Learn More About Black History and Germany

'Afrodeutsche' date back to the 1700s

The German census does not poll residents on race, following World War II, so there is no definitive number of the population of Black people in Germany.

One report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance estimates there are 200,000 to 300,000 Black people living in Germany, although other sources guess that number is higher, upwards of 800,000. 

Regardless of the specific numbers, which don't exist, Black people are a minority in Germany, but they still are present and have played an important role in the country's history. In Germany, Black people are typically referred to as Afro-Germans (Afrodeutsche) or Black Germans (Schwarze Deutsche). 

Early History

Some historians claim that the first, sizable influx of Africans came to Germany from Germany's African colonies in the 19th century. Some Black people living in Germany today can claim ancestry dating back five generations to that time. Yet Prussia's colonial pursuits in Africa were quite limited and brief (from 1890 to 1918), and far more modest than the British, Dutch and French powers.

Prussia's South West African colony was the site of the first mass genocide committed by Germans in the 20th century. In 1904, German colonial troops countered a revolt with the massacre of three-quarters of the Herero population in what is now Namibia.

It took Germany a full century to issue a formal apology to the Herero for that atrocity, which was provoked by a German "extermination order" (Vernichtungsbefehl). Germany still refuses to pay any compensation to the Herero survivors, although it does provide foreign aid to Namibia. 

Black Germans Prior to World War II

After World War I, more Blacks, mostly French Senegalese soldiers or their offspring, ended up in the Rhineland region and other parts of Germany. Estimates vary, but by the 1920s, there were about 10,000 to 25,000 Black people in Germany, most of them in Berlin or other metropolitan areas.

Until the Nazis came to power, Black musicians and other entertainers were a popular element of the nightlife scene in Berlin and other large cities. Jazz, later denigrated as Negermusik ("Negro music") by the Nazis, was made popular in Germany and Europe by Black musicians, many from the U.S., who found life in Europe more liberating than that back home. Josephine Baker in France is one prominent example.

Both the American writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. du Bois and the suffragist Mary Church Terrell studied at the university in Berlin. They later wrote that they experienced far less discrimination in Germany than they had in the U.S.

The Nazis and the Black Holocaust

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1932, the racist policies of the Nazis impacted other groups besides the Jews. The Nazis' racial purity laws also targeted gypsies (Roma), homosexuals, people with mental disabilities and Black people. Precisely how many Black Germans died in Nazi concentration camps is not known, but estimates put the figure at between 25,000 and 50,000. The relatively low numbers of Black people in Germany, their wide dispersal across the country and the Nazis' focus on the Jews were some factors that made it possible for many Black Germans to survive the war. 

African Americans in Germany

The next influx of Black people to Germany came in the wake of World War II when many African-American GIs were stationed in Germany. 

In Colin Powell's autobiography "My American Journey," he wrote of his tour of duty in West Germany in 1958 that for " ... Black GIs, especially those out of the South, Germany was a breath of freedom — they could go where they wanted, eat where they wanted and date whom they wanted, just like other people. The dollar was strong, the beer good, and the German people friendly."

But not all Germans were as tolerant as in Powell's experience. In many cases, there was resentment of the Black GIs having relationships with White German women. The children of German women and Black GIs in Germany were called "occupation children” (Besatzungskinder) — or worse. Mischlingskind ("half-breed/mongrel child") was one of the least offensive terms used for half-Black children in the 1950s and '60s. 

More About the Term 'Afrodeutsche'

German-born Blacks are sometimes called Afrodeutsche (Afro-Germans) but the term is still not widely used by the general public. This category includes people of African heritage born in Germany. In some cases, only one parent is Black

But just being born in Germany does not make you a German citizen. (Unlike many other countries, German citizenship is based on the citizenship of your parents and is passed on by blood.) This means that Black people born in Germany, who grew up there and speak fluent German, are not German citizens unless they have at least one German parent.

However, in 2000, a new German naturalization law made it possible for Black people and other foreigners to apply for citizenship after living in Germany for three to eight years.

In the 1986 book, "Farbe Bekennen — Afrodeutsche Frauen auf den Spuren Ihrer Geschichte," authors May Ayim and Katharina Oguntoye opened up a debate about being Black in Germany. Although the book dealt primarily with Black women in German society, it introduced the term Afro-German into the German language (borrowed from "Afro-American" or "African American") and also sparked the founding of a support group for Blacks in Germany, the ISD (Initiative Schwarzer Deutscher).

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Flippo, Hyde. "Learn More About Black History and Germany." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/black-history-and-germany-1444311. Flippo, Hyde. (2023, April 5). Learn More About Black History and Germany. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/black-history-and-germany-1444311 Flippo, Hyde. "Learn More About Black History and Germany." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/black-history-and-germany-1444311 (accessed June 10, 2023).