In 2012, when elected as the mayor of Mauer, John Ehret became the first Black mayor in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
John Ehret was born in 1971 in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, where his African American father was stationed. Ehret has little knowledge of his birth father, and after his white German mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, John was given up for adoption. He lived in a children’s home from the ages of two to six, but was then adopted by a Mauer couple, Gertrud and Helmut Ehret.
In 1993, Ehret began apprenticing at the Federal Criminal Police Office, where he later worked in the organized and criminal crime divisions. In 2002, he moved to the state security department, where he had many assignments abroad as a member of the international police force of the UN and the EU. He was deployed in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Lebanon.
Yet Ehret considered himself very attached to his hometown, and when the mayor’s office became vacant, he sought election despite the shift in career path it necessitated. He ran a low-key campaign, only printing a few posters and taking part in the debate held at a local gym, yet won the election nonetheless.
Ehret doesn’t recall having had many negative interactions because of his skin color as a child in Mauer, but does remember the curiosity his appearance elicited. In elementary school, a member of his soccer club compared him to the famous Brazilian soccer player Pelé. And, although he didn’t mind being cast as the black wise man in church nativity plays (“I can do it, I’ve already got the color”), he also remembers that there was no objection to his request to play the shepherd instead.
Although he did not experience much racism in Germany as a child or in his career as a police officer, Ehret does resent it when people assume he is American because he is black, and then assume he cannot speak German. There are always bad eggs, he says, but overall he has felt welcomed by his colleagues.
As the first black mayor, Ehret was overwhelmed when journalists started calling him en masse in 2012. He says: “The first couple of times I replied in a friendly way, but after the third, fourth, and fifth time journalists called, there was a certain amount of weariness: ‘I have already told you everything three times!’”
Ehret believes it is good to raise awareness of the racism in language and in society.
“Language changes, and that’s a good thing,” he says, referring to the renaming of a popular German pastry, the name of which had been considered racist. Ehret doesn’t want to be recognized just as “the first black mayor,” but as a great mayor. “Above all, I wanted to get started as mayor and score points with my work in public – and not just because of the color of my skin.”
– MJ Montgomery (University of Missouri)
Lukas Werthenbach, "John Ehret gilt als Deutschlands erster schwarzer Bürgermeister," Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung (27 June 2020)