Christina Schwenkel

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Riverside, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9356

Approve Date

October 5, 2016

Project Title

Schwenkel, Dr. Christina L., U. of California, Riverside, CA - To aid research on 'The Afterlife of Housing: Vietnamese Migrants and the Rehabilitation of Socialist Architecture in Eastern Germany'

Preliminary abstract: On the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, more than 30,000 Vietnamese citizens were working or studying in East Germany as the result of ‘international solidarity’ campaigns extending back to Vietnam’s wars against France and the United States. Many of these migrants were forcibly returned home with the dissolution of the GDR; others sent for their families and remained, often illegally. Since German unification, Vietnamese migrants have had to contend with diverse challenges in their everyday life: unemployment, rising rents, and increasing xenophobic violence are just a few of the uncertainties that have come to mark the urban experience. This project examines the role of these socialist-era migrants (distinct from ‘boat people’ in the West) in reversing the trend toward ‘shrinking cities’ that occurred across eastern Germany after industrial areas experienced significant population loss with the closure of major production sites. And yet, in recent years, there has been a revitalization of socialist settlements in cities and new towns across the former East through the occupancy of abandoned, but still inhabitable, housing blocks by artists, migrants, and refugees. For the Vietnamese diasporic community, housing vacancies have meant new social and economic opportunities. Building on extensive field research in Vietnam and Germany, this research asks: how have such occupancies in the ‘ruins’ of planned socialist cities transformed dying neighborhoods and injected them with new vitality to create more vibrant, heterogeneous landscapes that challenge political discourses of ‘integration’ aimed at turning unruly migrants into well-adjusted residents? Adopting historical and ethnographic methods, this multi-sited project in Marzahn (Berlin) and Halle Neustadt examines the extent to which new solidarities have formed in the struggle against urban alienation through an attention to the sociability of dwelling practices.