Dortmund museum accused of ‘racism’ over German colonial exhibit hours


A German museum created a designated time slot for non-White visitors to view an exhibition on colonialism, eliciting a right-wing backlash and prompting police to install a presence at the premises.

The Zeche Zollern museum in Dortmund has allocated four hours every Saturday as a “safer space” for Black, Indigenous and other people of color to visit its “This Is Colonial” display, which began in March, with organizers saying the exclusive time slot would allow them to view the exhibition without facing “further (even unconscious) discrimination.”

The purpose of the time slot is “to be considerate of people who are more affected by the topic of colonialism than others,” the director of local industrial museums, Kirsten Baumann, said. According to the museum’s website, admission to the exhibit during that time slot is not monitored and is instead based on “trust.”

The uproar gained steam late last month after a video posted on TikTok appearing to show two White men confronting museum staff about the time slot and accusing the museum of discriminating against White people, said Barbara Rüschoff-Parzinger, the head of the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe’s cultural department, to which the museum belongs.

Among those who shared the clip is Joana Cotar, a German member of parliament who left the far-right Alternative for Germany party to become an independent last year.

Messages excoriating the museum and its staff came after the video, and they now feel “threatened,” said Rüschoff-Parzinger. She said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the footage had been heavily edited, and that the suggestion that White visitors are banned from the exhibition was “absolutely false.”

She said that the individuals who recorded the video had entered during the designated hours and were neither requested nor forced to leave. The museum employees who appeared in the video were secretly filmed and are taking legal action for defamation, she added.

The backlash persisted online after museum officials confirmed on social media in response to the video that the creation of the time slot did not constitute a compulsory ban on White visitors, and that no one would be prevented from entering the display. Nevertheless, some claimed the idea promoted racial discrimination. “I hope that every White person avoids this museum in the future!” read one of the many comments posted on the museum’s Facebook page.

Germany, a model for coming to terms with its past, still struggles with its colonial period

Police sent officers to the museum in response to threats made against staff after the video was published, and referred the case to authorities dealing with politically motivated crime, Rüschoff-Parzinger said. While the threats of protests did not materialize during the most recent “safer space” window, Rüschoff-Parzinger said that police will remain at the museum until the exhibit closes next month. The Dortmund police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The exhibition includes workshops and interactive performances about the history of German colonialism both abroad and in the local region. “The morning cup of coffee, a street name or certain prejudices: Colonial history is still present in our everyday lives today — including in Westphalia,” the museum’s website says.

Though Germany has made efforts to reconcile with its Nazi past, its colonial legacy is less discussed. The government first acknowledged a colonial-era genocide in Namibia in 2021 after more than five years of negations between the two countries, and more than a century after German colonial troops killed at least 75,000 people in what was then known as South West Africa.

Earlier this week, researchers in Berlin announced they had identified the living relatives of eight people whose remains were brought to Germany during its colonial rule in East Africa. Their skulls were among more than 1,000 taken from what was then known as German East Africa and included present-day Tanzania, where German troops killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Maji Maji revolt.

Last year, Berlin began implementing a deal to return Benin bronzes looted by British colonial forces to Nigeria, and the Smithsonian agreed to repatriate 29 of the bronzes held in its own collection.

Protesters in Europe push for a new reckoning of their own countries’ racism


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