Exhibition brings black Germans’ stories to light

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-11-10 17:21Z by Steven

Exhibition brings black Germans’ stories to light


Helen Whittle

An exhibit gives voice to the histories of Africans, African-Americans and Afro-Germans from the past 300 years of German history. It presents a differentiated perspective on the lives and histories of blacks in Germany.

Asked what comes to mind when they think about Germany, many foreigners conjure up stereotypical images of Oktoberfest, the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall.

But these images of Teutonic culture and society do little to reflect the diversity of the contemporary, multiethnic Federal Republic of Germany where one fifth of the population has an ethnic minority background, according to an exhibition that opened Saturday (3.11.2012) at Cologne’s Alte Feuerwache.

Jonas Behre, director at the Initiative for Black People in Germany (ISD), helped organize the exhibit titled “Homestory Deutschland: Black Biographies from History and the Present” and which provides a collective self-portrait, giving voice to the complex and varied histories of Africans, African-Americans and Afro-Germans from the past three centuries of German history.

“Even though black people have lived in Germany for hundreds of years, it is not viewed as a reality of everyday life,” said Behre, who was born in Eritrea but has lived for virtually all of his life in Germany. “And that can be seen in the discrimination and exclusion in daily life, and that’s what we hope to tackle with this exhibition.”…

…Another of the biographies illuminated in the exhibition is that of Afro-German actor, journalist and activist Theodor Wonja Michael. Born in Hamburg in 1925, Michael is Germany’s oldest living Afro-German. His father moved from Cameroon—then a German colony—to Germany in 1904.

Denied access to higher education on the basis of skin color, he would have liked to have become an archeologist or an ethnologist. But as a young man, one of the few possibilities he had to earn a living wage was as an actor in colonial films or “Völkerschauen”—the ethnological expositions or “human zoos” popular in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

After the end of the Second World War, Michael found it hard to get work he managed to get work as an actor of the theater stage.

Michael remembers how his father always felt it was his natural right to live in Germany and how this attitude remains integral to own perspective on life as an Afro-German today.

“Afro-German means that one has two backgrounds, namely an African one and a German one,” Michael said. “I think it’s an advantage having an insight into two cultures. I see it as a very positive thing.”…

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