mary r. desjardins
gerd gemünden
Marlene Dietrich’s Appropriations
on 16 may
2002, Marlene Dietrich was named an honorary citizen of
Berlin in a celebration held in City Hall. Her grandson, Peter Riva, re-
ceived a certificate of honor from Walter Momper, president of the Berlin
Parliament, and in his laudatio the city mayor Klaus Wowereit expressed
his pride about the achievements of Berlin’s most famous native daughter.
But the mayor also reminded his audience of the difficult relationship be-
tween Berliners and Dietrich, who had faced suspicion and hatred in this
city and elsewhere in Germany after World War ii, most visibly when her
1960 concert tour was picketed. As many in the audience knew, the efforts
to make her an honorary citizen of Berlin dated as far back as 1991, and
for a good part of the 1990s the city was involved in an unsuccessful and
ultimately publicly embarrassing struggle to name a street after her in her
native district of Schöneberg. Even her funeral in Berlin, ten years prior
to the event in City Hall, was an occasion for controversy, when what had
been planned as a celebration of homecoming became once again the
target of some Berliners’ long-standing resentments toward “the traitor”
(see Koch, “Exorcised”). Honoring Dietrich in 2002 was thus for Berlin’s
politicians a much belated act of restitution, the final stage of a slow pro-
cess of rapprochement that was, in Wowereit’s words, “not without pain
and embarrassment.”¹
The process of reconciliation between Dietrich and “her” Berlin(ers)
is part of a long and drawn-out love-hate relationship between the diva
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