Frederick Douglass inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

Frederick Douglass inspired Germans, and he inspired our team at the German Embassy. Here’s how.

Frederick Douglass fled slavery in 1833, and went on to become one of the most important figures in American History. As a notable abolitionist, he advised, lobbied, criticized, and befriended president Abraham Lincoln. To this day, his thoughts on the merits of the US Constitution and founding ideals, such as those found in his famous speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” continue to influence and challenge thinkers.

After the Civil War, he held high office in the District of Columbia and the US Federal Government, always advocating for equality for all Americans, regardless of race or gender.

Americans weren’t the only to notice the ideas and dynamism of this self-made man. Ottilie Assing, German feminist, journalist and abolitionist, befriended Douglass in 1856 after reading his autobiographical work, “My Bondage and My Freedom,”. As a German of Jewish decent, Assing found herself interested in the parallels in the struggle against discrimination in the United States, in which Douglass played a major role.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who touched the lives of billions of people around the globe. Someone that every child learns about in school. As a leader of the American Civil Rights movement, he organized peaceful protests that led to the end of legal segregation in the United States.

But even in Germany, Dr. King’s words impacted countless people.

In September 1964 – one year after his historic “I Have a Dream” speech– Dr. King was invited to Berlin to attend a memorial ceremony for President John F. Kennedy, who had recently been assassinated. At the time, Berlin was newly divided with the foundations of the Wall having been built only three years earlier.

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Dr. King accepted the invitation from West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. And on September 13, 1964, Dr. King addressed an audience of 20,000 Germans at the Waldbühne stadium in West Berlin.

“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” he told the crowd. “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

Part of the Berlin Wall in its early stages. ©dpa

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9 Germans of African descent who changed the world

In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 9 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Steffi Jones

Steffi Jones is inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame. © dpa / picture alliance

Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.

Haddaway

© dpa / picture alliance

We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.

Isaac Bonga

© dpa / picture alliance

Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.

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John Lewis Inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

John Lewis inspired Germans, and he inspired our team at the German Embassy. Here’s how.

During the civil rights movement John Lewis stood for human dignity and rights, even at great personal risk. As part of SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, he participated in sit-ins at lunch counters, a series of peaceful protests against racial segregation at restaurants and eateries. He helped organize, and was beaten and arrested during the “Freedom Rides”, in protest of segregation during travel. As Chairman of SNCC, he organized the 1963 March on Washington alongside Dr. King and other leaders.

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As a congressman from Georgia’s 5th District, which includes Atlanta, Representative Lewis brought his passion for civil rights, racial and social justice to the United States Congress. For over three decades, he treated his colleagues and staff with respect while advocating for his constituents. Even in his final opinion piece, published the day of his death in the New York Times, he called on Americans to stand up for justice through “good trouble, necessary trouble”.

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His final message to Americans: “Together, you can redeem the soul of our nation,” did not go unnoticed outside the USA. Nightly news broadcasts and leaders from around the world repeated his words, spoke to his influence, lauded his life dedicated to justice, with malice towards none. As the world paused, so too did many Germans.

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Wittenberg: A personal tour through Luther Country

In this week’s virtual travel series, Konstantin Tesch from the German Embassy tells us about his great-grandparents’ home, Wittenberg. This picturesque city along the River Elbe is one you don’t want to miss – especially if you love history!

The city of Wittenberg has a special meaning for me, as it is my second home. Although I was born and grew up in Berlin, during the holidays I visited my great-grandparents who lived near the city of Wittenberg almost every year. My great-grandmother still lives there today and she will be 97 this year!

An aerial view of Wittenberg. © dpa / picture alliance

Wittenberg is located in eastern Saxony-Anhalt, on the banks of the River Elbe. The first thing you can see from the distance is the time-honored castle church, at the gates of which Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) is said to have posted his 95 theses on October 31, 1517, with which he initiated the Reformations. The division of Christianity into Catholic and Protestant churches began in Wittenberg.

For this reason, October 31st is also called Reformation Day (Reformationstag) in Germany and is a public holiday in most federal states.

