An archive and research project on the colonial history of Germany
That objects from Germany’s colonial past remain in our basements, attics and book shelves is of little wonder. The German colonial empire had an enormous impact on both the lives of those it colonized and the formation of modern Germany itself. Although often seen to be small and short-lived, Germany had colonies as far afield as China. The impact of this colonial past is reflected today, for example, in many German street names such as Mohrenstraße, and commercial products such as chocolate manufacturer Sarotti.
Today, however, knowledge of this history and its impact is hardly present in the German public sphere. Official German ‘collective memory’ actively displaces, silences, or denies this history. Many schoolbooks, media outlets, and politicians ignore this period, downplay its importance, or portray it as if it evolved in isolation from an alleged ‘core’ of “German history”. As a consequence, colonialism is often seen as part of the ‘distant’ past. As some are now trying to say, however, we cannot understand Germany without understanding its role as a colonial power.
The project intends to work upon a new form of ‘collective memory’ by turning to private documents, photographs, stories, and any other ‘traces’ of colonialism. Since Colonial Neighbours is a constant work in progress it builds on collaboration with the neighbourhood, artists, activists, researchers and initiatives. The location of the archive in Neukölln, Berlin, is especially significant. The cultural diversity of our ‘Kiez’ reflects the historical interconnections between Berlin, Europe and the Global South.
The city of Berlin, with its long history of migration itself, has a crucial role in the history of colonialism. Its representatives in power chose the capital to host the famous Berlin Conference, also known as the Congo Conference in 1884-1885, where the African continent was divided between European rulers. Berlin consolidated the process of global European expansion, as it was here that the political rules which would install formal colonial power over African territories were established. Colonialism is connected to the history of racism, and that racism haunts us until today. Minorities continue to be victims of Germany’s racist legacy. Berlin, which is home to people from up to 160 different nationalities, has to face and question on-going modes of injustice based upon racism.
What histories are hidden under the beds and in the wardrobes of our city? Why are these objects there and what part do they play in our family histories and our daily lives? Can the objects tell (us) their stories? How can objects function as an intermediary between past and present to make these stories and personal memories visible?
Colonial Neighbours intends to offer a platform, where these histories, past and present, can be discussed, contextualized and shared.