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There is also an online signature campaign for the renaming of the Subway Station Onkel-Toms-Hütte (pictured) and Onkel-Tom-Strasse in the Berlin district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. Activists sponsoring the campaign say the term Uncle Tom is discriminatory as it’s highly offensive to African Americans and the Black community in Germany/Photo: Femi Awoniyi

Berlin to make renaming of streets with colonial names easier

The renaming of streets in Berlin should be made easier if the name heroicises or trivialises colonial injustice. That is the objective of a draft resolution submitted by Regine Günther to the Senate of Berlin, the executive body governing the city that is also a federal state, on 18 August. According to the resolution, the Berlin street law is to be changed and the list of reasons justifying renaming is to be expanded.

“In the future, explicit reference will be made to the possibility of renaming streets if their names heroicise or trivialise colonial injustice and thus degrade people,” said Ms Günther, a member of the Green Party who is also Berlin’s environment minister.

Renaming is thus expressly permitted for streets named after pioneers and advocates of colonialism, enslavement and racist ideologies, or after places, events and concepts related to them.

After the first reading, the Mayor’s Council is expected to deal with the adaptation of the implementing regulations.

According to the Berlin anthropologist Duane Jethro, the decision by the District Assembly (Bezirksversammlung) of Berlin-Mitte to rename the Mohrenstrasse as Anton-W.-Amo-Strasse was an example of the intention of the proposed regulation.

Amo – the first scholar of African descent in a German university, was abducted in the territory of today’s Ghana and brought to Europe as a slave at the beginning of the 18th Century. He was educated at the universities of Halle and Wittenberg, where he received the degree of a Doctor of Philosophy in 1737. In fact, Amo is considered the first African to study at a European university.

The previous street name is problematic because it does not fit in with the notion of diversity, Jethro said. “The Duden, the great bible of the German language, says quite clearly: The M-word is considered discriminatory today,” Jethro told the Berlin daily newspaper Tagesspiegel.

“Being named after Amo would also create a sense of belonging in Afro-Germans,” he added.

Femi Awoniyi

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