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.
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 activistW.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.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1932, the racist policies of the Nazis impacted other groups besides the Jews. The Nazis' racial purity laws also targeted gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, the mentally challenged, and blacks. Precisely how many Afro-Germans died in Nazi concentration camps is not known, but estimates put the figure at between 25,000 and 50,000. The relatively low numbers of blacks in Germany, their wide dispersal across the country, and the fact that the Nazis concentrated on the Jews were some factors that made it possible for many Afro-Germans to survive the war. One such survivor, who now lives in the U.S., published a book about his experiences as a black child growing up in Nazi Germany.
The next influx of blacks to Germany came in the wake of the Second World War, when many African-American GIs were stationed in Germany after 1945. Colin Powell, in his autobiography My American Journey, wrote of his tour of duty in West Germany in 1958 that for "...black GIs, especially those out of the South, Germany was a breath of freedom--they could go where they wanted, eat where they wanted, and date whom they wanted, just like other people. The dollar was strong, the beer good, and the German people friendly..." But not all Germans were as tolerant as in Powell's experience. In many cases there was resentment of the black GIs having relationships with white German women. The children of German women and black GIs in Germany were called "occupation children” (Besatzungskinder)—or worse.Mischlingskind ("half-breed/mongrel child") was one of the least offensive terms used in the 1950s and '60s. (More German vocabulary below.)
Afrodeutsche (Afro-Germans), Afrikaner (Africans), Afroamerikaner
Blacks living in Germany today fall into several categories. German-born blacks are sometimes called "Afrodeutsche," but the term is still not widely used by the general public. This category includes people of African heritage born in Germany. In some cases only the father or mother is black, with the other partner being German or European. But just being born in Germany does not make you a German citizen. (Unlike many other countries, German citizenship is based on the citizenship of your parents, and is passed on by blood.) This means that blacks born in Germany, who grew up there and speak fluent German, are not German citizens unless they have at least one German parent. However, in 2000 a new German naturalization law made it possible for blacks and other foreigners to apply for citizenship after living in Germany for three to eight years.
As mentioned earlier, the general awareness of Germans that there are German black people is a relatively new phenomenon. In their 1986 book Farbe bekennen - Afrodeutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye opened up a debate about being "black in Germany." Although the book dealt primarily with black women in German society, it introduced the term "Afro-German" into German vocabulary (borrowed from "Afro-American" or "African American") and also sparked the founding of a support group for blacks in Germany, the ISD in that same year.
The following list is a sample of Afro-Germans who are known for their work in the arts, on television, in sports, or in other areas of public life.
- Nadja Abd el Farrag (1960- ), TV announcer, authoress
- Mola Adebisi (1973- ), TV host (VIVA 1993-2004), musician
- Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-1759), philosopher, professor
- Gerald Asamoah (1978- ), pro soccer player (Schalke 04)
- May Ayim (May Opitz, 1960-1996), writer, poet
- Liz Baffoe (1969- ), actress, "Lindenstraße" soap opera
- Barbara Feltus Becker (1966- ), model, fashion designer, ex-wife of Boris Becker
- Roberto Blanco (1937- ), singer
- Karin Boyd (1960- ), actress, Mephisto (1981)
- Bruce Darnell (1957- ), U.S.-born model, TV personality
- Pierre Geisensetter (1972- ), actor, TV announcer
- Charles M. Huber (1956- ), actor ("Der Alte" TV series), author
- Cherno Jobatey (1965- ), TV host (ZDF-Morgenmagazin)
- Arabella Kiesbauer (1969- ), Austrian-born TV personality
- Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi (1926- ), journalist, retired magazine editor
- Xavier Naidoo (Xavier Kurt Naidoo, 1971- ), musician, singer
- Katharina Oguntoye (1959- ), historian, writer
- Ron Williams (1942- ), U.S.-born actor, singer, TV personality
Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger