Why Did Germany Change This Street Name? Posted by Constanze on Apr 12, 2021 in Language, News
Guten Tag! The subject of today’s post is a good example of how language evolves over time, and how powerful an effect it can have. In summer 2020, Germany decided to change a street name in Berlin. In this post we’ll look at why that is, and what they changed it to!
Why Did Germany Change This Street Name?
The street in question is Mohrenstraße in Berlin, which in English would be ‘Moor Street’. The problem is that the word Mohre/moor is abfällig (derogatory) and rassistisch (racist) by today’s standards. Campaigners – including the organisation Decolonize Berlin – fought for many years to have its name changed for this very reason. Now, that change is coming into effect.
What Was It Changed To?
Mohrenstraße was changed to Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße, after Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-1759). Amo was a scholar and philosopher who lectured at the universities in Halle and Jena. Originally from (what is now) Ghana, Amo was sent to Germany as a child slave in 1707. He is believed to have been the first African-born person to have studied at a European university, and Germany’s first black philosopher.
The U-Bahn (underground) station Mohrenstraße was also renamed to Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße.
Interestingly, the initial suggestion was to change the name to Glinkastraße, after the composer Mikhail Glinka who lived and died in Berlin in 1857. However, this decision was met with outrage, as Glinka was believed to be antisemitisch (anti-semitic). This is when the new suggestion of Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße came into play.
The name change is fitting in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, following the murder of George Floyd. Whilst protests were taking place, protestors in Berlin even covered the U-Bahn Mohrenstraße signs with banners saying ‘George Floyd’, making them read ‘George Floyd Straße’, instead. Though campaigners had been fighting to have this street name changed for years, this moment in history seems to have given Berlin the push to finally do it.
Residents had long been uncomfortable with the name Mohrenstraße, opting to call it M-Straße, instead. For many, the name change is welcome, and long overdue.
To end this post, an interesting little aside: If you were to put an Umlaut over the O in Mohrenstraße, its meaning would change entirely to ‘Carrot Street’! Though much more commonly known as die Karotte, die Möhre is another word for carrot in German. So, technically, they could have simply added an Umlaut to the street name and changed its meaning from something offensive to something ordinary- just like that. Isn’t the German language clever?
(Apparently, activists have been altering the Mohrenstraße sign in this way for years!)
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