Stumbling blocks / Stolpersteine

For years, Günter Demnig, a Cologne artist, has been creating bronze stones embedded in the pavement outside the former homes of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
They are called Stolpersteine – stumbling blocks.

On September 14th the first stone was laid in Berlin for an African, Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed. So the Observer reports today, under the heading first memorial to black victims of Nazi genocide. Here’s a picture of one from Wikipedia (German, English):


It’s a sad story, but there’s more to it than the Observer spotted from Vienna.
Husen, as he was later called (a Germanized form of Hussein), was born in Dar-es-Salaam in German East Africa in 1904 and was an Askari – sort of East African Gurkhas. He fought for Germany in the First World War, although he was a child. He later made a living in Germany, was given a German passport (later taken away), married a German woman, had three children. Before and during the war he worked teaching Swahili at the Seminar für Orientalische Sprachen in Berlin and playing the ‘good African’ in German films.

From about 1936 on, the German Ministry of the Interior secretly had policemen taught Swahili, to be ready to take back the former German colonies. Husen taught these policeman from 1937, in great secrecy.

He was arrested for miscegenation in 1941 and died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

You can order handcarved British East Africa Askari soldiers here.


Here, from a page about foreign language assistants at the Oriental Languages school in Berlin, an earlier Swahili teacher from Africa encounters German bureaucracy for the first time:

An einem anderen Tag standen wir auf und gingen, bis wir an einen Platz kamen, und an diesem Platz waren viele Menschen, und ich fragte: Was sind das für Menschen? Und man sagte mir: Diese Leute sind deshalb hingesetzt, wenn jemand geboren wird oder stirbt, oder wenn ein Fremder kommt, so ist ihr Geschäft (solcher Leute sind siebentausend): wenn ein Fremder kommt, so fragen sie ihn: Wann bist du geboren, an welchem Tage oder Monat, aus welchem Lande kommst du, und was ist dein Geschäft. Und dann musst du alles sagen. Und wenn du sagst: Ich habe keine Beschäftigung, dann wirst du sogleich auf die Reise gebracht werden; und wenn du nicht weißt, an welchem Tag du geboren bist, so wirst du sogleich auf die Reise gebracht werden. Das ist die Nachricht von diesen Leuten, die dort sind. Und wir gingen heraus und gingen nach Hause.“

(Thanks to Trevor)

14 thoughts on “Stumbling blocks / Stolpersteine

  1. Margaret: welcome back! – although the “Schornsteinfeger-Terror” is an unwelcome feature of German life. I just hope the government manages to open up the trade to competition, including from abroad, and then perhaps the sweeps will come to do their readings and sweep the chimneys when it suits *us*, rather than them (nothing personal against the chimney sweeps, but if I’m paying, I think I want to determine exactly when the “service” will be rendered, rather than be instructed when I have to be at home on pain of a penalty fee).

  2. Wieso sollte das fuer den Leser nicht interessant sein? Da waere ich mir nicht so sicher.

    Meldet sich der Schornsteinfeger an und vereinbart einen Termin, oder kommt er auf gut Glueck vorbei?

    Ich wuensche Ihnen, dass der Termin nicht so wie im hiesigen Service-Paradies aussieht: 24 bis 48 Stunden um den x.x. Da kann man es sich mal so richtig gemuetlich machen, am besten mit:

  3. ano: ja, du hast Recht, es ist mir auch aufgefallen – ich habe es entfernt.

    Robin: I was lucky because he then came between 11 and 12. He offered to come at 6.30 instead – a time when I’m usually at home but not keen on getting up.

    Clemens: ich denke, es geht um die Privatsph

  4. Sweep?
    Are there still any chimneys to sweep in Germany?
    Sure, in historical texts it would be a chimney sweep, but I generally translate it as “heating inspector”. The guy who comes to me every year sticks a probe into the gas-fired central heating boiler, reads off a few numbers from a portable display, then goes away again (and sends the bill).

  5. Victor: our sweep comes twice a year. Once to do the boiler readings, and once to sweep the chimney (actually to sweep the stainless steel chimney liner, but it adds up to the same thing). He climbs up onto the roof, and drops his brush-on-a-line thingy down the chimney, then sees what comes out down the bottom. He’s pretty grimy, so the dog (being cream-coloured) just loves him and is very quickly a black-and-white dog…

  6. Thanks, Robin, for your report on your chimney sweep’s antics. I had asked in various places before and never heard of such job descriptions in Germany.

    Our chimney sweep here only does the flue gas measurement, and he then issues a slip which allows us to use our central heating boiler for another year.
    We have a separate maintenance person who comes once a year (at a jointly arranged time) to clean and service the boiler and carry out any necessary repairs. And we have no chimney or flue pipe worth sweeping (the flue pipe goes out through the exterior kitchen wall just inches from the boiler).

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