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Black History Month in Germany

Every February, millions of Americans and Canadians celebrate Black History Month, sometimes referred to as African-American History Month or African Heritage Month. While the month-long series of events discusses oppression and prejudices against people of color, the main aim is to recognize the rich history and culture and significant contributions to society made by people with African heritage.
The United Kingdom has a Black History Month in October of every year. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote in February 2006 that the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland ("Black People in Germany Initiative") has been organizing a Black History Month in Germany since 1990 but I have not found much information on their homepage.  In order to shed more light on the history and contributions of black people in Germany, the Atlantic Review has teamed up with Jewels in the Jungle blogger Bill, an African-American who has been living in Germany for years, as well as two Afro-German friends of his: Patrick and Patricia.

"Black Germans? Are you serious?"
Answer: Definitely! About.com guide Hyde Flippo, a retired teacher of German language, history, and literature in the U.S.A. provides some statistics and some history:
Black Germans? Non-Germans may be understandably surprised to learn that there are Afro-Germans (Afrodeutsche), but many Germans themselves are unaware of the concept of a German who is also black (ein Schwarzer). While compared to other minorities, such as the 2 million Turks living in Germany, blacks are definitely a tiny minority among Germany's 82 million people. While EU countries do not keep track of ethnicity, there are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Blacks living in Germany today.
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.
Mr. Flippo provides a lot more information about African Americans in Germany and lists some famous Afro-Germans which includes well-known entertainers like Roberto Blanco (very popular with older Germans) and singer Xavier Naidoo (a big star with younger Germans), as well as two members of the German National Soccer Team (Gerald Asamoah, David Odonkor), and ZDF-TV network morning news anchor Cherno Jobatey.

While Germany does not have a series of big events labeled "Black History Month," there are nevertheless quite a few projects that highlight Afro-Germans. 

Below the jump, this Atlantic Review post presents some quotes from articles about various Afro-German artists and their views on life in Germany, followed by a few thoughts on the concept of Black History Month:
 
Continue reading "Black History Month in Germany"

UPDATE: Reaction to Iraq Speech and Other Topics

The Washington Note: "Did the President Declare 'Secret War' Against Syria and Iran?" Senators Biden and Hagel are concerned that the president could escalate the Iraq war by striking Syria and Iran without seeking authorization from Congress. President had said "We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." Secretary Rice did not put those concerns to a rest and Hagel brought up the Vietnam war: "Some of us remember 1970, Madame Secretary, and that was Cambodia, and when our government lied to the American people and said we didn't cross the border going into Cambodia."

Europe Reserved About Bush's New Way Forward in Iraq and the view from London

The Economist's Charlemagne describes the new power structure in the European and makes good points criticizing Chancellor Merkel's agenda for the EU presidency as too broad, too ambitious and focusing on the wrong priorities. The criticism of the plans for a "transatlantic free trade area" might be based on a misunderstanding. See the post about Merkel's Blitzvisit and the Harmonization of Technical Standards.

German Rent-a-Protestor Business on the Rise
 
Americans Taking Bigger Bite of German Christmas Fare

 
Controversial Mozart Opera gets staged after all -- without incident. (The earlier cancellation produced a lot of free publicity...)

"Foreign policy divides the Democrats:" The New Yorker describes some foreign policy positions by the potential Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards as well as Evan Bayh, the Senator from Indiana who recently decided that he will not seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for President. Very Interesting, but not specifically about President Bush's "surge." (HT: Marian)

Cultural Diplomacy via Movies and TV Series?

The 12th annual "Berlin & Beyond" seven-day cinema celebration of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland starts in San Francisco, writes the SF Chronicle:
German-language films are more popular than ever in the United States, says Ingrid Eggers, Berlin & Beyond's program director and co-founder, who has watched the festival's audience grow from several hundred to more than 10,000. She cites recent U.S.-distributed Deutsch hits such as "Downfall" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de], "Run Lola Run" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de], "The Edukators" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de], and the Oscar-winning "Nowhere in Africa" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de] as reasons for the rise in popularity.
Is that true? Are German films indeed increasingly popular in the US? What would that mean for transatlantic relations on a cultural level? The Karnick blog noticed that American TV series are very popular in Europe and opined that "the reports of an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Europe may be a bit exaggerated." How can we assess the cultural (or any political?) influence of CSI, 24, Lost, The Simpsons, South Park, Desperate Housewives, ER, Grey's Anatomy and many other American TV series and movies, which are watched by millions of Germans every day?
The San Francisco Chronicle continues to describe the program of the festival and also asks whether you have ever heard of "The Monks"?:
They were a group of five American GIs stationed in Germany during the 1960s who started out playing Chuck Berry covers and ended up becoming one of the first bands to mix pop music with offbeat art. They shaved the tops of their heads and dressed up like monks, and considered themselves to be the anti-Beatles. "The Transatlantic Feedback" captures a reunion of the influential group as the members reunite for the first time in more than 30 years. It screens at 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Castro.

