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Africans as Zoo exhibits in Germany?!

July 3, 2010

This alarm just came into my inbox:

German Zoos displaying ‘Africa’ and Africans – again!

Complete german version HERE

Once again, German zoos are going to hold “Africa days” in the following days, whose framework program includes African people as well as their presentations, art and culture, becoming part of a visit to the zoo.

And -once again- with strong racist connotations. (Zoo Berlin: “Public Namibia-Day at the zoo” as part of the anniversary celebration “20 years of Namibia’s Independence”; Zoo Eberswalde: “Enjoy African flair with spirited live music and dance performed by the band (…) from Congo. (…) This event is supposed to support the ethnic group of the San, the “last first people”, helping them to help themselves, in terms of a gentle integration into our modern age.”

We will probably not be able to prevent these ‘festivities’, nevertheless hereby we ask for your solidarity and international protests.

Please help put an end to German indifference towards its own painful colonial history and the placing of African people and cultures in zoos!

All mail contacts and further information below.

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Zoo Eberswalde:

Excerpt from the leaflet:

Enjoy African flair with spirited live music and dance performed by the band Odjadike and the Ballet Zebola from Congo.
(…)
This event is supposed to support the ethnic group of the San, the “last first people”, helping them to help themselves, in terms of a gentle integration into our modern age.

(…) klick “Mehr” to read on

• Experience the animals close to the action in a special atmosphere
• Be fascinated by unique lighting effects
• Discover nocturnal animals in the zoo during an individual night-time tour through the zoo
• Learning is fun – The zoo school offers entertainment for youngsters
• Take pleasure in information about Namibia and the San, the endangered last first people
• Admire and buy the carvings and wickerworks as well as other handicrafts created by them

Read the full  invitation here: (German original) / (English translation) . Note: The original (german) flyer is illustrated with photographs of animals (lion, giraffe, zebra) alongside photographs of an unnamed Black child and an unnamed Black wickerworks artist.

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Zoo Berlin:

As part of the anniversary series “20 years of Namibia’s Independence”, of all things, the ‘German-Namibian Society’ is organising in cooperation with “p.art.ners berlin-windhoek gGmbH” and the Zoo Berlin, a “Public Namibia-Day at the zoo for the whole family”.

Excerpt from the invitation:

P.art.ners berlin-windhoek gGmbH promotes the engagement of Namibian and German artists who deal with nature conservation in Namibia within their works. The embassy of the Republic of Namibia supports the event as part of the jubilee series “20 years of Independence” and “10 years town twinning Berlin-Windhoek”.

The Berlin Zoo, as the host for both days, will be offering the ideal surrounding for this topic.

The zoo restaurant will be offering African specialities during this week-end.

Read the full leaflet here (in German)

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In the past, also the Zoo Krefeld was hosting “Africa Days”, however, was regretting this later on (German Press release “Zoo-Aufsichtsratschef versteht Afrikatag-Kritik“), apparently and sadly a singular case of insight.

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Take Action

One would have thought that the case “African Village 2005” in Augsburg would have gotten about in this sector and would have led to a learning process. Back then a range of international (and German) protests arose; however the event did get realised, braced by arguments (by the zoo director) as “otherwise ‘coloured people’ could not be shown in common sport events either” and that “the zoo” be “exactly … the right place” to “convey the atmosphere of exotic” and to make the “African culture” accessible for the inhabitants of Augsburg. Back then one of the main ‘justifications’ was that the proceeds would benefit a ‘good cause’. As if this would not be possible through an event within an dignified frame, which does not link to the German history of brutal Völkerschauen (human zoos).

In the case of Eberswalde 2010, the same constellation as in Augsburg in 2005 is to be found; pretending to make ‘Africa’ ‘accessible’ through a visit at the zoo, imagining Africa as a homogeneous space: ‘African food’; additionally ‘doing good ™’ (‘donations’); regarding exoticising spectacles in a paternalistic way as “African concerns”. However, in an entirely new racist quality. The ‘ethnic group’, which is supposed to be helped financially through the proceeds of the event in Eberswalde, is actually termed and considered a prestage of western people. The original (german) flyer is illustrated with photographs of animals (lion, giraffe, zebra) alongside photographs of an unnamed Black child and an unnamed Black wickerworks artist.

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We are hoping for numerous protests – also after the events, should they regrettably take place. We will document the protests and reactions (and results) here.

Please help educate Germany.

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Please help us put an end to German indifference towards its own painful colonial history and the placing of African people and cultures in zoos! Air your opinion and show that something like this cannot be staged.Please write to the zoo administrations and/or to the organising and supporting associations.
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Contact to the Zoos and Organisers:

(We strongly advise to add the following supplement to such correspondence: “Please take note about the fact that I am carrying on this correspondence publicly and that I am going to publish this covering letter as well as your potential reply for the purpose of documentation and teaching.”)

