In 2005, the Augsburg Zoo….. The decision provoked considerable criticism from activists and the media….
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Protest against display of Africans in a German zoo
It is with utmost indignation that the African German community has taken notice of the plans to open an “African Village” within the zoo of Augsburg, a town situated in Bavaria, in the south of Germany. This exhibit/event is scheduled for July 9 – July 12, 2005. In the organizer’s advertising announcement one can read: “Artisans, silversmiths, basket makers and traditional hairdressers are grouped in a unique African savannah landscape.”
The conveners obviously are oblivious of the fact that exhibits like the one planned in Augsburg are organized within the German tradition of racist ethnographic shows (Völkerschauen). A letter by Ms.Barbara Jantschke, PhD, director of the Augsburg zoo, in reply to a qualified and concerned request by a Black Swiss citizen, underlines the intention, to put Africans on display in the zoo stating that the zoo of Augsburg “is the exact place to fully confer the desired exotic atmosphere”.
It is obvious that the conveners do not understand the historical implications of their project. Even in Germany the ongoing impact of German colonialism and racism on African peoples are nowadays debated in public. Reproducing colonial perspectives, which turns people of African descent into exotic objects, into sub-humans or non-humans, harmoniously embedded in a perpetual village life, serving as objects of observation and as inspiration to members of the dominating, so-called majority population for future tourist expeditions, can hardly be interpreted as an encounter on equal footing. After forty years of German colonialism and twelve years of National Socialism the racist gaze is still very much alive in Germany.
Needless to state, that the African continent does not only offer one landscape like “savannah” and not only one form of settlement like “village”, and that African cultures may barely be summed up under one cultural concept like “African Village”. The organizer’s approach appallingly displays the continuities of repression of historical facts, based on and legitimating the appropriation and in-corporation of allegedly exotic places and people(s).
It is necessary to remind the organizers that in the history of ethnographic shows African and German African individuals were used as object for anthropometric tests and ethnological investigations of highly questionable scientific benefit. Many of the artists who performed in these shows died as a consequence of bad working and living conditions.
The Nazis employed a policy of eugenic control, resulting in forced operations to limit the biological reproduction of African Germans or in downright incarceration in work and concentration camps. People of African descent in that era were equally compelled to gain a living as performers in exotic shows, because they were completely locked out of other professional spheres. Under Nazi reign many people of African descent lost their lives as a result of the racist dehumanisation and legalized persecution.
The Augsburg exhibit not only fails to acknowledge the political and social history of persecution in Nazi Germany. It mocks the personal histories of all those who lost their lives as well as those who survived the colonial and Nazi terrors. In addition the question comes up, whom this sort of exhibit means to address, misusing the popular phrase “to nurture tolerance and the understanding among people(s)”.
The organizers certainly had not in mind Black people, nor people with migrant backgrounds, nor white people transgressing racist stereotypes. Or why wouldn’t they display some Bavarian mountain people in the natural setting among deer and hogs, giving us a taste of their culinary specialities and handicraft, luring us into travelling into the distant German tourist corners.
It is high time to accept the fact, that Germany has continuously been entangled in colonial history for the past centuries, to deal with the consequences and thus to give up stereotyping African people as a-historical and folkloristic beings. The exhibit of human beings in the colonial-racist setting of a zoo would dehumanise any one!
Therefore the Black Community in Germany calls for protest, national and international, against the planned human exhibition of Africans in the zoo of Augsburg. We demand that for once and for all, colonial and racist traditions are consciously discontinued!
Please direct your protest to the organizers:
Frau Dr. Barbara Jantschke (director of zoo in Augsburg)
phone: 0821 / 567 149-0
fax: 0821 7 567 149-13
and to the agency, responsible for concept and management::
Mainzer Str. 15a
phone: 089-780 60 70
fax: 089-780 60 725
Please let us know of your protest by sending us a copy of your protest letter or by letting us know of any other action of protest.
Peggy Piesche (scientiest in literature and cultural studies, Black European Studies, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany)
Nicola Lauré al-Samarai (historian, TU University, Berlin)
Tahir Della (presidency of Initiative of Black People in Germany, ISD-Bund e.V./ Munic, Germany)
Jasmin Eding (presidency of Black Women in Germany, ADEFRA e.V./ Munic, Germany)
ISD Bund e.V.
Postfach 900 355
60443 Frankfurt/ Main
München May 25, 2005