Questioning Public Commemorations

When a street is named after someone, this is an act of commemoration; to honor a person in that given moment and thereafter in time, and to acknowledge the merits or circumstances with which that person is associated. In 1890, the area of Neukölln did as such, renaming the street 'Straße Nummer 150' to 'Wissmannstraße'. Prior to the renaming, Hermann Wissmann had been ennobled due to his leading role in the suppression of the Abushiri Revolt, also known as the 'Arabs Revolt', in the colony of 'German East Africa'. Eight years later, another street was named after him in Grunewald.

Since its founding in 1993, the WERKSTATT DER KULTUREN has been well aware of the burden entailed by being situated in a 'Wissmannstraße'. Since then we have sought for an opportunity to address the name and examine the actual meaning of Wissmann having been a colonial civil servant. The descriptions 'explorer' and 'one of the most daring and successful researchers of Africa' do no justice for the acts of violence committed during German colonialism and consequently obscure historical realities.

The WERKSTATT DER KULTUREN has on various occasions expressed their desire for the renaming of Wissmannstraße (Press Release | PDF, German). Upon assessment by the district authority, a renaming of the street was strongly advise (Assessment |PDF, German).

In 2007, a Berlin-wide working group was established to address all matters concerning colonial street names; the participants include WERKSTATT DER KULTUREN, AfricAvenir International, the Berliner Entwicklungspolitische Ratschlag, the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, the Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte,the project 'Unterm Teppich?', the Tanzania Network and Uwatab e.V..

The first step in this direction was initiated by the publishing of the document 'Straßennamen mit Bezügen zum Kolonialismus in Berlin' (PDF, German).

Within the framework of this initiative, the WERKSTATT DER KULTUREN will continue to advocate for the renaming of the Wissmannstraße.

Working within the same context and with similar goals, the association Berlin postkolonial e.V. was founded in the summer of 2007; it arose from the Wissmannstraße initiative and various activities organized by the WERKSTATT DER KULTUREN as part of the '100 Years Maji-Maji War' program.