Martin Luther also lived and worked in Wittenberg. Even today you can visit the so-called Luther House, where the reformer is said to have been enlightened by the Reformation change. His closest ally and co-founder of the Reformation Philipp Melanchthon (1497 – 1560) also lived in Wittenberg and his house (in a reconstructed form) can  be visited today, too. Luther an Melanchthon are buried side by side in the castle church and there are two large statues of Luther and Melanchthon on the market square in Wittenberg.

The Lutherhaus. © dpa / picture alliance

The painters Lucas Cranach Elder (1472 – 1553) and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515 – 1586) lived in Wittenberg at about the same time as Luther and Melanchthon. Both were important Renaissance painters. The so-called Cranach-Hof houses the premises of their old studio. Cranach the Younger is buried in the town church of Wittenberg, which is also clearly visible from afar with its double towers.

The so-called Luther wedding (Luthers Hochzeit) takes place every summer. The Luther wedding is a big city festival in honor of the wedding of Martin Luther with his wife Katharina von Bora in 1525. At the Luther wedding, people dress up in medieval costumes and frolic in the medieval flair of the historic city center. Everywhere there are stalls with handicrafts and souvenirs in the medieval style. Everyone is waiting for the big parade, where representatives of all the surrounding villages and their associations gather and disguise themselves as Lutheran people to walk through the two main streets of the city.

The annual Luther Wedding celebration. © dpa / picture alliance

In the past years I have visited the city again and again. My family tree can be traced back to the 17th century and many of my ancestors lived in the villages around Wittenberg. The city is not only a historical gem, but for me it is also a place of family and wonderful memories.

By Konstantin Tesch, German Embassy

Memories of a family trip to Coburg leads to broader connections

In our latest travel series, German Embassy diplomats and staff share experiences and information about their German hometowns. Today, Eva Santorini shares her memory of her visit to Coburg, Germany.

As my thoughts turn to my interests – travel and history – during these twilight zone COVID-19 days, I recall family trips to Europe to visit relatives. Transatlantic travel at the time was more complicated and expensive than it is now, so I met my grandparents only a few times and instead became a prolific letter writer at a young age. After World War II, my mother’s parents had resettled in a small scenic German town called Coburg in Oberfranken in northern Bavaria, a town first mentioned in historical records in 1054.

I was thrilled to meet my Oma und Opa for the first time when I was six years old, and the memories of that trip will remain with me forever. The small town sported small tidy streets of cobblestone radiating from the Marktplatz where small shops and cafes beckoned to visitors. My favorite memories are of the Coburger Würstchen, a long thin sausage whose delicious smoked flavor I can almost conjure up now, even after being a years-long vegetarian, and the small store under my grandparents’ apartment where we bought sweets.

The “Veste Coburg,” first mentioned in a document from 1225, dominates the town and is accessible on a long winding path that leads to its imposing entrance. Another sight I recall was the statue of the town’s most famous citizen, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (formal name: Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, 1819–1861) who married Queen Victoria in 1840.

The Veste Coburg is one of the most well-preserved medieval fortresses in Germany.

Now fast forward: that little girl grew up to become interested in world history. Join me in making the leap from seeing the statue of Prince Albert in Coburg and forging that personal but profound connection to the larger historical picture and the larger-than-life figures of World War I.

After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria found comfort in her large family which by then included 42 grandchildren. It is from these descendants that we learn of interesting and extremely convoluted relationships which had resulted from the intermarriage within Europe’s royal houses.

Three grandchildren of the royal couple became European rulers. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and the former German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine – later known as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and wife of Tsar Nicholas II, were first cousins. It was so much more troubling, then, that as the sound of the war machine grew louder in 1914, these cousins found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict.

Queen Victoria surrounded by family on her 75th birthday in 1894. Seated, second row (l to r): Kaiser Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria, Kaiserin Friedrich. Standing behind them: the future Tsar Nicholas II and his future wife, the Kaiser’s cousin, Princess Alix von Hessen.

