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Black History and Germany

Afrodeutsche - Black Germans


Black History and Germany

The German edition of Hans Massaquoi's book "Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany."

Also see the 'afrodeutsch' glossary below.

Black Germans? Non-Germans may be understandably surprised to learn that there are Afro-Germans (Afrodeutsche), but many Germans themselves are unaware of the concept of a German who is also black (ein Schwarzer). While compared to other minorities, such as the 2 million Turks living in Germany, blacks are definitely a tiny minority among Germany's 82 million people. While EU countries do not keep track of ethnicity, there are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Blacks living in Germany today.

Early History
The history of black people in Germany goes back much further than most people think. One of the first Africans known to have lived in Germany was Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-1759). Born in what is today's Ghana, Amo came under the protection of the Duke (Herzog) of Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and grew up in the duke's castle. He was both the first African known to attend a German university (Halle) and the first to obtain a doctorate degree (in 1729). As a professor, under his preferred name of Antonius Guilelmus Amo Afer, he taught at two German universities and published several scholarly works, including a Latin treatise entitled De Arte Sobrie et Accurate Philosophandi (1736, "On the Art of Philosophizing Soberly and Accurately"). Knowing the level of his achievements, it is all the more surprising to learn that Amo returned to Africa in 1747. Most accounts claim the reason for his return to his native Africa was the racial discrimination he encountered in Germany. Then as now, Africans in Europe were seen as something exotic and foreign.

Some historians claim that the first sizeable influx of Africans to Germany came from Germany's African colonies in the 19th century. Some Afro-Germans living in Germany today can claim ancestry going back five generations to that time. Yet Prussia's colonial adventures in Africa were quite limited and brief (1890-1918), far more modest than the British, the Dutch, the French, or other European powers, so there could not have been any great numbers. But Prussia's South West Africa colony was the site of the first mass genocide committed by Germans in the 20th century. In 1904 German colonial troops countered a revolt with the massacre of three-quarters of the Herero population in what is now Namimbia. It took Germany a full century to issue a formal apology to the Herero (in 2004) for that atrocity, which was provoked by a German "extermination order" (Vernichtungsbefehl). But Germany still refuses to pay any compensation to the Herero survivors, although it does provide foreign aid to Namibia. (See Germany Urges Herero to Drop Lawsuit from dw-world.de.)

Afro-Germans Prior to World War II
After World War I, more blacks, mostly French Senegalese soldiers or their offspring, ended up in the Rhineland region and other parts of Germany. Estimates vary, but by the 1920s there were about 10,000 to 25,000 Afrodeutsche in Deutschland, most of them in Berlin or other metropolitan areas. Until the Nazis came to power, black musicians and other entertainers were a popular element of the nightlife scene in Berlin and other large cities. Jazz, later denigrated as Negermusik ("Negro music") by the Nazis, was made popular in Germany and Europe by black musicians, many from the U.S., who found life in Europe more liberating than that back home. Josephine Baker in France is one prominent example. Both the American writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. du Bois and the suffragist Mary Church Terrell studied at the university in Berlin. They later wrote that they experienced far less discrimination in Germany than they had in the U.S.

It is interesting to note that in the 1920s and 1930s, and even during Nazi times, Afrodeutsche appeared as extras in German movies portraying Africans, notably in the German color spectacle Baron von Münchhausen (1943), produced by the Ufa studio. (Blacks did not always volunteer to be extras; some were recruited from Nazi POW camps. More below.) To this day, it is in the field of entertainment, particularly on German television, where German blacks are most visible. Cherno Jobatey, a black man born in Berlin in 1965, has been a co-host of the popular morning show (ZDF-Morgenmagazin) on Germany's public ZDF TV network since 1992. Other Afro-Germans can be seen hosting music video shows on VIVA and Germany's MTV. American-born fashion model Bruce Darnell is famous for his broken German in several television commercials and got his own ARD TV show in 2008 after appearing as a juror on "Germany's Next Topmodel."

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