December 11, 2015
Hi Gordon,
I’m writing a feature article for The Globe on the 100th anniversary of the Berlin/Kitchener name-change and wondered if there was CAFKAesque art angle I could exploit. I noticed a couple things on your site that pertained to a Berlin/Kitchener exchange (Rachele Viader Knowles) and the Kaiser Wilhelm project (Andrew Hunter). I’m trying to find the contemporary side of the Berlin tradition, so would love to get thoughts from you or anyone else with artistic/cultural observations on the resonance of this legacy from the Great War.
All the best,
John Allemang
The Globe and Mail
December 21, 2015
Hi John,
Thanks for contacting me. For local history, you should contact local historian Rych Mills <[email protected]>. I can give you some personal anecdotes and some of my experiences with CAFKA.
Over the years we have encountered a lot of interest by artists in the history of the area. I recently sent some links to an art collective in Quebec City regarding the history of the Kaiser’s bust, and they were fascinated by it. It’s been a challenge, however, for anyone to address it in all its complexity and subtlety. 
I sometimes recount to people what Kitchener was like when I arrived here in October 1988. I moved here from Grey County the weekend before Oktoberfest, and after settling in to my new job and setting up house in my apartment, my first day of real exploration of the neighbourhood took me to the Oktoberfest parade. I was overwhelmed by the character of the community. All the men wore peaked caps, and all the women wore puffy synthetic coats it seemed. It was a real working class community. Otherwise, what I had previously known of the city, its German background, its previous name, was almost no where in evidence in the downtown. There is no “German section” of town. A couple schnitzel restaurants (run by Czechs), some companies with German names, but otherwise Kitchener looked pretty much like any other mid sized Ontario city. I was too callow then to have any idea how to become part of this community in the late 80s. Having gone to university in Toronto, I spent most of my free weekends there for the next couple of years, in a community that I better understood. I know a lot of young people who work here today who still do this commute to Toronto on the weekends.
Eventually, I got involved in a relationship in Kitchener and my partner and I had a son together. It was partly through my partner, but really through my son that I got to know people in the community, through minor hockey and soccer, through elementary school events and through the kids and the parents of the kids who just came over to play with him. 
In my opinion, the cultural life of the city really started to change in the city in the 90s. The city council made a very visionary decision to build the new Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg city hall in the downtown on King Street. It was really was the start of a lot of things. It was probably over-built for the time, but it was big, open and inviting and just full of possibilities, in the same way that the Toronto City Hall marked the beginning of an era for the City of Toronto. It generated a lot of pride, and perhaps more importantly participation in the life of the city. CAFKA came into being as an indirect result of the new city hall. I don’t think CAFKA would exist without it.
With the new city hall came a renewed interest in the history of the city. People became interested in the original name and proposed changing the name back (Rych citation required) or at least proposed to name the new plaza in front of the city hall “Berlin Square.” The first iteration of CAFKA 2001 was called “And then we take Berlin” from the Leonard Cohen song, and was an expression of that interest. The 2002 edition of CAFKA was called “Power to the People” and inspired by the history of the city as a pioneer in industry with the early introduction of hydro electric power (Adam Beck held his first ceremonial “switch-on” in here in 1910.)
This renewed interest in the history of the city and the desire to acknowledge it collided with a couple realities. The city was becoming, like the rest of the country, increasingly multi-ethnic. Not everyone thought it was a good idea to try to turn Kitchener into a German theme park. But the German community here (if one can use that term) was and is not unified either, representing successive waves of immigration. Kitchener and the Region is home to a large Mennonite community, a pacifist community which embraces both traditional (Old Order) and modern churches. The name "Berlin,” represented the seat of a militaristic state the Mennonites had fled from, first to Russia and later to North America. Between these two poles there was little appetite to renew the old city name.
The community is certainly characterized by its German “industriousness.” But a large part of its character also comes from its Mennonite heritage, which is humanitarian, charitable and pacifist. There is a very active and engaged social services and volunteer sector here, an amazing institution called the Working Centre, which does more things and delivers more services than I can possible mention here <> and a fabulous theatre company called the Multicultural Theatre Space <> which focusses on non European stories, actors and writers and has toured cutting-edge theatrical productions across Canada and around the world. These are only a few features you may not normally associate with Kitchener.
In 2014 CAFKA worked with Krzysztof Wodiczko and local actor and playwright Gary Kirkham to produce a series of projections on the monumental statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park, the same park that at one time featured the bust of the Kaiser and where now stands an empty pedestal referencing that episode in the city’s history. Clearly there must have been a competition for imperial symbolism in the park in the early 20th century. Krzysztof and Gary developed a series of video narratives featuring seven community members: one indigenous woman and six relatively newly arrived refugees and immigrants from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. These videos were projected on the statue of Queen Victoria during the evening of June 12 and 13, 2014. 
You can find out about this project here:
To me, if this wasn’t an exorcism of the burden of our imperial past, it was a beginning. The project had a big impact on me personally. The effects and the damage of colonialism are still profoundly with us, but there is the possibility of a humane indigenous understanding of the land and community which holds out some hope. In these sometimes bleak times, remarkably so. 
I hope this helps. 