Just before the “guns of August” sparked the beginning of the Great War, it is said that Tsar Nicholas implored his cousin, King George V for protection and requested exile in Great Britain. Sadly no protection was granted and the rest is, truly, history.

The visits to Coburg to see my grandparents left me with many vivid and happy memories. But they also fostered a curiosity that reaches far beyond those innocent childhood memories. Perhaps you have been fortunate to make a strong family connection during a visit to Germany. What are your memories? What struck you?

By Eva Santorini, German Embassy

9 Germans of African descent who changed the world

In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 10 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Steffi Jones

Steffi Jones is inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame. © dpa / picture alliance

Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.

Haddaway

© dpa / picture alliance

We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.

Isaac Bonga

© dpa / picture alliance

Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.

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“We celebrated an event that we had thought would not occur in our lifetimes”

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are gathering stories from both Germans and Americans who lived through that time. This week’s feature is a story by John Parisi, who was deeply moved by the events that transpired in 1989.

When the news of the opening of the Berlin Wall was first reported on the evening of November 9, 1989, I was attending a German language class in downtown Washington, DC.  Upon arriving home, my wife told me the news. We celebrated an event that we had thought would not occur in our lifetimes, and we thought about people we had encountered in the East and recalled how the wall had influenced our lives, going back to its beginning.

On August 13, 1961, my family awoke to the news that barbed wire had been strung in Berlin, cordoning off the East from the West.  Shortly thereafter, my father was recalled to active duty as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Fifth Army. I vividly recall seeing on television U.S. and Soviet Union tanks facing each other at the sector border and fearing that a war would occur.  Thankfully, it didn’t.

On the last weekend of September, 1969, I arrived in Germany for my Auslandsstudium during my Junior Year at Kalamazoo College.  I lived with a family in Münster (with whom I am still in contact, now in the fourth generation). On that first Sunday, I accompanied them to the polling place in their neighborhood where they cast their votes in the Bundestagwahl.  The voting official gave me a copy of the Stimmzettel which I still have. That evening, we watched the election returns and I learned that they were SPD voters in the very “Schwarz” Münsterland, and they welcomed the replacement of Kurt Georg Kiesinger by Willy Brandt.

The next month, my classmates and I went to Berlin.  We were taken to a platform near the Wall on which we could see into the Eastern sector.  I remember seeing children playing in the street and thinking that, in their memory, the wall had always been there.  Along Bernauer Strasse, the facades of the houses served as the “wall” at that time. During our visit, we met with an official at the Berlin Senat who told us very frankly that West Berlin was a dying city; the wall not only kept the easterners out, it also squeezed the lifeblood of the West.  

Courtesy of John Parisi

Twelve years passed – I finished college, taught school, went to law school, married Anne Broker (who also went to Münster to study in 1972), and got a job in the U.S. Congress in Washington – before I was able to return to Germany.  During part of our three week visit in October 1982 (soon after Helmut Kohl became Chancellor), my wife and I travelled along the B 27, from the Rhön to Goslar. Along the way, we drove very close to the inner-German border and marveled at the expense that the Eastern regime undertook to construct and maintain the barrier.

In early 1988, the Robert Bosch Foundation offered me a Fellowship to work in Germany for nine months.  My wife and I accepted and came to live in Bonn where I worked first at the Federal Economics Ministry and then for the Federation of German Industry (then located in Köln-Bayenthal).  On January 9, 1989, my wife gave birth to our first child, Elizabeth, at Johanniter Krankenhaus in Bonn.  The next month, Erich Honecker declared that the Berlin Wall would stand for another 50 years.  When we visited Berlin on Easter weekend of 1989 and stood on the platform looking into East Berlin, we felt certain that the wall would not come down in our lifetimes; but, we hoped that it might fall in Elizabeth’s.  Eight months later it did.  But, that was not the end of our “wall” story.

Courtesy of John Parisi

In April 2001, my wife and I and our two daughters accompanied the Congressional Study Group on Germany to its annual meeting with its Bundestag counterparts.  The meetings were held on Usedom and in Berlin; I served as rapporteur. While in Berlin, we took our daughters to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum; they still have vivid memories of that visit.

