From TV detective to German MP

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24 Oct, 2013 Updated Thu 24 Oct 2013 16:01 CEST
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Charles M. Huber entered Germany's parliament on Tuesday. An actor who made his name in hit crime series, Der Alte he has now turned his attention to politics. He is The Local's German of the Week.

Politics is in Huber’s blood. Born in Munich in 1956, the 59-year-old is the son of Senegalese diplomat Jean-Pierre Faye and German maid Olga Huber and – the nephew of former Senegalese president and philosopher, Léopold Sédar Senghor.

Karl-Heinz Huber - as he was originally named - started out as an apprentice at a dental surgery before launching his career as an actor and then a politician.

Using the performer’s name Charles Muhamed – a reference to his childhood nickname as well as the boxing legend Muhammad Ali – he began his acting career in Munich’s small theatres.

But it was not until 1986 when he took the role of police detective Henry Johnson in crime series Der Alte that he really rose to fame, becoming the first actor of African descent to appear in a German television series.

In 1995 Huber appeared in American film The Skyscraper and after completing his director’s training at the New York Film Academy in 1999 he directed his first movie - a short film called The Arrival. He was last on stage in 2010 when he played the lead role in the musical ‘Mandela,’ which was shown at theatres across Bavaria.

But in recent years Huber has been in the limelight not for his acting career but rather his political exploits. When he was elected as one of the first two black members of the Bundestag in September’s election - along with SPD representative Karamba Diaby from Halle - the 59-year-old received international media attention.

Although the Conservative candidate for Darmstadt in Hesse did not win a direct mandate, receiving 2,421 fewer votes than the SPD’s former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, he entered parliament through the CDU’s list thanks to the party’s strong election performance.

The Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that he had to give so many interviews the day after the election that he almost missed his first party meeting.

But he was keen to stress that his success has nothing to do with the colour of his skin. “My skin colour played no role in my campaign,” he told Tagesspiegel. In his first day in the job he joked with journalists: “I don’t want to be Obama. I want to do good politics.”

Huber appears to have mapped out his political career carefully. From 2000 he acted as an advisor for various government ministries and up until 2004 he was a member of the centre-left SPD - but since then his allegiances have switched to the Conservatives.

During television appearances in 2009 he backed the election campaign of the CDU’s Bavarian wing, the CSU, while also appearing in campaign adverts for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

For the 2013 campaign, he moved from his home in Munich to Seeheim-Jugenheim within the constituency of Darmstadt. He entered parliament as the 19th candidate on the CDU’s regional party list for Hesse.

Besides domestic politics, Huber has also been involved with international bodies, acting as a part-time advisor for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization since 2000 and a government delegate on trips to Africa.

He also founded the charity Afrika Direkt in 2002 in response to a climatic disaster in his father’s home country of Senegal. The organization mainly supports disadvantaged young people in Senegal – but it also supports Senegalese migrants in Germany, helping them integrate into society.

“I always give children the message - if you are very good, you will always find a job. You just have to be patient, disciplined, perseverant," he said in an advert for a German bank.

As a second-generation migrant himself - and now a prominent politician - Huber is a natural person to ask about diversity in Germany.

But in an interview with broadcaster Deutsche Welle in September he was quick to direct attention away from his ethnic background. “I see myself as an individual, not defined by colour,” he said.

When quizzed on what needs to be done to encourage more migrants to get involved in German politics he responded: “Basically, I am not convinced there is a method… In all the things you do, you have to take the initiative, and it’s not a matter of skin colour or whatever… It’s up to you”.

Fred Searle

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2013/10/24 16:01

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