Advantages of the German Language

"To the romantic ear, the German language might sound cumbersome and perfunctory, yet beyond its tonal harshness, it is as efficient as its native speakers are reputed to be." writes DW World:
Ever felt wearied by the world, angst at the thought of the future or completely drained of energy? Chances are you have, but will have had to fish around inarticulately for whole streams of words to describe your state of being. Not so in German, where words like weltschmerz (world-weariness), zukunftsangst (fear of the future), kreislaufkollaps (circulatory collapse) and morgenmuffel (a person who is grumpy in the morning) have their hard-earned places in the national lexicon. Where then, are our succinct English equivalents? The short answer is that there are none. That language does not always translate tidily is no secret, but how is it that somewhere along the way, words which become an integral part of one language are deemed unnecessary in another. (...)
The thing about the German language is that whilst it is systematic, it is also highly flexible, and wonderfully efficient. It's like a huge tub of "Legos" offering endless opportunities for building words and concise means of self-expression. Weld together three completely unrelated words to make one new one which wastes not a single syllable in beating around the bush. As Albrecht Plewnia of the Institute for German Language says, the composite nature of German makes it much easier to invent new words to clearly reflect the issues of the moment.
Related: When German Words Travel, Our Zeitgeist Goes Oom-Pah-Pah

Pop Culture News Related to Germany

• DW World: The Highs and Lows of Germany's Drinking Culture: "In Germany, beer is about the same price as water, and drinking alcohol in public is common as well as legal."

• DW World: James Bond's Latest German Villain: "Out of 21 Bond movies, about 10 of the scoundrels have been played by German or Austrian actors. Others have not been played by Germans but have implied German evil nonetheless."

• Spiegel: "My dear Krauts": Humor Lessons for a Paranoid Nation

• Spiegel: Comedy Central Comes to Germany in January

The Beast in Me: Johnny Cash and the American Recordings

Many US musicians are very popular in Germany and have a significant pop-cultural influence. Don Stadler, is an American in London, and wrote this guest blogpost about Johnny Cash:

Johnny Cash Early this spring I saw 'Walk the Line' a so-called 'biopic' about the lives of Johnny and June Carter Cash, a powerful film about the first 15 years of Johnny Cash's career. I had been a Cash fan back in the late 60's when I was a boy but had lost track of him since then. Nevertheless I found it powerful and touching. It was also a lie – in a way. The film itself told few lies – but left out the ending.

'Walk the Line' ends on a high note. Cash has defeated an amphetamine drug habit, married the girl (June Carter) and recorded a live album at the California State Prison at Folsom which briefly made him the top-selling recording artist in the United States.
The life of Johnny Cash
(Wikipedia on Cash) is life-long, complex, and inspiring. Cash died in 2003 but only after recording a cycle of albums which are a shining triumph of American arts – the "American Recordings" series, now on number five – and perhaps to be as many as seven.
Cash had a long, influential, and successful career of almost 50 years. Cash began as part of the stable of artists at Sun Records in Memphis, in many ways the cradle of both Rock n' Roll and a cradle of country music. Cash's fellow Sun Records alumni include Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire), Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes), and Roy Orbison.
Continue reading "The Beast in Me: Johnny Cash and the American Recordings"

German 9/11 Victim Defamed in "United 93" Movie

The movie "United 93" shows how American heroes take on the hijackers -- but only after a German passenger has tried to persuade them not to. The movie is described as "meticulously researched" and "fact-based", but there is not any indication that Christian Adams, deputy directory of the German Wine Institute and a Fulbright Alumnus, acted in the cowardly appeasing way he is portrayed in the movie.
Anthony Kaufman writes in his review in AlterNet: "a German blond businessman who turns out as a stereotypically weak-kneed Euro-pacifist (an obvious non-American who is eventually neutralized)."

The Film Fatale blog writes in "United 93's Euro-Pacifist Passenger":
To set up the non-American passenger as a phony obstacle to their heroism-is insulting. Even the four hijackers got a more humane portrayal.
John Harris writes for the Guardian's website: "The film United 93 finds old Europe literally standing in the way of US derring-do. The only trouble is, it didn't happen that way."

Cosmo Landesman writes in The Times:
There is the awkward question of the much-celebrated bravery of the passengers. Were all of them heroic, or just the half-dozen we see charging the terrorists? It’s interesting that the most vocal passenger to advocate a policy of do-nothing is not an American but a German. Greengrass and his actors meticulously researched and created all the scenarios, but how did they establish that he was the leading advocate of appeasement? Surely one of the passengers didn’t phone home to point out there was a cowardly German on board who wanted to give in? The film doesn't want to deal with the possibility that there were Americans who opted to stay silent and seated. Greengrass wants it both ways: he wants to pose both as the objective documentarist who just presents the facts as they unfolded, and as the dramatist who presents an upbeat portrait of American bravery that makes everybody look good.
Continue reading "German 9/11 Victim Defamed in "United 93" Movie"

Germany Sends Country Band to Eurovision Song Contest

Germans voted for the country band Texas Lightning to represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday. 39 European countries (including Israel) participate. The contest will take place in Athens. Some 300 million people watch it (incl. online) and millions cast their votes nationally by phone. Announcing the votes takes ages and is a comical must-see. Texas Lightning's song "No No Never" about never leaving a partner has been in top of the German charts and is better than most of Germany's previous Eurovision Song Contest contributions.
This should give some food for thought to those who think that Germans dislike cowboys, country music and Texas.
The band is based in Hamburg in the North of Germany. The song was written and is sung by Jane Comerford, who was born in Australia, but has lived in Hamburg for 25 years and teaches music at Hamburg University.
Texas Lightning's bilangual homepage contains much more information. Youtube has the video.
UPDATE: Due to popular demand here are the links to their CD at Amazon.com and Amazon.de.
UPDATE: Texas Lightning only got the 15th place. Unfortunately, Europeans prefered the horror rockers from Finnland.