Misrepresenting a Colonial Past: The Africa in Wedding Tour with Josephine Apraku

By Samantha Gilbert

Photo 3We began our morning by meeting our tour guide Josephine Apraku—a Wedding local who has been giving the Africa in Wedding Tour for eight years—at the cross streets of Ghanastraße and Swakopmunder Straße. At first, I was confused about how we were supposed to learn about the most diverse part of Berlin by standing at what seemed like a normal street corner. However, Josie explained that the African Quarter of Wedding is not where one would necessarily find the largest amount of people from throughout the African Diaspora, but that so much of we needed to know about Germany’s colonial history was in these street names. Many of these streets were named when Germany (then Prussia) was gaining colonies.

Photo 1Germany’s first colonial conquest was Namibia, Africa’s “town by the sea,” which resulted in the first genocide of the 20th century. According to Apraku, the German Military entered Namibia wanting to kill as many people as they could with “as much blood and brutality as possible.” First, Namibians were stripped of their land and given reservations instead. Angered by their lack of freedom, Namibians showed resistance against the colonial military. Subsequently, the German military pushed as many Namibians as they could into the desert so they would die of starvation. The Namibians that survived were sent to concentration camps, where they were expected to work long, hard hours day after day, and by the end of this war, Germans had eradicated 70% of the Namibian population. Swakopmund was the name of the first concentration camp built in Namibia, resulting in the street name Swakopmundstraße.

Photo 2During the same time, Germany was heavily involved in slave trading in Ghana, hence the street name Ghanastraße. These streets are Germany’s way of commemorating the colonization of the African continent. In “A Fanfare For The Colonized,” Philipp Khabo Koepsell explains the brutality and selfishness of colonization when he writes, “It’s a story of explorers / of the glory of these soldiers / who drove thousands into deserts…./ for the white men’s dream of glory…” Koepsell then goes on to write from the white man’s perspective, “You’re just over-sensitive! / Why should we apologize, / we colonized not much…” This poem sheds light on the insensitivity of the Germans towards the people they colonized.

IMG_5560While naming streets after concentration camps and locations of slave trades seems wildly offensive, the questionable street names don’t stop there. Mohrenstraße, known simply as M-straße to many Black Germans because of its offensiveness, was the first street named in Wedding nearly 300 years ago. This word is derived from the Latin language meaning a dark person who is childish and stupid, and is related to the English word “moron.” This word was exclusively used for Black people during the time of slavery, which leads me to question how Germany can support such racist ideology. This reminded me of the “Introduction” to The Little Book of Big Visions in which Sharon Dodua Otoo and Sandrine Micossé-Aikins explain how the suppressed colonial legacy in Germany affects Black people today. They write, “Although the mainstream appears not to remember why, Black people are repeatedly reminded of, confronted with, and challenged by fantasies of white supremacy right up until the present day.” Even though Black people regularly request for these street names to be changed, many white Germans don’t see this as a problem worth addressing. Hence, because of white supremacy, these offensive street names are not changed.

Photo 5The last street name Apraku discussed, Petersallee, entailed her telling the story that angered me most. Named in 1939 by the Nazi Party, Petersallee was meant to honor an incredibly racist man named Carl Peters, who hung and burned several Africans during his explorations of East Africa. Despite being criticized for brutality to Africans and then removed from his position in office, he was later considered a German hero by Nazis for his radical racism. A movie was even made in this man’s honor. When many people in Germany protested this street name in hopes of having it removed, Germany simply decided to “repurpose the street name.” Now, hanging above Petersalle is a small sign that reads “Prof. Dr. Hans Peters.” Hans Peters was a man who was a politician that helped hide and free Jews during the Nazi era. Regardless of this repurposing, the street sign still stands, and the history of its significance cannot be forgotten.

Photo 4After we learned how many of Berlin’s street names are monuments of racism, the next part of the tour took place in a small, quaint park, where Josie introduced me to the words “human zoo.” To my disbelief, from the late 1800s up until the mid-1940s, this land was used as a zoo for African people and other minorities living in Germany. Germans paid them to work inside these fenced off enclosures and perform African “acts,” which entailed them wearing stereotypical African clothing and waking up in small huts—anything to feed Germans their idea of African life. As Maisha Eggers explains in “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging,” the problem with racism is that it often goes without being discussed, which makes it nearly impossible to eradicate it. To clarify, many people living in Germany think of human zoos as something that existed long ago and that should be forgotten. But they didn’t even end until the Nazi party had been overthrown, which was only 70 years ago. Most Germans don’t realize how prevalent racism still is. This may be history, but it is not very far in the past.


SamanthaSamantha Gilbert is a sophomore who hails from Northern California and loves to be outside. From hiking to snowboarding to just breathing fresh air, nature really has her heart. She also really loves being active, as she runs track and field at CC as the team’s main female sprinter. She also writes for the sports section of The Catalyst, and is extremely passionate about journalism. She hopes to create her own major in Sports Psychology and double minor in Film & New Media Studies and Feminist & Gender Studies. Other hobbies of hers include watching The Food Network (specifically Chopped), going exploring with friends, and developing strong one on one connections with unique souls. Samantha loves traveling and learning, so this course has her super excited!

