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Berlin to change street names which honour brutal colonial past

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Berlin to change street names which honour brutal colonial past
Photo: DPA
14:57 CEST+02:00
Berlin is poised to strip the names of streets linked to atrocities committed during its occupation of Namibia and dedicate them to liberation fighters, part of a late reckoning with Germany's brutal colonial history.

After more than a decade of debate, the three main parties in the Berlin Mitte district assembly voted late Wednesday to recommend new names for streets in the so-called African Quarter in the northwest of the German capital, spokeswoman Melita Ersek said.

"The final decision by the district councillor could take another month or so - the date is likely to be announced at another hearing next Thursday," Ersek told AFP. "But it is quite common that the parties' recommendation is adopted."

The motion to drop the names associated with bloody suppression of Namibia during Germany's 1884-1919 occupation of what was then called German South West Africa marks a long-delayed victory for local activists.

The African Quarter in the multiethnic, working-class neighbourhood of Wedding has streets and squares named for the founder of German South West Africa, Adolf Lüderitz, as well as Gustav Nachtigal, its imperial commissioner, and the founder of German East Africa in today's Tanzania, Carl Peters.

Interestingly, Namibia appears to have less of a problem with the names of German imperial figures remaining a part of its geography. A harbour town in the south west of the country is called Lüderitz. The town was named in honour of Adolf Lüderitz in 1886.

Wedding, for its part, was named for 12th century nobleman Rudolf de Weddinge.

"The African Quarter still glorifies colonialism and its crimes," council members from the Greens, Social Democrats and Linke parties said in their joint motion.

"That conflicts with our understanding of democracy and does lasting harm to the image of the city of Berlin."

Following a redesign based on traffic flows, the sites are now to expected to be called Maji Maji Boulevard, Anna Mungunda Boulevard, Cornelius Frederiks Street and Bell Square.

Maji Maji was a battle cry used in the freedom struggle which gave its name to the biggest African uprising against the Germans.

Anna Mungunda was the first Herero woman to take a leading role in the independence movement. Cornelius Frederiks led the Nama people's resistance fight.

And Rudolf Douala Manga Bell was a Duala king in today's Cameroon who, with his wife Emily, resisted land grabs by white colonisers.

The German occupiers of Namibia killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in 1904-1908 massacres, which historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century.

Germany has acknowledged that atrocities occurred at the hands of its colonial authorities, but it has repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations, citing millions of euros in development aid to the Namibian government.

Although the renaming looked set for approval, the daily Tagesspiegel reported that it could still run into resistance from residents and business owners complaining about the cost of address changes.

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