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Brown Bag Lecture series. . .

“Africans on Display: A First-Person Account of the Zoo Scandal in Augsburg, Germany”

 

Presented by visiting scholar Claudia Drieling, Kiel University, Germany
Oct. 13, 2005

The first Brown Bag Lecture in the fall 2005 series was presented by visiting scholar and doctoral candidate Claudia Drieling on Oct. 13. Her topic, “Africans on Display: A First-Person Account of the Zoo Scandal in Augsburg, Germany,” centered on her own reaction to and experience of an episode in contemporary southern Germany that stirred nationwide controversy when a demonstration of an “African village” was portrayed in monolithic terms reminiscent of the scandalous exhibits of an earlier, colonial era. The exhibit took place in June 2005.

Drieling discussed early 20th-century exhibits—in Germany and other countries, including the U.S.—that ignored the variety of peoples, cultures, and geography of the vast African continent, making it seem that Africa was merely an exotic and primitive locale. She described the Augsburg Zoo’s exhibit, which represented Africa in a similar vein (with the added attraction of showing it as a place tourists might go for sightseeing), and showed how that venue was rife with racism.

It was noteworthy that, while many white Germans and black Africans found the Augsburg exhibit to be an appealing and entertaining offering, many black Germans found it to be demeaning and insensitive. The zoo responded to criticism by citing the presence of animals as a natural and fitting environment for presenting African folk culture. The Africans who participated in the event in order to sell their products had to pay a fee for the booths they occupied.

Drieling compared the Augsburg exhibit with one at a museum in the town of Oldenburg (northern Germany) that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the “Somali Village” ethnographic show. The museum, through sensitive displays and a new perspective, provided a context for connecting Germany’s colonial past with its heritage of continuing racism. She also noted that while Germany is extremely conscientious to avoid discrimination against Jews, the nation is seemingly oblivious to that against Africans and the societal repercussions of colonialism.

During the question-and-answer period with the audience, Drieling noted that, while an antidiscrimination law is in the planning stages, the federal government has yet to implement it. There is an awareness of “hate speech,” however, which helped to fuel the outrage against the Augsburg Zoo.