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German-language texts by Africans and Black Germans: A Research Agenda

Nina Berman





My research, in general terms, focuses on questions of cross-cultural representation and interaction. The two main areas have been the history of relations between Germany and the Middle East and between Germany and Africa, as articulated in texts and other cultural representations written in German, but also drawing on sources from the Middle East and Africa. In the context of my research on Germans in Africa (which recently resulted in the publication of Impossible Missions: German Economic, Military, and Humanitarian Efforts in Africa) I began to collect material on literary and non-literary text written by 1. Africans who settled or lived for a limited period in Germany and 2. Black Germans who grew up in Germany.

The first group of texts, written by individuals born in Africa, includes a large number of autobiographies. An early example are the accounts by Sayyida Salima bint Sa’id bin Ahmad Al Bu-Sa’id (1844-1924), who was a daughter of the sultan of Zanzibar. She has left two major texts, Memoiren einer arabischen Prinzessin (Memoirs of an Arabian Princess, 1886) and Briefe nach der Heimat (Letters Home, 1899). More recent publications include autobiographies of individuals who were born in colonized or decolonized countries and came to Germany to seek for asylum or to study and work.

Their commentary on German society betrays the difficulties they encountered while living in Germany. Examples are Nsekuye Bizimana’s Müssen die Afrikaner den Weissen alles nachmachen? (Do Africans have to Copy Whites in Everything?, 1985); Chima Oji’s Unter die Deutschen gefallen: Erfahrungen eines Afrikaners (Lost Among the Germans: Experiences of an African, 1992); Thomas Mazimpaka’s, Ein Tutsi in Deutschland: Das Schicksal eines Flüchtlings (A Tutsi in Germany: The Fate of a Refugee, 1997); and Miriam Kwalanda’s Die Farbe meines Gesichts: Lebensreise einer kenianischen Frau (The Color of My Face: Life-Journey of a Kenyan Woman, 1999; written with Birgit Theresa Koch).

Aly Diallo’s autobiographical novel Die Täuschung (The Deceit, 1987) and novels by Amma Darko, among them Der verkaufte Traum (1991; published in English as "Beyond the Horizon," 1995) and Spinnweben (Cobwebs, 1996) also belong to this growing corpus of texts about contemporary intercultural relations. In addition, writers such as Noah K. Ndosi (Echos der Erinnerung, Echos of Memory, 1991), and several publications by Jean-Félix Belinga express the authors’ experiences in Germany in the form of poetry or, as in some of Belinga’s publications, present fables and fairy tales from Cameroon to the German-speaking audience.

The writings of Black Germans also include a large
number of autobiographies. Since the publication of Farbe bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, 1986), edited by Katharina Oguntoye and others, a number of autobiographical narratives have been published, such as Ilka Hügel-Marshall’s Daheim unterwegs: Ein deutsches Leben (On the move at home: A German life, 1998). Hans J. Massaquoi’s autobiographical account of his childhood in Germany, published in English in 1999 as Destined to Witness, also belongs to this group of texts, as it chronicles his everyday life experiences as a black child growing up in Germany. The text became popular in Germany in its translation “Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger!”: Meine Kindheit in Deutschland (1999). Poetry by May Ayim and Fatima El -Tayeb’s film and screenplay, Alles wird gut (Everything will be fine, 1997) also comment on the situation of Black Germans.

In my talk I will propose a research agenda for the study of these two groups of texts (and, by extension, films and other cultural representations). It seems to me that my topic would fit best into workshop “# 1. Representing Black European history.” I will ask questions regarding the different subject positions that are discernible in these texts, but I will also examine whether it is useful at all to make a distinction that divides authors into the groups outlined above. In what ways does the experience of growing up as part of a majority black culture in Africa affect the way Africans see themselves in Germany? What role does the question of class play in the individual accounts? Are there any differences in how Black German authors who have one white German parent discuss their relationship to white Germans, in contrast to the view of white

Germans articulated by authors who were born in Africa? How is the clash between self-image and “other-image” discussed by

various authors, especially with regard to the distinct histories of these writers?

The conference, with its broader

focus on Europe (rather than Germany), will be an ideal setting to discuss these questions, as the input of scholars from

other countries, such as France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, will be helpful in articulating a distinct research

agenda for the German-language material.

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