Dismantling Structural Racism: Kwesi Aikins on Politics in a Postcolonial Society

By Nia Abram

KwesiThe sun shone bright as the hot pavement carried us to our next destination. We shuffled into a cozy room, as our Heidi and Aishah chatted with their colleagues. From my seat at Each One Teach One, I could peer around the corner into a quaint colorful library. The library houses books written by Black authors, functioning as a historical archive for Black people. The room in which we were sitting is also home to several afterschool events and learning opportunities for Black children and adults. When the chattering settled, our teacher for this afternoon—Joshua Kwesi Aikins—stepped forward.

IMG_8989Aikins is an academic and political activist who has been active in the Afro-German movement, such as Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (Initiative of Black People in Germany), for the last 15 years. His roots lie in Ghana, thus he does activist work in Ghana, as well. Eloquently, he illustrated the inner workings of his political activist framework by emphasizing that theoretical reflection—which yields epistemic, analytical, and political benefits—can be an effective methodology for this kind of activism. His emphasis on epistemology reminded me of Maisha Eggers’ “Knowledges of (Un) Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany.” In this article, Eggers tracks the ways in which Black women in Germany have used their own production of knowledge to dismantle the present “racialized knowledge.” As a result, epistemic change has facilitated social and political change inside and outside of the Black empowerment movement. Along these lines, Aikins and the activists alongside him have been lobbying the United Nations (UN) to make use of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and they have had some success. Aikins has presented his collaborative findings on discrimination of all types (e.g., LGBTQI of color, Turkish, Jewish, Blacks) to the UN, and they have decided to put pressure on the German government to make legislative change.

M-StrasseAfter giving us an introduction to his work, Aikins parsed out the specifics of the postcolonial structures that Germany retains. First, he defined the word coloniality as the notion that colonialism is embedded in our current society, noting that our societal structures cannot be boiled down to only colonialism. According to him, there are five symptoms of coloniality: Coloniality of Power, Coloniality of Knowledge, Coloniality of Being, Power of Ignorance, and Ignorance of Power. Of these five, the Coloniality of Knowledge is the most interesting to me. This, in Aikins’ words, is simply the hegemonic knowledge of the “dead men of five countries.” In other words, our body of knowledge has been created and established by white males from five main western countries. The Coloniality of Knowledge erases the fullness of history and strips marginalized people of writing their own stories. Philipp Khabo Köpsell echoes these sentiments in his poem “A Fanfare for the Colonized.” He writes, “O they will tell you of tradition/ of the mapping of the world/ of the mapping of your minds,” and then colonizers will deny the consequences of their actions. Köpsell goes on to write, “Is this what it is? Like this?/ We can’t read the script? Like this?/ We don’t write our own stories?/ We can’t navigate in landscapes/ where the white men claim of glory?/ Motherfuckers we have maps too!” Both Aikins and Köpsell emphasize the eradication of the Black narrative from colonial history that still occurs today.

May UferAlong these lines, Kwesi told us that Germany denies conducting genocide in Namibia to this day. Although it is technically the first genocide of the 20th century, people frequently overlook it. This denial seems oxymoronic when there are still street signs and subway stations with derogatory names targeted at black people that clearly signify Germany’s colonial past. For example, Mohrenstraße is a street name that still exists. Mohren’s latin root means “dark,” but it also means “stupid” and “heathen.” This word has been historically used to degrade Black people in order to uphold white supremacist power structures, and its usage in a public space is a constant reminder of German colonialism. In response, Aikins has worked with Berlin Postkolonial and the ISD has begun to change the names of street signs to those of historical Black figures. The first sign to be created was in commemoration of May Ayim. The prior street name, Gröbenufer, commemorated a white male colonialist, Otto Friedrich von der Gröben, who theorized the racist notion of colorism. When May Ayim’s new sign was installed, there was also a plaque installed that explains the history of the sign. Aikins notes that the point is not to erase history, but rather to document it from all perspectives.

IMG_8991Aikins concluded his lesson with a final articulation—we have the ability to make positive change. If we realize that history is layered with similar and distinct connections, we can track the transcendence of oppression through time. By doing this, we have identified the structural oppression at hand. This is the kind of oppression that is not only institutional and individual, but is also a layer of oppression that is socially shared, sustained, and reproduced through everyday culture, education, and media. However, I was confused as to how could we track our history as Black people when it is constantly being erased. Aikins responded explaining that although it is hard to piece together our history, it is becoming easier. More importantly, we can track our history through the ways we’ve resisted. This reminded me of the ways that the gay and lesbian communities remembered the Holocaust. For instance, in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,”  describes this fragmented collective memory—gays and lesbians were so marginalized and traumatized from the events of the Holocaust that they were hard to discuss and remember. However, they were able to find a collective memory by wearing the Pink Triangle to resist the oppression they were facin. It seems that Aikins is prompting us to do the same, so as to rewrite history by filling in the erasures with the people, places, and experiences that we do have access to, which can even be in our own backyard.


NiaNia Abram is a rising junior, an Environmental Science major, and an avid dancer at Colorado College. She has lived in central New Jersey, Atlanta, California, and northern Jersey (in that order), but in the end, she calls north Jersey her home. Nia enjoys hiking and creative writing, as she often retreats to nature to write short stories and personal essays in her free time. Some of her favorite movies include Coming to America, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Mulan, Howl’s Moving Castle, and, of course, Harry Potter. She has taken an interest in Feminist & Gender Studies, and may have the opportunity to declare a minor. However, she hopes to use her knowledge as a feminist and an academic to address environmental justice issues through an intersectional lens. Optimistically, her future career will allow her to start a non-profit organization that brings environmental science and outdoor education to underprivileged urban girls through a program that teaches science, empowerment, and social justice.