“Afrika-day” at the Zoo Eberswalde:

Zoo Eberswalde, Direktor: Bernd Hensch

Mail: zoo@eberswalde.de
Am Wasserfall 1, 16225 Eberswalde
Telefon: 0 33 34 – 2 27 33, Fax: 0 33 34 – 2 34 65

Co-organisers “Freundeskreis Gesundheit für Ombili Berlin-Brandenburg e.V.”

Chair: Dr. Frauke von Fersen; Mail: von.versen@t-online.de
An der Wildbahn 41, 16348 Wandlitz; Tel: 033397 – 70017

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“Namibian nature conservation” and 20th anniversary of Namibian Independence (!) at the Zoo Berlin:

Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG, Bernhard Blaszkiewitz (Zoologischer Direktor)
Mail: info@zoo-berlin.de
Hardenbergplatz 8, 10787 Berlin, Tel. 030/25 40 10

Co-organisers: Deutsch-Namibische Gesellschaft e.V. (German-Namibian Society), e-mail: buero@dngev.de
Sudetenland-Straße 18 37085 Göttingen, Tel.: 05 51/7076781

Supported by: Embassy of the Republic of Namibia, e-mail: konsular@namibia-botschaft.de
Reichsstr. 17, 14052 Berlin
Tel.: +49-30-254 095 0
Fax: +49-30-254 095 55

Co-organisers: ‘p.art.ners berlin-windhoek gGmbH‘, e-mail: info@berlin-windhoek.org
Rungestraße 22–24 (PF 192) 10179 Berlin, Tel. 030/692 08 30 20

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Read more about the ‘precedent’ “African Village at Zoo Ausgburg” in the year 2005

(all coverage in English):

From 2005: article ‘African Village’ in a zoo insults Germany’s Black community’

From 2005: article ‘Colonial Cliches in a German Zoo?’ (why the question mark, we wonder)

From 2005: article ‘Protest against display of Africans in a German zoo’

From 2005: selected international protests against ‘african village’ at Zoo Augsburg

From 2005: radio interview with BBC World

Is this what Germans expect from a visit to the zoo? (Logo of the co-organising association “Freundeskreis Gesundheit für Ombili Berlin-Brandenburg e.V.”

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Once again, German zoos are going to hold “Africa days” in the following days, whose framework program includes African people as well as their presentations, art and culture, becoming part of a visit to the zoo.

And -once again- with strong racist connotations. (Zoo Berlin: “Public Namibia-Day at the zoo” as part of the anniversary celebration “20 years of Namibia’s Independence”; Zoo Eberswalde: “Enjoy African flair with spirited live music and dance performed by the band (…) from Congo. (…) This event is supposed to support the ethnic group of the San, the “last first people”, helping them to help themselves, in terms of a gentle integration into our modern age.”

We will probably not be able to prevent these ‘festivities’, nevertheless hereby we ask for your solidarity and international protests.

Please help put an end to German indifference towards its own painful colonial history and the placing of African people and cultures in zoos!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Oliver Schruoffeneger permalink
    July 4, 2010 7:56 AM

    Hi,
    some of your informations are wrong. partners berlin windhoek helps with booking of flights in the organisation of an event which is made in strong ccoperation with the namibian embassy. It´s an event about natural conservation politics in Nambia, specially about the work with black rhinos. I think this is an event with many links to the works of Zoos. I can´t see racism problems in this. It´s an issue for all zoological scientist.
    we donot have any informations and connections to the other activities in Zoos like Eberswalde.

  2. July 5, 2010 8:21 AM

    Oliver,

    None of the information above is wrong and you know it. Anybody reading the original leaflet from Berlin can see this.

    The zoo Berlin is holding a “Public Namibia-Day at the zoo” as part of the anniversary celebration “20 years of Namibia’s Independence”! If you can’t see racism, you might want to read a history book: Germans had committed a genocide on Namibians http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herero_and_Namaqua_Genocide and put them on display in “human zoos” in Germany!

    We are criticising the bad choice of the location to celebrate Namibia’s independence anniversary: in a german zoo, of all places.

    That some South African organization helps with booking of flights doesn’t have anything to do with the racist connotations of the setting. We think it is sad that the namibian embassy support the festivities of their independence in a german zoo, but this also does not erase history and its connotations.

  3. July 5, 2010 9:34 AM

    At least one zoo outside Germany has recently mounted another exhibit that suggested equivalence between the peoples and cultures of Africa and the continent’s wild animals. I refer to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and its shocking “Maasai Journey” exhibit which opened in May 2007, featuring four Maasai men as “cultural interpreters.” Among the many critics of the Seattle exhibit was Prof. Itohan Osayimwese of William & Mary, at that time a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan. The objections she raised at http://www.africaresource.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=421:african-village-on-display-in-seattle-zoo&catid=136:race&Itemid=351 seem by and large applicable to the present Berlin controversy.

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