|May Ayim 1990 (Blues in schwarz weiß). Orlanda Verlag|
If you need a quick introduction, see the video Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 reunited the white Germans, but at the same time excluded ethic minorities. “In the days immediately following November 9,1989 [German reunification], I noticed that hardly any immigrants or black Germans were to be seen around town, at least only rarely any dark-skinned ones, ” writes Afro-German Poet May Ayim in her essay "1990: Home / land and Unity from an Afro-German Perspective". In her story she intimately writes about her fears of the increased racism and how her beloved city Berlin made her feel a “foreigner” overnight.
Home / land and Unity from an Afro-German Perspective
Within a few moments reunification led to the birth of a new Federal Republic in – as far as the GDR [East Germany] was concerned – a not particularly new guise. The GDR was left to the side. As the Wall fell, many rejoiced; others felt their heads spinning.
My fatherland is Ghana, my mother tongue is German; homeland, I carry in my shoes. When the Wall fell, I felt, for a while, the fear of being struck down. It wasn’t much, not a great fear, but more than usual.
Since 1984 I have been living and working in West Berlin and feel more at home in this city than anywhere else. Due to my underdeveloped sense of direction I get lost everyday in the streets, but compared with other cities where I lived and studied before, Berlin has always been a place where I felt pretty much at home. My skin color is not an unusual attention-grabber on the streets; here I’m not praised everyday for my good German, and, at seminars, programs, or parties, only seldom do I find myself the only black among an indeterminate number of whites. I still have to explain myself a lot, but not constantly. I remember former times, in small West German cities, where I often had the feeling of being under constant observation, of getting sick of constantly searching and questioning gazes. I remember days when I would feel especially lonely or unbearably exposed and would be on the lookout for black people while shopping or riding the bus. In Berlin, this anonymous city with its international face, those recollections faded very quickly from my memory. With the fall of the Wall and the period following it they returned, as though out of a dusty drawer, into my daily life.
In the days immediately following November 9,1989, I noticed that hardly any immigrants or black Germans were to be seen around town, at least only rarely any dark-skinned ones. I wondered why not many Jews were about. I ran into a couple of Afro-Germans whom I had met in East Berlin the previous year, and we were glad to have more chances of getting together now. Moving around alone I wanted to breathe in a bit of the general enthusiasm, to sense the historical moment and share my reserved joy. Reserved because I had heard about the imminent policy-tightening regarding immigrants and asylum-seekers. And further, like other black Germans and immigrants, I knew that even a German passport did not guarantee an invitation to the East-West festivities. We sensed that along with the imminent intra-German union a growing closing off from outside would ensue – an outside that would include us. Our participation in the celebration was not invited.
The new “We” in “this our country” – Chancellor Kohl’s favorite expression – did not and does not have a place for everyone.
“Out, nigger, don’t you have a home to go to?”
For the first time since I had been living in Berlin I now had to protect myself almost daily against undisguised insults, hostile looks and / or openly racist offenses. As in earlier times I started again, when shopping and on public transportation, to look out for dark faces. A friend of mine, holding her
Afro-German daughter on her lap in the S-Bahn,* was told “We don’t need your kind anymore. There are already more than enough of us!” A ten-year-old African boy was thrown out of a crowded UBahn train (S-Bahn: elevated train) to make room for a white German.
Those were incidents in West Berlin in November, 1989, and since 1990 reports of racially motivated attacks primarily on black people have increased, mostly in the eastern part of Germany. Reports like those were at first known only in circles of immigrants and black Germans, the official media reporters hardly taking notice of the violent assaults. I began the year 1990 with a poem:
“borderless and brazen: a poem against the German “u-not y.”
i will be African
even if you want me to be german
and i will be german
even if my blackness does not suit you
i will go
yet another step further
to the farthest edge
where my sisters – where my brothers stand
o u r
i will go
yet another step further and another step and
when i want
borderless and brazen
for Jaqueline and Katharina
(Translation by May Ayim)
As an outgrowth of the “Black History Month” series of programs on topics of black history, culture, and politics, initiated by a black activist group in Berlin, February, 1990, a task force was formed of black groups and individuals of racist attacks in Berlin and the surrounding area.
Read the full story, which begins on page 14, in the PDF document. 1990: Home / land and Unity from an Afro-German Perspective.
Published in German in the book «Der Black Atlantic» (3-9808851-5-1) | 2004 published by the House of World Cultures in Berlin
Also see a classroom introduction with poems (pdf) from May Ayim by Marion Gerlind at www.gerlindinstitute.org
Gerlind writes, "The following “nachtgesang”/ “nightsong” is an example of Ayim’s Wortmal ereien (word paintings), beautifully spoken in the documentary Hoffnung in Herz: Mündliche Poesie – May Ayim”(Hope in My Heart: Oral Poetry – May Ayim), produced by Maria Binder and Dagmar Schultz in 1997. (See the video below. She recites the poem at 3:05.)
i no longer wait /for the better times / midnight blue sky above us / silver stars upon it / hand in hand with you / along the river / trees right and left / desire in their branches / hope in my heart
i straighten up my room / i light a candle / i paint a poem
i no longer kiss my way / down your body / through your navel / into your dreams / my love in your mouth / your fire in my lap / pearls of sweat on my skin
i dress myself warmly / i paint my lips red / i talk to the flowers
i no longer listen / for a sign from you / take out your letters / look at your pictures / conversation with you / till midnight / visions between us / children smiling at us
i open the window wide / i tie my shoes tight / i get my hat
I no longer dream / in lonely hours / your face into time / your shadow is only / a cold figure / i pack the memories up / i blow the candle out /i open the door
i no longer wait / for the better times
i go out into the street / scent of flowers on my skin / umbrella in my hand / along the river / midnight blue sky above me / silver stars upon it / trees / left and right / desire in their branches / hope in my heart
i love you / i wait no longer
1992 May Ayim. Blues in Black and White, pp. 163 -165 (Translation by Tina Campt)