The African Quarter
7 years ago I visited the African Quarter in Berlin for the first time. As part of an empowerment workshop for BIPOCs, we took a tour of the exciting neighborhood.
Before arriving, my expectation was to find a neighborhood bubbling with African restaurants and AfroShops. Accordingly, on the way from Kreuzberg, where our workshop took place, to Wedding, I thought about what African food I might buy. Plantains were definitely high on my list. We got off the train, walked up the subway station and saw: “nothing”. No Africans*, or African restaurants, no AfroSops, and no African or cultural atmosphere, “nothing”. Instead: “A housing estate?”- I think to myself, completely astonished.
An elderly black man greeted us.
I was happy and remembered how my grandpa, who unfortunately died when I was 14 years old, used to greet my brothers and me. Very similar: handsome, proud and always with a certain seriousness behind his friendly smile.
Mr. Mboro explained that we would be talking about Germany’s colonial history.
“Germany’s colonial history?”, I think to myself. “But I thought the Germans had hardly any colonies and they weren’t really active on the African continent at all, were they?” At school, we learned nothing about the subject because Germany had entered the race for Africa very late and had also lost its colonies after a short time. Accordingly, the influence on the African continent was hardly noticeable. At least, that’s the info I had picked up over the years.
Wrong, all wrong.
That day I learned something completely different.
In reality, Germany was the third largest colonial power on the African continent. People were enslaved, abducted, tortured and murdered, the colonized territories exploited. This involved raw materials, art, but also bones of the African population. The justification for these atrocities were races into which humanity was divided. Africans were thus dehumanized so that colonization and missionization could be advanced. Without regard for losses. In addition, the same power structure could be introduced worldwide.
Paradoxically, we still feel the racisms of that time today. We think it and live it every day. And yet there are hardly any words that make the complexity of this man-made power system tangible.
Racism is not something we can put on and take off. It is our mindset, our assumptions and our self-image with which we go through the day, the world and life. Because skin color is not the color of a person’s skin, but the color of a group of people. Beautiful is not what we consider beautiful, but what we consider normal and the rest, namely not the clear majority of the world’s population, is just “different”, a minority or not? And Africa just a country in which only poor and pitiful people live, who need to be saved or was it a continent after all?
The African Quarter is not what the name suggests. It does not manifest the beauty and cultures of the vast continent, but reminds us of the time when Africans were dehumanized and dispossessed. When we walk through the African Quarter it is not only a journey into the past, it is a journey into ourselves. Our values, humanity and our desire to do better and to change or positively influence the future come forward.
And one day, when the former colonial actors are no longer honored in the city’s street atlas, colonies are no longer romanticized, and colonialism is no longer a blind spot in Germany’s history, the neighborhood will also remember the Africans who fought for the independence of their territories and liberation of their families and friends. The names of Anna Mungunda, Rudolph Manga Bell, Cornelius Fredericks and the Maji- Maji Uprising will live on in people’s mouths and minds and we will not forget. One day. And until then, we as a team of “decolonial city tour”- will guide every person who has an open ear through the neighborhood and carry on the stories about the resistance. Because we also carry hope within us. Hope for a more just world.