Pro Renaming – a Conversation with Andreas Menzel and Uwe Prüfer

Andreas Menzel is an engineer who has been involved into local politics for many years. Among other things, he was an important supporter of an initiative which fought for a public way around the Groß Glienicker See and the Griebnitzsee – two lakes in Potsdam – which have been closed off by some people whose private properties border on the lake. For a long time he has been a member of the Green Party in Potsdam but due to different understandings of what the main demands of a party focused on environmentalism should be and personal differences, he was excluded from the party. However, that does not mean the end of politics for him. He hopes that the discussion on the M-Rondell which he started will finally lead to an engagement with the colonial past of Brandenburg.
Uwe Prüfer works at VENROB e.V.. This organization is a network for developmental non-government organizations in Brandenburg. Among its tasks are the offer of developmental education in Brandenburg as well as financial support for developmental projects through private and public funds, the organization always tries involve the federal government as far as possible. VENROB e.V. is the major contact for the committee of European affairs and developmental politics of the legislative assembly of Brandenburg and has close connections to local politicians in Brandenburg.

While debates around renaming streets – or rather creating awareness for the appearance of colonial-racist terms in the public sphere – have already had a long-standing presence in neighboring Berlin, there haven’t been any similar discussions in Potsdam so far. Even Andreas Menzel’s awareness of the existence of the so-called M-Rondell and the term’s problematic implications only happened by chance: Looking at a map of Park Sanssouci he noticed the designated name for the black statues and wondered whether such a term could still be used today? The statues appear in the park/are simply part of the park, without any explanation/information about their history or contextualization. Menzel soon concluded that it is necessary to investigate their history and make it public. He opines that the Rondell should become a place of commemoration.

Uwe Prüfer agrees with Menzel that it is a relatively new debate for the city of Potsdam on the one hand because the POC community in Potsdam is less active than in Berlin and therefore there have hardly been any impulses to steer up such discussions. On the other hand, there are almost no colonial or racist street names in Potsdam. Consequently, Prüfer explains, different links than street namnes have to be found in Potsdam to put Prussian colonial history and its legacies on the public agenda. He strongly supports Menzel’s idea to create memorials for Brandenburg’s colonial politics. And, even more importantly, it should be included in school curricula. It seems to be the only way to truly acknowledge and deal with historically grown problems and power structures. Everybody has to realize his/her own responsibility and only then specific options for action can be formulated and implemented.

Menzel and Prüfer are both disappointed with the public reaction to the proposition of renaming the statues in Potsdam. Menzel explains that most local politicians are spare time politicians who pursue their specific interests but not much more – especially not, if, at first sight, these things do not directly affect them. People who have dealt only very little with colonial history easily react negative/hostile when confronted with it. As a white person in the 21st century, they might at first wonder about the relevance of a debate about the name of a couple of Black statues in the park and they do/cannot see the connection to themselves/their own life. Prüfer has made similar experiences; most people seem to find the whole renaming debate rather irrelevant, only a few people are interested in it at all.

Menzel and Prüfer assess the media coverage of the debate as extremely one-sided. The Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung (MAZ) did not directly talk to people who are for the renaming. Position statements by Venrob e.V. have been shortened to a minimum. That way no real, serious discussion can develop, but that should/will actually be the goal, concludes Prüfer.

Credits // Interviewees: Andreas Menzel and Uwe Prüfer. Interviewers: Lina Fricke, Melanie Kagels, Elisabeth Nechutnys, Anna von Rath, Miriam Redzewsky, Anna-Lena Stahl.  Authors: Lina Fricke and Anna von Rath.
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