In the German lands, it is common to come across “moor pharmacies” (Mohren-Apotheke or Apotheke zum Mohren). Although indistinguishable from any other pharmacy except by their names, logos, and decoration, they refer back to a longstanding association of “moors” with worldiness and with exotic luxury. From the nineteenth century it became common to brand these pharmacies with noble savage motifs and with various racist caricatures, and this practice continues into the present-day.
In January 2018, a grassroots protest was raised in Frankfurt am Main against the use of the term “moor pharmacy” and associated imagery . The civic organisation representing migrant interests (Kommunale Ausländer- und Ausländerinnenvertretung–KAV) unanimously accepted a proposal brought by its member Virginia Wangere Greiner, a highly decorated social worker and human rights activist. In their recommendation to the city government (below), they regretted that in 2018 they had to explain that terms like “Neger” and “Mohr” had a racist history that was being unconsciously perpetuated through their continued use. As a first step to removing racist labels from the city’s public space, the committee identified two local “Moor pharmacies” and asked that they be directed to change their names and remove offensive logos. The owners of one responded by immediately removing their clichéd caricature of a logo (right), but the owners of the two pharmacies and others in the region refused to consider changing their names. They variously insisted that it would be expensive for them to change, that the names were meant in a positive sense anyway, that critics were too sensitive, and that their customers wanted them to defend their local traditions.
The statement produced widespread discussion in the press and was debated in the city parliament. This discussion also provoked a wave of abuse and hate mail sent to the members of the KAV and especially to Wangare Greiner. After a series of delays, in late April 2018 a coalition of CDU, SPD, and Green members of the city’s executive committee (Haupt- und Finanzausschuss) ruled on the matter. They decided not to require the pharmacies to change their name but affirmed the importance of the issue and condemned the abusive efforts to stifle critics of the pharmacies. The issue resonated beyond Hessen as well. Most notoriously, in Nuremberg the radical-right AfD parliamentary hopeful Matthias Vogler protested against what he labelled authoritarian political correctness by handing out so-called “moor’s head” confections outside the Mohren-Apotheke zu Lorenz.
The 2018 debates around the KAV’s proposal highlighted the distance between activists and sympathizers, who drew attention to structures that perpetuated racist ways of thinking, and a larger majority defending “tradition,” who insisted that racism was an individual matter defined first and foremost by conscious intention. The debate reemerged in the summer of 2020, in the context of the global attention drawn by the Black Lives Matter movement, and pharmacy owners in Vienna, Kiel, and Munich have met with activists and been convinced that a name change is the right thing to do.
Proposal to the City Council
No Racism in Frankfurt’s Cityscape
As per the decision of the Municipal Committee of Foreigners’ Representatives (KAV) in its 20th public plenary meeting of 15 January 2018, the City Council is asked to consider the following proposal:
The City Magistrate strongly supports the principle that the racist names “Moor Pharmacy” and “Pharmacy of the Moor” and their associated logos should disappear from Frankfurt’s cityscape.
To this end the Magistrate will contact both pharmacies to explain that the expression “Moor” is viewed as racist and that many such names for foods, streets, and even business logos have already been changed nationwide. In other cases there are ongoing conversations and campaigns underway.
City Mayor Peter Feldmann has often noted that there is no place for racism in Frankfurt am Main. He has just as often demanded that we stand up against racism. Here the City of Frankfurt am Main can and must stand up against the use of racist images and descriptions.
Regrettably, even in the year 2018, we still have to point out that words like “Negro” [Neger] or “Moor” [Mohr] have a racist background. These terms have survived unexamined for far too long in Germany.
Now, as in the past, the word “Moor” is actually used in food and drink names – and even in business logos (e.g. in the case of the Moor pharmacies) – without the historical significance of this term being acknowledged. In this way racism is spread thoughtlessly.
“In a democratic society there simply should not be food names that demean or insult certain groups of people,” says Alexander Pollak, spokesperson of the organization SOS Mitmensch. There is far too little awareness of this problem, complains Pollak, “which is difficult to communicate.”
You can read about this in the book Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht. (K)Erben des Kolonialismus im Wissensarchiv deutsche Sprache, (How Racism Speaks through Words: Colonialism’s Heritage in the Knowledge Archive of the German Language), edited by the Bayreuth literature scholars Susan Arndt and Nadja Ofuatey-Alazard (Unrast Publishers). The book addresses around 120 everyday phrases that are stamped with racism.
Moor Pharmacy in Eschersheim
The Moor pharmacy not only makes use of the demeaning term for people with dark skin, but also a cliché-loaded logo with a stylized women’s head. These are stereotypes that should have been eradicated a long time ago, but instead they are thus disseminated further.
Pharmacy “of the Moor,” Konstablerwache
The case of the Pharmacy “of the Moor” in downtown Frankfurt is similar. The building it occupies was once the Hotel “of the Moor.” Thus, an old racist name that had long since disappeared has been brought back to life by the pharmacy.
The name appears in two places: Once on the building itself (from the former hotel) and once on the current business sign.
If the building is protected by laws protecting historical buildings, then the city of Frankfurt on Main must decide whether human rights should not count more than protections for historical sites. In any case, however, the pharmacy should be encouraged to change its name.
Virginia Wangare Greiner (African Voice Party)
Signed Jumas Medoff (Chairperson of the KAV)
Source: Kommunale Ausländer- und Ausländerinnenvertretung, Stadt Frankfurt am Main, “Anregung an die Stadtverordnetenversammlung” (16 January 2018). Translation by Jeff Bowersox and Kristin Kopp.
Critiquing the “moor” pharmacy (Mohren-Apotheke) (2018) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.