Walking the African Quarter in Berlin

There isn’t anything particularly African about the African Quarter in Berlin.

Waiting to begin a decolonial tour in Wedding, a locality in the German capital, one looks for something that may connote ideas of the continent.

A majority Black population? No.

A splash of bustling markets selling the fresh produce and flavourful meals akin to those one may find in eastern or western Africa? Nope.

Instead one waits on a street much like many others in Berlin, yet below a dual sign that indicates you’re on the corner of Afrikanische and Swakopmunder Strasse.

Those familiar with Namibia will recognise the latter as names found at a Namibian coastal town that could quite convincingly be named the German Quarter.

From its architecture, those visibly enjoying its charms and the fare one can purchase at its bakeries and delis, there is little doubt about the town’s connection to Namibia’s German colonial history.

A European couple taking Decolonial Tours’ walking tour on a grey Sunday afternoon isn’t too familiar with this history, but Justice, our tour guide, is ready with the facts.

The tagline for Justice’s tour business is “walk the past, change the future”, and the young Berliner braves palpable hostility from some of the people living in the area in order to shed light on why the African Quarter exists and to offer an introduction to decolonial thinking.

As Justice begins the session, addressing a group that includes a Zimbabwean woman, three young German men, an Irish man, two local women, an Austrian lady and myself, I feel my body take a hard left.

I’ve been shoved. Aggressively.

The older German man who does the shoving looks back at me with irritation and tells us we’re blocking the pavement as he cuts through our circle.

But the truth is our little group is taking up minimal space and there is plenty of pavement to go around on the empty street.

The shove, it seems, is some kind of protest.

Justice’s tours are notorious in the area, and sometimes there are incidents because the subject matter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

As we make our way past Windhuker Strasse (Windhoek Street), Damara Strasse and Otawi Strasse, Germany’s brutal colonial campaign in Namibia is laid bare alongside its colonial history and interests in Cameroon, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo.

Often people in the group are unaware of the Herero-Nama Genocide of 1904 to 1907and the issues of land ownership, inequality and reparation that exist in Namibia today.

Justice also educates groups about German animal trader Carl Hagenback, who wanted to create a permanent zoo exhibiting both humans and animals in Berlin.

The First World War thwarted his plans, but the African Quarter was established with streets and
areas named after African countries, eventual colonies and German heroes of the German colonial area.

In recent years, some of the streets celebrating controversial ‘German heroes’ have been renamed and honour people who fought against German colonialism instead.

Namibian !Aman leader Cornelius Fredericks, who led guerilla-style campaigns against German forces during the Herero and Namaqua War between 1904 and 1907 and was later imprisoned and died at Shark Island concentration camp, is remembered in the renaming of Lüderitzstrasse in Berlin.

The walking tour lasts about two hours and Justice is a treasure of knowledge and a keeper of underwritten African history.

“The African Quarter is not very African,” says Justice, pointing out the irony that is evident all around us and in the feeling of being pushed by a man who may not want these stories to be told.

On Windhuker Strasse, I pause to take a photograph and think of home, connected to this place through horror and history, name and ink, sign post and street.

In Berlin’s ‘African Quarter’, it’s cold and grey and teasing rain, but Justice prevails.

– martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com

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