Then in June 2001, our family traveled to Ireland.  In Belfast, we took a tour of the Shankhill and Falls Road neighborhoods, seeing firsthand the effects of the “Troubles.”  At the so-called “Peace Wall,” that divides the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast, our daughter Elizabeth asked, “Why do you take us to such depressing places?”  I replied that we should visit places like Berlin and Belfast and learn the lessons that those places have to teach us.

On June 17, 2018 – the 65th anniversary of the workers uprising in East Berlin – Anne and I visited Mödlareuth, a tiny village divided by a creek that has been the border between Thuringia and Bavaria since 1810.  At the end of World War II, that was the border between the American and Soviet Sectors. After the wall was erected in Berlin, Mödlareuth became known as ‘little Berlin.’ The village has a “Grenzmuseum” that is worth diversion from the A9 or A72 north of Hof.  It serves as another reminder of how many places, large and small, were immensely impacted by the wall.

In his June 1963 speech in Berlin, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, quoted then-Mayor Willy Brandt’s description of the Berlin Wall as “an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity.”  Sadly, the wall stood for another 26 years.  This year’s 30th anniversary of the opening of the wall is a time both to look back and to look forward:  back to reflect on the pain the wall caused as well as the courage of those who strove peacefully to bring it down, and forward to consider the lessons the wall has to teach us today and for the future.     

By John Parisi

Did you know these everyday objects were invented in Germany?

Inventors from around the world are converging on Nürnberg from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 to present their inventions at Germany‘s annual trade fair for ideas and inventions (the Ideen-Erfindungen-Neuheiten-Austellung, also known as iENA). The fair is the largest of its kind; since it was first held in 1948, more than 300,000 inventions were presented to the public – including inline skates, wheeled suitcases and folding bicycles. Inventors from all over the world are expected to display over 800 inventions.

In light of this fair, let’s take a look at some inventions that you may not have known are German!

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Aspirin

Many of us depend on aspirin to cure us of our pains. But few may know that aspirin was invented by a German chemist, Felix Hoffman. The Swabian-born chemist initially developed the drug for his aligning father, but got a patent for it in 1899.

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Contact Lenses

German ophthalmologist Dr. Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick invented the first contact lens in 1887, which he created from heavy brown glass. And no – the first contact lenses were not comfortable to wear, and they could only be worn for a few short hours at a time!

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Coffee filter

The coffee filter was invented by a housewife from Dresden named Melitta Bentz. Using blotting paper from her children’s school books, she removed coffee grounds from her brew, making it less bitter and smoother. She was granted a patent in 1908 and sold 1,200 coffee filters at the 1909 Leipzig Fair.

©dpa / picture alliance

Jeans

German-American businessman Levi Strauss and his partner Jacob Davis patented the first pair of blue jeans in 1873. Back then, they were considered workwear and worn primarily cowboys and miners. Today, they are quite the fashion statement!

Other popular German inventions are mayonnaise, x-ray machines, the printing press, the accordion, hole punchers, ring binders and the petri dish. Let’s see what new inventions Germans have at this weekend’s iENA fair in Nürnberg!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Why did the GDR build the Berlin Wall?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an important date in German history. But while this year’s focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let’s not forget how everything began.

During this month in 1961, the GDR established the border that kept Germany divided for years to come. Between 1949 and 1961, 2.7 million people had fled the GDR and moved to the west, ignoring emigration restrictions. The dividing line between East and West Berlin was a border-crossing hotspot. In the year 1960 alone, 200,000 East Germans defected, leaving behind their old lives for new ones in the west.

GDR authorities panicked over the mass emigration and sought to put an end to it. On the eve of August 12, 1961, the East German communist government closed the German border, and on August 13, construction of the Berlin Wall began. Families and friends were separated as GDR authorities tore up roads and sealed the border with barbed wire fencing and concrete blocks. It wasn’t long before a 12-foot concrete wall stood as a barrier between the east and the west.

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