(Note: Some of the background of this letter was informed by an op-ed piece by Henry Wiebe, "Kaiser's monument an error," The Record, May 25, 1996. Text in full below)

In permitting a local German-Canadian organization to erect that $20,000 replica Kaiser Wilhelm I monument in Victoria Park, Kitchener council is committing a "monumental" historical error.

The adventures of Kaiser William I's bust are fascinating. Obviously, they continue to evoke inappropriate nationalistic emotions. The bust question is momentarily quiescent; currently the issue is with the base.

Firstly, contrary to the proposed monument wording the founders of Kitchener/Berlin were Mennonites. The first Pennsylvanian settlers - and the actual founders - were of Swiss descent. Germans came later, invited by Joseph Schneider and Bishop Benjamin Eby. Certainly, German immigrants such as Emil Vogelsang, Canada's first button-maker, brought economic vitality to the area. About 1836, to help these German newcomers feel more at home, Schneider and Bishop Eby self-effacingly suggested "Berlin" as the name of the city.

Secondly, it is not peace but the glories of German militarism that the replica monument would implicitly and covertly celebrate. According to the Berliner Journal, in 1871, German-speaking churches and choirs united in thanksgiving for the German victory. But it was for Teutonic "arms and the man" they sang, not "peace."

Kaiser Wilhelm I was hardly a man of peace. Characterized as the "Cartridge Prince," a worshipper of the "God of battles," with a "taste for conquest," on Jan. 18, 1871, he gratified that lust, rubbing French noses in his victory by being proclaimed German emperor in Versailles.

The German heritage is a great one, and pride in one's heritage is admirable. But it is difficult to square the Kaiser's bust - or its base - which celebrates German militarism, "the pride of the time," with appropriate local civic pride and achievement. Berlin/ Kitchener was and is not a "German" city.

The German connection beclouded the allegiances of German immigrants here. Ironically, had confused local German militarists not overplayed their hand, we might still be living in a city called "Berlin." Organizations such as the German Bund sought financial and moral support for Germany among these Canadian immigrants at the outset of the First World War. German church leaders were expressing tactless German sentiments while Canadian boys were being killed by German gas attacks and machine guns on the western front. In 1940, in B.C., some skulking German agent deposited a Blaue Kerze (Blue Candle), a small woodcarved symbol of pan-Germanism, in our mailbox overnight. Father took the abomination to the police.

Though schools doubtless tried hard to teach immigrant children to "think English," British-Canadian fair play and justice assured that people willing to work had a future in Canada, and freedom from tyranny, even freedom to criticize "the English."

Richard Roschmann, a cultured man, builder of the Regina Street Roschmann Button Factory in Waterloo, came to Berlin/Kitchener in 1871, fleeing the hateful Prussian militarism. He had no use for the Kaiser. I gather that his descendants feel the same way, as would many other Canadians of German descent, especially those who fought, or whose relatives died, in the two German wars.

There is something sad and pointless about this unhistorical hankering after recognition.

Let the Kaiser artifacts continue to be of historical interest, but apart from inappropriate sentiment, and let German militarism be submerged in loyalty to Canada. 

Henry Wiebe is a retired teacher.
1996 The Record - Kitchener-Waterloo. All rights reserved.