The city of Berlin partially says goodbye to the German colonial past

The city of Berlin partially turned the page on its colonial heritage on Friday by renaming with the names of African resistance fighters a square and a street which previously bore the names of two German colonizers.

“For far too long we have minimized our colonial past in Germany and minimized the injustices and crimes committed (at the time, editor’s note)”, recognized Stefanie Remlinger, ecologist mayor of the Berlin district “Mitte” (center).

During a ceremony marking the change of names, in the heart of the “African quarter” of the capital, Stefanie Remlinger called for “not only to look to the past but also to the future”, in particular by improving the teaching of German colonization in schools.

Erected at the very beginning of the 20th century, when Germany reigned over an important colonial empire before losing it at the end of the First World War, the “African quarter” of Berlin testified to this lack of reflection on the injustices committed. .

– “Symbol” –

After years of protest from various African associations, Nachtigal Square became Manga Bell Square on Friday.

The German explorer Gustav Nachtigal had a key role in the 19th century in the founding of the German colonies in West Africa, Togo, Cameroon and South West Africa (Namibia), conquered through violence.

His name is now erased in favor of Manga Bell, in honor of the royal couple of Douala, people of Cameroon, Emily and Rudolf Douala Manga Bell.

Leader of the resistance against the expulsion of the Douala from their ancestral homes, Rudolf was executed in 1914.

“The inauguration of this square (….) rehabilitates him 108 years after his execution in Douala,” said Cameroon’s Ambassador to Germany, Victor Ndocki, during the ceremony. Descendant of the Manga-Bell couple, King Jean-Yves Eboumbou Douala Manga Bell, who came specially from Cameroon for the occasion, welcomed this “extraordinarily important symbol of recognition”, in an interview with AFP.

Present at his side, Princess Maryline Douala Manga Bell, great-granddaughter of Rudolf, felt that this change of name would “raise awareness among the German population, German youth of what happened at one time where, of course, these young people were not born”.

A few hundred meters from Manga Bell Square, Lüderitz Street has been renamed Cornelius Fredericks, after a committed resistance fighter from the Nama people against German colonization in Namibia, who died in a camp in 1906.

– “Street of the niggers” –

A merchant from Bremen, Adolf Lüderitz has long been celebrated as a “pioneer of colonization” and “founder of the German-African colony in the South West”. He is now accused of having deceived the Nama people at the end of the 19th century, who settled on the coast of present-day Namibia, by buying their land for a pittance.

During the ceremony, the Namibian Ambassador, Martin Andjaba, insisted that the renaming of the street is “a tool of reconciliation for the present generation and the one to come”. “Looking at the colonial legacy should not separate us but bring us together,” he hammered, citing as an example the partnership of the two Lüderitz, cities that bear the same name in Germany and Namibia.

In this country, Germany was responsible for the massacres of tens of thousands of people belonging to the indigenous Herero and Nama peoples, between 1904 and 1908.

Last year, after tough and long negotiations, Berlin announced that it recognized having committed a “genocide” in this territory which it colonized between 1884 and 1915 and promised development aid which should benefit the descendants of the two tribes.

Last month, Namibia asked to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

Despite Friday’s ceremony, other vestiges of colonialism persist in Berlin: thus the “Mohrenstrasse” or “street of the negroes”, in the heart of the historic district of the capital. For twenty-five years, associations representing the black community have been calling for it to be called something else. While the borough had acted on a name change in 2021, a complaint was filed and since then legal proceedings have been underway.