasised this and the Deutsches Historisches Museum had an exposition on this topic as well. Memory Management is a bit about the past but much more about the future. This is why we have to address it.

DHM 2024 Futures


In psychology it is a long-established field to study narratives of persons as they age. To make sense of individual narratives might even be considered as one of the foundations of psychological research since its starting times. “The Cambridge handbook of cognitive aging : a life course perspective” has 2 entries that enlighten the issue of personal life stories or narratives. We have to consider the importance of our personal past to the construction and reconstruction of our personal narratives. As persons age reconstruction of narratives becomes a more frequent exercise as life experiences and new evidence continue to accumulate. The chapter on “narratives and identity” supports the view of plasticity in old age, which means that narratives and identity are an adaptive process. “Processes of evaluation and reinterpretation of personal memories enable people to maintain a sense of self”. The importance of recalling personal life events and positive self-regard is a well-established link in this research tradition. The self-memory system consists of the autobiographical memory, the self-concept and the working self as its components. It is evolving in most persons as part of the construction and reconstruction of the self, as well as narratives of it.
As persons age our brain and memory functions age as well. This starts earlier than most people expect. “Many studies in gerontology have shown that being able to remember, evaluate, and integrate personal memories and thereby dynamically maintain identity is related to mental health and well-being in later life (Westerhof et al., 2010).” (p.392). Reconstruction of narratives is a process that is hard work for our brain, therefore as people age many seem to shun away from these tasks. It is easier to clinch on to the old narratives of the self.
The chapter on emotion recognition and aging of the social brain summarises the research (p.369) by Ruffman et al. (2012, 2016) which shows that older persons were not as good as young persons to detect lies due to difficulties with emotion recognition. “Finally, we examined right-wing authoritarianism (Ruffman et al., 2016), that is, the tendency to hold conservative social attitudes (e.g., believing that women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married). Older adults had more pronounced right-wing attitudes than young adults, and even within the older adult group, these attitudes were entirely explained by their worse emotion recognition”.
The causal link, however, is less clear. The positivity bias in old age might be a major factor. The positivity bias describes the fact that older persons prefer to look at positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli. The evidence is rather inconclusive about this effect. Probably persons have a positivity bias all along their life course as part of their personality traits. The other explanations of brain region decline and activation seem to receive a bit more empirical support (p.375). In any case, men seem to be even at higher risks.
Archives of personal diaries, letters, correspondence of persons are a valid additional source to study the process of the construction and reconstruction of the self. Biographical accounts of life histories serve as empirical material to analyse narratives and historical validity of narratives. The better the story, the more scepticism should be applied.


Jede/r hat so seine Assoziationen mit Li_be. Für eine kleine Gruppe von Literaturbegeisterten steht Li-Be seit langem für das Literaturhaus Berlin. Das war nun ebenfalls, anlässlich des Tag des Offenen Denkmals, im September 2023, als solches zu besichtigen. Zentral am Ku’damm plaziert, in der benachbarten Fasanenstraße, liegt diese geschichtsträchtige Villa in mitten eines kleinen Gartens. Trotz wechselvoller Geschichte konnte die Villa als Ganzes erhalten werden, nachdem der Denkmalschutz Veränderungen untersagt hatte. Das Haus der Li-Be hat wirklich alles gesehen, was Leute sich unter Liebe so vorstellen und wahrscheinlich noch einiges mehr. Nach den familiären Nutzungen der Gründerzeit, wurde in den wilden 20er Jahren dort ein russischer und ein arabischer Studentenclub eingerichtet in Verbindung mit der Humboldt-Stiftung, die sich auch heute noch um den wissenschaftlichen Austausch bemüht. Das Rote Kreuz hatte eine erfolgreiche Suppenküche dort in der unmittelbaren Nachkriegszeit betrieben. In den 60er Jahren war es ein Nachtlokal, aber auch einige Jahre ein Studio für modernen Tanz von Manja Chmiél, einer Schülerin von Mary Wigman. Die heutige Nutzung hat weiterhin viel mit Liebe zu tun. Lesungen und Workshops laden laufend ein, sich mit Literatur zu befassen. Der Zeit angemessen finden sich in den Archiven des Literaturhauses zahlreiche Prominente AutorInnen, die Lesungen dort abgehalten haben. Starke Frauen bildeten dabei seit den Anfängen als Literaturhaus einen Schwerpunkt. Nobelpreisträgerinnen gehören zu den Vorleserinnen seit geraumer Zeit. Annie Ernaud und Herta Müller traten schon lange vor den Nobelpreisen dort auf. Toni Morrison und Olga Tokarczuk im  Jahr der Preisverleihung oder kurz danach. Ein wahrlich toller Ort und dennoch keineswegs mit BesucherInnen überlaufen. Es bleibt eben so eine Sache mit der Liebe, auch im Li-Be.

Anti-Mémoires Van Rompuy

When a conservative fellow writes his autobiography without depending on written notes or other documents as support, this exercise can be risky. Herman van Rompuy now also wants to turn anti-establishment? Following André Malraux he choses as title “Anti-mémoires”. Contrary to the image I have taken on 14.2.2019 on the book fair in Brussels, in the book Van Rompuy is opening up a bit, but just a bit.

The editorial support by Astrid Simonis seemingly was important in the easy read of these “end of life thoughts” of a heavily involved political figure in Belgium and Europe. If you count the pages without the 20 subtitle pages and transcripts of 2 speeches, it is less than 100 pages short. Full of well-known statements, but it is more the particular choice of those that makes the political man. Most surprising was the statement on page 118 “The principle quality in politics is trust”. On the same page he writes and cites Harry Truman “If you want a friend in politics, get a dog!” Now the puzzle is that the peace-building function of the European Union is building trust among nations. It seems to have failed in his experience in Belgium and apparently also in Europe according to him.

In the talk at the Book Fair in Brussels he agreed with the moderator that they did not want to sound too pessimistic this time. Many challenges ahead for Europe. Time for the next generation to get ready and find new solutions to old problems. However, attendance at the talk was spectacularly low.

My conclusion: Learning from experience is probably underrated in Europe.