Decolonial Politics of Remembrance

February 27th, 2010

Germany

Activism & Resistance Identity & Belonging

On February 27, 2010, the Gröben Embankment near the Oberbaum Bridge in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg was renamed the May Ayim Embankment in an official ceremony. This outcome represented just one of the many accomplishments of a years-long effort on the part of civil-society initiatives and organizations towards an honest reckoning with Germany’s past as a colonial power.

The prominent afro-German poet and educator May Ayim (1960-1996) engaged critically in her work with the issues colonialism and racism. A founding member of the “Black people in Germany Initiative” (ISD), she dealt particularly in her books and writings with Germany’s colonial past and its present-day ramifications in the form of structural and everyday racism (LINK Self-organization among black Germans, 1985).

On February 27, 2010, the Gröben Embankment near the Oberbaum Bridge in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg was renamed the May Ayim Embankment in her honor, a move for which, in particular, the Berlin Association for Development Policy Advice (BER) had advocated. Otto Friedrich von der Gröben (1657-1728), for whom the embankment had previously been named, had been active in the transatlantic slave trade and was the founder of the colony Gross-Friedrichsburg in present-day Ghana. Under the Nazi regime, Gröben was stylized as a German colonial hero.

This renaming was the fruit of a long struggle waged by several individuals and organizations affiliated with the black diaspora in Germany, the afro-German emancipation movement, and anti-racism educational efforts. This was not an isolated struggle: throughout Germany, numerous people have worked to draw attention to Germany’s implication in the history of European colonialism and its consequent historical responsibilities. These struggles have often been hard-fought and drawn out over several years, as German society has found it difficult to acknowledge its own colonial past or, frequently, to take seriously the concerns of the black German community and its allies.

Thus, for example, Berlin’s black community has long called for the renaming of the Mohrenstrasse (Moors’ Street) in the city center, along with the underground station of the same name, as Nelson Mandela Street. The association “Postcolonial” offers educational tours through the “African district”, a section of the Berlin district of Wedding in which the streets bear the names of former German colonies and their overlords. The initiative “No Humboldt 21” has opposed the Berlin state government’s “Humboldt Forum” project, a 500 million Euro plan to erect in the heart of the city a “building of the century” that will house “cultural collections”, the contents of which consist largely of colonial booty.