The phenomenon of graffiti as forms of protest and comment is an essential element of this examination of cities.

Bastian Heinsohn

According to Bastian Heinsohn, the way German directors portray Berlin in films offers compelling commentary on the impact of German unification and the dramatic changes, both good and bad, for Berliners and German society since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"Major cities are increasingly losing their distinctiveness," says the professor of German. "Looking at Berlin, at how the architecture is changing and how it is depicted in films, you will see that directors are not only observers, but also critics."

Long described as edgy, creative and artistic, the German capital is losing its personality with the massive urban transformation efforts that have been underway since the Wall came down and in times of globalization, Heinsohn says. This has led to demographic shifts and a changing landscape that is reflected in films.

"Street artists engage in what they call 'urban beautification,' using their art to comment critically on current challenges to solving social problems intrinsically linked to globalization and urban transformations, such as rising rents and displacement," says Heinsohn, whose area of expertise is the analysis of the cinematic representation of urban spaces in transition. "The phenomenon of graffiti as forms of protest and comment is an essential element of this examination of cities."

Heinsohn studies the linguistic landscapes of world cities including Berlin. A linguistic landscape incorporates all forms of language, including graffiti, as dialogues-in-progress.

"Graffiti makes comments about politics," says Heinsohn. "It's a transient art. The murals, stencils and specific slogans address key officials in the city who make decisions on urban development. It gives those who have no voice a voice in the urban development process."

On new and newly renovated buildings, he notes, one can see graffiti that says, "It's very nice here." Translated, that means the artist is actually bemoaning the lack of character in the architecture.

In an opportunity to learn outside of the classroom, Heinsohn leads students in a summer internship program in London, studying film and visual media to learn about the city of London and its representation in cinema through the decades. Internships with media outlets, including publishing giant Simon and Schuster and established film production companies, are part of the two-month program.

Experiential learning opportunities are also available for students in Lewisburg, he notes. "Bucknell uses the Campus Theatre as a classroom. It provides full immersion into the cinematic experience."

Updated Sept. 29, 2016

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