On Reading Two Recent Memoirs by Afro-Germans
Two recent memoirs by German authors with an African connection emphasize that German history cannot be written without including the histories and perspectives of black Germans (as well as that of many other non-white people).
In Deutsch sein und Schwarz dazu [Being German and also Being Black], published in 2013 with Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, author Theodor Michael takes a long and probing look back at his experiences as a black German. Born in 1925 to a white German mother from the Eastern Prussian provinces and a black Cameroonian father, Michael’s childhood and youth coincided with the decline of the democratic German Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism.
In a low key style Michael recollects his participation in the infamous Völkerschauen [colonial peoples exhibits] organized by circusses and zoos. He describes his attempts to get by as hotel page and as extra in some of the Third Reich’s anti-British colonial films. And he details the toll that life under the Nuremberg race laws took on his body and mind. While his siblings managed to get out of Germany, Theodor Michael stayed behind, spending the last years of the regime as a forced laborer in a factory outside of Berlin, where he survived the war. After liberation, he managed to get into the Western zone, where he then tried to rebuild his life.
Todd Herzog, Professor of German Studies at the University of Cincinnati, wrote a very positive review of the book New Austrian Film, edited by Robert von Dassanowsky and Oliver Speck, and published by Berghahn Publishers in 2011. (Full disclosure: I do have an article in this volume on Florian Flicker’s 1998 film Suzie Washington.)
In this excellent collection of essays on recent Austrian cinema – the first to attempt to define this body of films as a coherent whole – the editors Robert von Dassanowsky and Oliver C. Speck settle upon the term New Austrian Film. They have assembled an impressive team of scholars with diverse backgrounds, interests and perspectives to offer 27 chapters analysing various aspects of Austrian cinema at the turn of the 21st century.