Urban aspirations in (post)cold war capitals

Urban aspirations in (post)cold war capitals: Seoul-Berlin in comparative anthropology

Jin-heon Jung


This project compares Seoul and Berlin in the context of (post)Cold War capital cities through migrants’ life trajectories with focus on how their religious-political aspirations are negotiated. Seoul is the southern capital city of the divided Korean peninsula, while Berlin is the capital of reunified Germany. Comparing an Asian city and its western counterpart may be seen at odds for those who only pays attention to the histories of civilization, and to the similarities and differences in society and history. Instead, this project aims to reflect on conceptual frameworks and global interactions from the grass roots point of view. That is, my double-sited ethnography examines the ways in which Seoul for North Korean refugee-migrants and Berlin for South Korean migrant workers inspire them to foster dissimilar religious-political opportunities and spatiotemporal imaginations in envisioning their future homelands.

Seoul remains up to date technically at war with North Korea, while Berlin regained its status as the German capital after the fall of the Berlin wall. Except for the geopolitical affinity—the national divisions after the World War II, two cities seem to have little commonalities to compare. Even most Korean scholars demonstrate that German and Korean territorial divisions have so different natures that German unification case is not applicable to the Korean peninsula. Such structural and policy oriented approaches tend to have overlooked cultural, sensorial, and spiritual dimensions, and transnational perspectives on the historical shift as lived experiences of the people on the move. Therefore this project approaches Seoul and Berlin not merely based on their histories, but rather their future oriented culture making in transnational and contact perspectives.