Social Issues

Addressing Berlin’s street names

By Clara Palma Hermann

Berlin, Jul 15 (efe-epa).- An initiative to change the name of a central Berlin street that activist groups deem to have racist connotations has risen to the fore again amid global Black Lives Matter protests but the act of changing its name has thrown up fresh challenges.

Mohrenstrasse sits in the heart of the German capital and gets its name from the Moors, a historic term for Muslim inhabitants of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

Since the early Modern Age, however, the term has taken on pejorative connotations, often being used to refer to Black people or Arabs.

Driven by this, several anti-racist groups have campaigned to change the name of Mohrenstasse.

This movement gained further traction amid the explosion of Black Lives Matter protests around the world following the alleged murder of Black American man George Floyd whilst in the custody of white police officers.

Berlin’s transport company BVG announced it would change the name of the Mohrenstrasse U-Bahn stop to Glinkastrasse, which is a nearby street.

But the change came to a halt shortly after when campaigners flagged up the fact that Russian composer Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka, whom the street is named after, had used anti-semitic tropes in one of his operas.

The list of problematic names in Berlin then began to snowball, with others such as the Uncle Tom’s Cabin U-Bahn station, which takes its name from a 19th century novel that, while advocating for the abolition of slavery, is widely credited with popularzing Black stereotypes in the United States, coming under fire.

Berlin also harbors streets honoring officials from Germany’s period as a colonial power in Africa.  In the district of Wedding lies the so-called African Quarter, whose streets refer to territories and ethnic groups that once fell under Germany’s colonial grip.

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