Quick access:
Go directly to content (Alt 1)Go directly to second-level navigation (Alt 3)Go directly to first-level navigation (Alt 2)

Frankly ... integrated
The changing faces and times

Children play together
Phrases, songs and chocolate names have – luckily – been changing a lot in kindergartens in the last years. | Photo (detail): BAV/LADE-OKAPIA © picture alliance

When kindergarten children in Germany wanted to paint people ten years ago, they asked for a color they knew as 'skin color', namely pink. It's different now, notes Dominic Otiang'a, noting further changes in his environment.

By Dominic Otiang’a

Anyone who has been here for at least a decade might have seen or have been part of the changing social-cultural and religious landscape, from kids in kindergarten, travellers, religious people to keen observers.

Let me mention some of the changes I have witnessed over the years. A decade ago, when I first went to pick my nephew from kindergarten, he was the only person of colour, but that wasn’t the only peculiarity. They had sessions for painting and handicraft work and whenever the kids wanted to paint a human image, they would ask for a colour known to them as 'skin colour', which was pink. So, one day, when I asked my nephew at home to draw and paint an image of himself, he accurately used brown colour. Yet when I inquired to know what skin colour he had used in his drawing he said “Noo! I am brown. I do not need the skin colour!” it was hard for him to hear me contradict the norm by explaining that Brown was a skin colour too and skin colour is not the other name for pink. That was the reality then, but phrases, songs and chocolate names have been changing a lot in kindergartens, for the better.

But you are not actually black

Still on colour: While at a youth seminar in one of the biggest university hospitals in Southern Germany, we were presented with pamphlets for the lecture on body organs. I checked out on the biggest organ, the skin, and a sentence below it read “A normal skin colour is between brown and pink”. When the lecturer reiterated it verbally during the session, I giggled first, then I shouted back in a funny voice: “Black!” and smiled as others laughed. I was not so sure whether they were laughing at my interjection or the manner in which I uttered it. But a lady in front of me turned to me and said, “It’s good that you said it!” A second person reacted, “Oh, yes, but you are not actually black!” That was the only time I wasn’t black in Germany. I glanced at my left wrist as if checking for time. It was dark, dark brown. But I still insisted that I had seen people whose skin tone was black. The lecturer was caught flatfooted. I had no evidence whether she was ashamed or annoyed, but she remained silent, and reddish for a while. After the session, she insinuated that she had not expected an international audience.

These days missionaries bringing the gospel to Europe

The religious landscape has not been left out: More than a century ago, European missionaries and evangelists travelled to Africa and around the world spreading the gospel. Among them, Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann. These days there are African and American missionaries all over the place, bringing the gospel to Europe. And new worship centres have also emerged. And as worshippers increase in number, one would hear phrases like African Church, the Turkish Mosque, Arab Mosque, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Ghanaian Church where they preach in Twi language. Slightly over a decade ago in Germany, one would only ask if I was a member of the Evangelical Church or the Catholic Church.

We occasionally meet as Africans

But it's not just the natives who are witnessing or feeling these changes and transformations. Everyone is giving and taking.

A writer friend of mine from Kenya once paid me a visit and I took him to different places before we went for a barbecue party organized by Africans in and around Stuttgart. At the party, a lady welcomed him and added, “We occasionally meet as Africans to keep up with our roots and maintain our culture.” The observant writer looked around for a while, surprised but calm, speaking far less than he observed. Later he whispered to me, “Man! These people are not Africans, they are very European” he said, referring to the Africans who saw themselves and were seen by other groups in Germany as being culturally distinct from native Germans and other Europeans.

"Frankly ..."

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Dominic Otiang’a, Liwen Qin, Maximilian Buddenbohm und Gerasimos Bekas. Dominic Otiang'a writes about his life in Germany: what strikes him, what is strange, where did he get interesting insights?