Bazaar pagodas in Berlin. Gendered religious identities among Vietnamese migrant women

by Gertrud Hüwelmeier

Working Papers WP 13-03
January 2013
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of the East German Socialist government, thousands of former contract workers stayed in the then reunified Germany. Due to their resulting precarious economic situation, a large number of Vietnamese migrants, all former contract workers, became engaged in small business and petty trade. Some of them, women in particular, have become successful entrepreneurs and wholesalers in recently built bazaars in East Berlin. Most interestingly, parts of these urban spaces, former industrial areas on the periphery of Germany’s capital, have been transformed into religious places.

This paper explores the formation of Vietnamese Buddhist networks on the grounds of Asian wholesale markets in the eastern part of Berlin after the reunification of Germany. By considering the tensions between Vietnamese former contract workers and the political “other”, the Vietnamese boat refugees in West Berlin, the first part of the paper deals with the arrival of different groups of Vietnamese in socialist East Germany. Based on recent ethnographic fieldwork among female lay Buddhists, the second part focuses on trading women and investigates the relationship between business and religion in the bazaar. The paper explores how gender roles are shaped by geographical mobility and argues that female religious practitioners engage with the places where they live and work, namely the bazaar.

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