Photo Credit: Etty Fidele
Did You Know? Take A Look Into Germany's Little-Known Black History
Miriam Fisshaye is the founder of Zewdi, Berlin‘s first Black-owned travel agency, through which she offers a variety of tours focused on Germany’s Black History.
“In my experience, even local Berliners are not aware of Black German history, as early as the 17th or 18th century,” Miriam previously told Travel Noire.
However, people of African origin have lived in Berlin for many generations. Miriam says the first officially documented was in 1681, a Ghanaian man named George Adolph Christiana, also known as Ebnu. Nearly three centuries later, in 1960, May Ayim, one of the most prominent representatives of the Black community in Germany, was born in Hamburg.
“She grew up in foster care without her biological Ghanaian father and German mother. Her German identity was often questioned and denied, and this experience shaped her activism. Her works in Berlin led to the visualization of Black German identity, and a rediscovery of lost Black German history. May-Ayim-Ufer, in Kreuzberg, is named after her. Another little victory, given that it was formerly called Gröbenufer.”
Though many people are unaware of it, Black people were also victims of atrocities committed by Nazi
Germany. There are three memorial stones in Berlin for Martha Ndumbe, Jacob Ndumbe, and Ferdinand James Allen.
“Gunter Demnig, the artist behind the memorial stones, placed them in front of the last house that the victims lived in before they were deported to concentration camps and killed by the Nazis. You don’t need a guide; you can explore this memorial on your own.”
Travelers in Berlin can also visit the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. plaque in front of Sophienkirche. One year after his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in D.C., Dr. King visited Berlin, at the invitation of the Governing
Mayor Willy Brandt. He spoke to 20,000 West Berliners on Church Day at the Waldbühne, and to 3,000 GDR citizens at St. Marienkirche and Sophienkirche in East Berlin. The plaque at Sophienkirche commemorates this occasion.
As was the case in the United States and various other European nations, Germany displayed Black people in exhibits akin to human zoos for the entertainment of whites. From May 1 to October 15, 1896, the first German Trade Colonial Exhibition took place in Treptow, Berlin. For the German Empire, it was an image event campaign to stage itself as a strong colonial state. This exhibition presented Berlin as the most important economic center. On display were not only war ships, colonial goods, and industrially manufactured goods from Germany, but also human beings.
“106 women, men, and children from Cameroon, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, Togo, Namibia, and today’s Papua New Guinea were supposed to represent everyday life in their villages in the so-called ‘Schutzgebieten.’ Most of them came forcibly against their will; others came to represent their ethnic group. They had to wear traditional attire, dance, cook, and work on a fixed schedule to entertain the Berlin audience.”
Instrumentalized by the German Empire as a colony product, most of them resisted the inhumane condition. Unable to further endure the gazes, Kwelle Ndumbe bought opera glasses to look back at the white audience. After the exhibition, only 20 of them remained in Germany, among them Martin Didobe, a prominent Afro German figure.
“The major event involved politics, business, and churches, as well as ethnological and natural science museums. Among the 4,000 exhibitors were many influential companies. For Berlin, the inhumane exhibition was a huge “success” and was visited by more than 7.5 million people from all over the world.”