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Dr. Rev. Arthur Kingsley. Photo by Tania Castellví
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Photo by Tania Castellví
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Photo by Tania Castellví
Whether black with a German ID or white with an African passport, “200 percent” African or “not that African at all”, these 10 Berliners are challenging cultural perceptions and changing the face of the city. Here, they talk about experiencing biculturalism from within... as well as all the prejudices and privileges that come with the colour of one’s skin.
The Good Reverend
Dr. Reverend Arthur Kingsley came to Berlin from Ghana at age 19 to study economics. Now 53, he’s the senior pastor and founder of International Christian Revival Church in Wedding, a cheerful family-oriented church with sermons and Bible studies in English and German, a gospel choir and a band. He also founded Wedding’s Rat und Hilfe, where immigrants from all over the world can find counsel or just a friendly ear.
I came to Berlin for one wonderful reason: I looked for a place to study, and I, having become a new Christian, chose Germany, because of the history of Reformation. I was baptised by a German missionary in the Atlantic Ocean in Accra, and I imagined Germany as such a Christian country, with crowded churches and people singing Christian songs in buses and trains. I arrived in Berlin and got my first cultural shock: the empty churches!
I stayed here and decided to start an international congregation because I just love Germany, I love Germans, and I love the Africans who have migrated to this country. I was one of the first Africans living here, and we suffered. It was a hard time – language, food, everything was difficult, especially during the years when the Wall came down. Africans were literally persecuted, they were beaten, they were thrown out of the S-Bahn… it was a hard time for Africans and so I thought that I could help the next generation by giving them support.
I’m a very positive person; therefore, racism has never been in my head. I remember an old lady who always wanted to touch my hair, and I gladly let her touch it. I didn’t see anything derogatory about it; I saw her interest. That’s how I raised my children. Be what you are. When my children would come from school and go “Dad, someone said ‘nigger’,” I would know how to comfort them. But I remember my first managerial position in the 1980s. After I got the job, I had access to my own personal file. I saw this statement: “The man is highly qualified for this job. However, he is a black person.” That hit me like a blow!
The Breakout Actor
Half-Nigerian actor Michael Klammer, 32, was raised by his South Tyrolean mother in northern Italy. After studying acting in Austria, Klammer moved to Berlin in 2006 to work with the Maxim Gorki Theatre – where he’s currently the only black man in the ensemble.
Growing up as a black kid in some of the super-white conservative parts of Tyrol was not easy. You are different. People would look at me curiously, like I was a strange animal, and if I got in a fight, inevitably, someone would call me “nigger”.
By contrast, life in Berlin’s never been a problem. Maybe it’s theatre that’s so open: nobody’s ever told me I can’t play a part because I’m black. I’ve had roles normally played by white guys, like Woyzeck or Achilles. An organisation for black actors’ rights once wanted me to join, but that’s not my thing – if you’re good, you will go anywhere, no matter the colour of your skin. Quotas? I’m not for them… though maybe I should be; it would mean only more jobs for me!
Now I want to focus on my film career. The German film business is a different story though. I’ve been told I was too black, or even not black enough. It’s tougher…but there are practical issues too. Like, how do you explain why one brother’s white and one’s black? Theatre’s more symbolic.
This year I spoke for the first time with my father’s siblings in Nigeria. His brother Pastor Kalejaiye is a famous preacher man, a pop star, an amazing motherfucker! My uncle invited me to visit. I think I’ll go. After all, Nollywood’s there – the world’s third largest film industry!
People like to think only in terms of black and white, but I’m mixed. I’m black but I don’t feel particularly African. I have an Italian passport but I’m not Italian. I live in Germany but I’m not afrodeutsch. I’m not only black, I’m white. I’m like Obama, his mother is white too – we have two spirits inside us!
The Paradigm Shifter
53-year-old historian Katharina Oguntoye was raised in Heidelberg by her Nigerian father and German mother. Oguntoye co-wrote Showing Our Colours: Afro-German Women Speak Out and helped to bring the term afrodeutsch into the German vocabulary. She is currently head of the nonprofit intercultural welfare group Joliba.
Germany has a hard time coming to terms with its colonial past. There is still a big void in the education of Germans. I did workshops with people who didn’t know what the five German colonies were. When I studied history at the TU Berlin, I had a seminar and one guy said, “Yes, the Africans gave away their land for some glass pearls!” And when I later asked the professor about him not speaking out against this, he said “So what? I didn’t hear anything wrong.” I was so disgusted that I couldn’t even answer. I knew my history and did my homework and I felt it wasn’t my responsibility to educate everyone. At this point it was clear to me the education system in Germany was failing us.
Afro-Germans are isolated in a mostly white society, but in Berlin there are expats from all over the world, so it’s not the same. When I grew up it was only me and maybe two other black kids in my town. They weren’t my best friends – you don’t choose your friends based on colour – but (having black friends) meant that aesthetically you didn’t look as ‘alone’.
Today there are definitely more black people in Germany and Berlin; they are more visible… But it took 10 years for the term afrodeutsch to be recognised, and it only happened when the media started using it. Afrodeutsch isn’t a community, it’s a movement.