Celebrating The Black History Month in Berlin

Black History Month was conceived by the celebrated scholar, historian and author Carter G. Woodson in 1926 in the US and was first coined as “Negro History Month.” Since becoming a month-long celebration in 1976, Black History Month has evolved into a highly revered period of the year when we pay homage to the countless number of people of African descent who have made remarkable contributions to human history.

Needlessly to say, Black History Month has reserved a special place in North American social and political consciousness. Every February citizens in Canada and the US are invited to delve deep into the vast, rich history of the African American experience on the North American continent as dozens of government funded institutions such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration; the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution all open their doors and honour the numerous generations of African Americans who were not only fundamental to the building of the United States as it is known today, but who also struggled with untold hardship to gain full equality for the future generations of black people living in the US. Similarly in the UK, Black History Month is met with a variety of artistic events, cultural exhibitions, educational workshops and special-edition publications that both acknowledge and celebrate the immense contribution that the African-Caribbean community has made to the UK throughout it’s long history. Although it must be said that Black History Month does not receive quite the same recognition in Germany as it does elsewhere, there are still plenty of reasons to acknowledge Black History Month here in Berlin and make the most of some of the events that the city has to offer.

Whilst this may come as a surprise to some readers, people of African Descent have long had an important connection to Germany and in particular, to the city of Berlin. More than 10% of the entire black population in Germany are currently residing here in Berlin and historically, Berlin is a capital city that has held great significance both for the forming of the Black Diaspora and for the building of the identity of the Afro German. The Berlin Conference of 1884 (also known as the Berlin West Africa Conference) was perhaps the most important meeting of the 19th century that laid the groundwork for a new age of European colonialism on the African continent. What begun as a meeting between the major Western powers that sought to impose restrictions on further expansion into Central Africa with particular focus on The Congo Basin did, in fact; spark new energy into the “Scramble For Africa.” The European colonial powers would completely disregard the cultural boundaries that had been drawn up by local chiefs and tribal leaders in an attempt to maintain control of their native lands and by 1914, the African continent was under complete colonial rule.

Dale Smith, a representative of Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee speaks at the Vietnam Congress in West Berlin on February 17th, 1968. (Photo Credit: Archiv/ Berliner Verlag)

The 1960’s, a period of unsurpassed worldwide revolutionary fervour saw the German student population become part of the powerful current of political protest against racial injustice and show their support for the black liberation struggle. Angela Davis, one of the most controversial female figures of the black radical movement was welcomed with open arms into East Berlin at the same time that she was escaping political persecution back in the US. 

Angela Davis receives a warm welcome in East Berlin as she is greeted by Erika Havemnn, the daughter in law of renowned East German dissident Robert Havemenn, Sept 11, 1972. (Photo Credit: Archiv/ Berliner Verlag)

Audre Lorde, one of the most influential black female figures of the 20th century was almost peerless in both her desire to bring to light the experiences and the grievances of Afro-German women and to drive forward the Afro-German movement. 

Audre Lorde posing on the Front Cover of her documentary film ‘Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992’

From 1984- 1992 Lorde was active in Berlin as a social and political activist and as a lecturer at the Freie Universität. During her time in Berlin Lorde had a profound influence on the Afro-German poet and social activist Maya Ayim. Ayim’s thesis, titled ‘Afro-Deutsche: Ihre Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte aus dem Hintergrund gesellschaftlicher Veränderungen’ became the first ever scholarly study of Afro-German history and culture spanning from the Middle Ages to the present. Ayim and Lorde worked closely together and in 1986, they and published the work in English with the title ‘Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out.

(Left to right: Katarina Ogentoyue, Audre Lorde, ,Maya Ayim)

Both women have since reserved a special place in German history for their invaluable contributions to the Afro German movement and in February of 2011, a street in Kreuzberg previously named Gröbenufer after a German colonialist was renamed Maya Ayim Ufer in a special effort to coincide with Black History Month. 

The next piece will take a closer look at the Afro-German population here in Berlin and examine some of the most important sociopolitical issues that face the community today. For now, here are some events taking place during Black History Month in Berlin that are worth taking advantage of.

Friday 13.02.2015 9:00 p.m

WERKSTATT DER KULTUREN, Wissmannstraße 32, 12049 Berlin

Having been active since the 1990’s, MFA KERA & MIKE RUSSELLS BLACK HERITAGE QUARTET will showcase their eclectic range of musical compositions that vary from Afro Beat, Blues, Reggae, Brazilian, Afro Cuban, Arabic, Soul, Jazz, Rap and Gospel.

Starring Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth and Carmen Ejogo, this powerful motion picture by David Oyewolo portrays the historic Martin Luther King-led from March from Selma to Montgommery of 1965 that culminated in the infamous “Bloody Sunday.”

As part of the Berlinalle film festival, Selma is screening at the following times and locations:

Tuesday Feb 10, 21:30- Friedrichstadt-Palast
Thursday Feb 12 09:30- Haus der Berliner Festspiele
Saturday Feb 14 18:00- Friedrichstadt-Palast
Sunday Feb 15 12:30- Berlinale Palast

D’ANGELO & his live band at the Columbiahalle on Valentines Day.

As one of the major players in the American neo-soul movement, D’Angelo’s eagerly anticipated European return tour is sure to set the Columbiahalle alight as he performs some of the hit records from his highly acclaimed comeback album ‘The Black Messiah’.

Saturday 14th February- 20:00- Columbiahalle, Columbiadamm 13-21, 10965, Berlin

In commemoration of the Berlin Congo Conference, the Savvy Contemporary in Neukölln is running an extended exhibition until the 1st of March. ‘Wir Sind Alle’ is a three-part exhibition that reflects upon Berlin’s historical and contemporary bond to Africa.

SAVVY Contemporary: Richardstr. 20, 12043, Berlin-Neukölln.
Opening Hours: Saturdays & Sundays 2 - 6pm Guided Tours: Each Sunday at 4 pm.

Part II of this exhibition will take place on Tuesday, 17th February 2015, 6pm at the ICI Berlin and also between Thursday, 26th February - Sunday 1st March 2015. This includes keynote lectures, roundtable discussions, workshops, performance, concerts and film screenings with Manthia Diawara as the keynote speaker.

Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Christinenstraße 18-19, 10119,  Berlin.

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