Germany’s Colonial Past Remembered

The Africa House in Berlin presents an exhibition on Germany’s colonial past in Africa, taking place on different sites of the capital

October 10th, 2022
Maria Asklund, News from Berlin
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[Image credits: Afrika Haus Berlin]

On the evening of the 6th of October, the Africa House Berlin (Afrika Haus Berlin) hosted a presentation of their exhibition “Berlin - a postcolonial place for remembrance” (Berlin – ein postkolonialer Gedächtnisraum). In addition, there was a discussion with the institute’s leader Oumar Diallo.

The philosophy of this highly interesting exhibition is that we need to learn from the past in order to prepare for a better future. Displaying the history of German colonialism in Africa, as well as German anti-blackness during the Nazi time, this project aims teach a wide audience about these topics. In addition, its purpose is to uplift unheard stories and voices.

More specifically, the focus of this project is the (post-) colonial metropolis Berlin. What has happened here, exactly? To help explore and answer this question, the Africa House has cooperated with the local college Volkshochschule Mitte. The result is an exhibition that encompasses several decades of history and shows a detailed image of Germany’s dark history.

One aspect of African history in Berlin is underlined with the aid of Georg Adolf Christiani, to whom the exhibition is also dedicated (as pictured on the image). In fact, Christiani was the first African who lived in Berlin. Coming to Berlin in the year 1678, his name was Ebnu. Three years later, in 1681, he was baptised Georg Adolf Christiani in Spandau. This incident also exemplifies the long history of diminishing that black individuals have been victims of in Europe. By dedicating this exhibition to him, the Africa House reminds Berliners of his existence and story.

In addition to the part of the exhibition that is taking place at the Africa House are 30 information plaques that are placed on different sites around Berlin. Their purpose is to inform by-passers of colonial history. The historical timeline begins all the way back in the 16th century, when German states first began their attempts to expand their power across the seas. Moving on, the German colonialism during the most lucrative era of imperialism is being shown. Finally, the colonial revisionism and decolonialisation are treated. Another important topic is of course the human rights violations that took place through slavery. In fact, the Kurbrandenburgian-Prussian colony of Groß-Friedrichsburg brought around 30,000 people from Africa to America under terms of human trafficking.

In an interesting attempt to bring history closer to every-day life, the information plaques are primarily placed on sites in Berlin where there is a historical connection to colonialism. In this manner, anyone can be invited to reflect upon the past without actually visiting the exhibition. One example of one of these sites is the Wilhelm-Street (Wilhelmstraße) where the Berlin Conference took place in 1884, later on leading to the dividing of the African continent by the colonial powers.

Likewise, black victims of the holocaust and Nazism are remembered in this exhibition. The purpose of this is also to spark a discussion about these individuals that have been largely ignored and forgotten. One victim of Nazi racism was Majhub bin Adam Mohamed who tragically died in the Sachsenhaus concentration camp in 1944. In connection to this, the project also mentions other organisations and projects dedicated to post-colonial work with black and African history. An example of this is the German-Namibian Reconciliation Treaty (Versöhnungsabkommen), as well as the restitution of art that was stolen from Africa by German colonizers, such as the infamous bronze statues from Benin that are now in the Humboldt Forum in the German capitol.

On the topic of memory and future, the sociologist, publisher and leader of the Africa House, Oumar Diallo, says the following; “Without an appropriate understanding of history, the present-day challenges of colonialism, migration, refuge and war cannot be handled. It is only together that we can create a liveable planet – liveable for all of its citizens.” This statement expresses the very important core of this project, with all of its hope for the future.

To accompany visitors on this extraordinary exhibition is a detailed brochure written by historians Dr. Joachim Zeller and Prof. Dr. Robbie Aitken. This brochure also acts as a guide, providing more information to curious visitors. Besides the two historians, the Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft (EVZ) have contributed to this project, sponsoring its creation.

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