African Refugees in the African Quarter

For years, thousands of Afri­can refu­gees have been dying in the Medi­ter­ra­ne­an Sea. Only few ever reach the Euro­pean con­ti­nent. Again and again, poli­ti­ci­ans express their hor­ror – with no effect on asyl­um bureau­cra­cy and the situa­ti­on in Afri­ca. Some of the trau­ma­ti­zed sur­vi­vors have arri­ved at Paul-Ger­hard-Stift in Ber­lin ‑Wed­ding, whe­re they get trea­ted – right in the “Afri­can Quar­ter”. How do they feel when they read the street names which are pro­bab­ly well-known to them?

Die Straßennamen im Afrikanischen Viertel sind in Berlin einmaligWhat do the­se street names mean to us? For most of us, “Afri­can Quar­ter” is just a name for the Kiez, such as the “Dut­ch Quar­ter” or the “Eng­lish Quar­ter”. That is a mis­con­cep­ti­on, though: Bet­ween 1899 and 1958, new streets with street names rela­ted to Afri­ca were intro­du­ced here. Around 30 names mir­ror very dif­fe­rent view points on Afri­ca. In the begin­ning, colo­ni­al fan­ta­sies were eter­na­li­zed while just recent­ly Gha­na­st­reet was named in honour of the Afri­can sta­tes which free them­sel­ves from colo­nia­list powers.

Sin­ce May 2012, an infor­ma­ti­on board at the sub­way sta­ti­on Reh­ber­ge informs about this uni­que memo­ri­al of colo­ni­al histo­ry. The board was initia­ted by the Ber­lin SPD (Social Democrat’s Par­ty) and fea­tures, amongst others, texts by mem­bers of the Afri­can community.

Die Info-Stele am Beginn der OtawistraßeThe board reminds about the past and gives us a mis­si­on for the pre­sent, as the histo­ry of Ger­man colo­nia­lism is often neglec­ted. While the­re are many memo­ri­als around SED and Nazi regimes, the­re is none for Ger­man colo­nia­lism. Now, try­ing to invol­ve artists, schools and, most import­ant­ly, mem­bers of Afri­can com­mu­nities, various shades of colo­nia­list times are being pushed into public awa­reness. Also, more and more tours deal with this topic and exp­lain Ger­man histo­ry in Afri­ca in the Afri­can Quarter.

100 years after the end of colo­nia­list aspi­ra­ti­ons in Ger­ma­ny it is more than time to open­ly.  take respon­si­bi­li­ty. More and more requests come up to rena­me streets which were named after colo­ni­al “heroes”. Local poli­ti­ci­ans will have to find solu­ti­ons tog­e­ther with the resi­dents. One thin is clear: In the long run, the dis­crepan­cy bet­ween a poli­ti­cal fight against racism and having racists hono­u­red in street names needs to be solved.

Of cour­se, the his­to­ri­cal respon­si­bi­li­ty does not end with the exchan­ge of street signs. A basic under­stan­ding for how our gre­at-grand­f­a­thers have used the Afri­can popu­la­ti­on with bar­ba­ric mea­su­res needs to be crea­ted. The gro­wing memo­ri­al in the Afri­can Quar­ter is a small step towards crea­ting a con­scious­ness for our his­to­ri­cal respon­si­bi­li­ty, which also lies in mee­ting Afri­can refu­gees at Euro­pean bor­ders with help and humanity.

Guest arti­cle by Dr. Mat­thi­as Dahlke 

First publis­hed in “Noti­zen” (Paul Ger­hardt Stift); Mül­ler­str. 56 – 58

Trans­la­ti­on: Danie­la Hombach

More on Wedding’s Eng­lish Lan­guage Face­book-Page “Der schö­ne Wedding”

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