Being mixed-race in Eastern Germany

Martha and her family in former GDR

Martha, a 32-year-old woman, was born at Weimar, a small town of 65, 000 inhabitants in eastern Germany. She was only 4 years old when the reunification took place. Since the fall of the wall, the lives of her relatives have literally changed. For the first time, her mother could travel to Western Europe, make her first holidays in Spain with her children.

However, some remain nostalgic for the former GDR; For what reasons? This repressive state was also a socialist one since the government guaranteed an employment and housing to each citizen. Nowadays, this is no longer the case. Capitalism has hit the working class hard and these nostalgic feels left behind. It is in this former GDR, where she was born over 30 years ago, a love story between Martha’s parents.

Portrait of Martha
Martha’s portrait in Berlin

Love in black and white in GDR times

Her father is from Zambia. He got a scholarship to Berlin to study engineering. Although Zambia was not officially an Allied country of the USSR, there was a partnership between East Germany and Zambia. This gave hundreds of Zambian students the opportunity to study each year in the former GDR, with an emphasis on scientific studies: more than half of the students came from engineering and medicine. Her mother worked in a language school who was belonging to a student residence. She was a German teacher and teacher. They met there and fell in love.

However being a German-African couple was rare and perceived as something negative. Sometimes when they were in public, her mother would pretend to give Martha’s father a guided tour to make things easier. Her grandfather was never opposed to this relationship, but he knew what to expect, the many obstacles to overcome.

Unfortunately, 6 months after the birth of her daughter, her father was expelled from the GDR and returned to Zambia. The GDR state banned a marriage between her mother and her father. When foreign students finished their studies, they could not extend their sojourn and stay in Berlin. If they did it, they would not have any future perspective: no documents, no residence permit, and their studies would be not validated. Her mother was not allowed to travel outside of the URSS. By consequence, they had to split up.

But thanks to her mother, Martha never lost contact with her father. In the nineties, after the reunification, her father came to visit Martha in Germany then came back because by working in the army he could only stay for a limited time. These relationships that the government made impossible, deprived some children of one of their parents. Growing up in without one of his parents is difficult, even more for people of color in Eastern German, in the nineties.

Being mixed-race in Weimar after the fall of the wall

There were binational families, in most cases, parent one was missing. During Martha’s childhood, insults were widespread. People imitated the cries of monkeys, grabbed her hair, called her a woman from the bush. There were also times when she and her friends were being chased down the street by neo-Nazis. But fortunately, nothing serious ever happened. “The advantage of small towns is that we look out for each other and I was very lucky too,” she says.

In the face of this situation, her mother and older brother always supported her and always wanted her to focus on positive things. Her mother always found a good way to give Martha confidence, to make her feel beautiful, strong, intelligent. So every time a person of color was on TV, who wasn’t a sportsman or an artist, her mother would call her. The representation of Afro-descendants in Germany in the 1990s was almost non-existent. It was a way for her mother to show her models of success with African roots, outside of sports and music.

Martha could also rely on her father’s diary. He tells her about his family’s story, the difficulties she would face, as a mixed-race woman. Somehow she found comfort with her father’s moral. support. But also from other people. As soon as there was a neo-Nazi demonstration in Weimar, the mayor, the civil society and her friends naturally took part in anti-Nazi demonstrations. Despite that part of the population opposes this xenophobia. She finds it paradoxical to be surrounded by both the hostility of some and the support of others. That’s why she wants to make a change with her work.

Education, a priority and a vocation for Martha

In addition to her studies, she works as a seminar leader and project leader in youth education. Young people from all over Europe, with their teachers, come to attend seminars, covering a lot of subjects: human rights, migrants, democracy. It’s part of non-formal education, which Martha prefers. Formal education is education that takes place during compulsory schooling. On the other hand, non-formal education aims to train the participant to become an active citizen. What she likes are the teaching methods applied, the work environment that is more stimulating, with many challenges to meet. The last project she worked on was a project on the post-colonial period.
After graduating, she worked for two years as a teacher in a secondary school. However, a Master of Arts degree is required to get a full-time position.

She has, therefore, resumed her studies and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Political Science at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Martha wants to get involved to promote social dialogue. “Dialogue is really important because our democracies are so fragile,” she says. It’s about fighting for your rights that you often take for granted. According to her, this is the best way to combat intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination. However, finding funding for projects is an ongoing challenge. However, this does not discourage it from continuing along this path. She believes she can make a positive change. His mother, his employers were a great source of inspiration to do this job. And she, in turn, wants to inspire.

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