Category Archives: The Germany Files

Moonwalk and Goose Bumps [The Germany Files]

by Guest Contributor Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche

We, Carolina and I, very much enjoyed reading Carmen Kerckhove’s inspiring comment on Michael Jackson and the contradictions of race. Here in Germany, most people are probably even more at a loss with Jackson’s constant re-making of himself than in the U.S. Comments range from questions such “Why did he turn from a good-looking black man into a weird-looking white woman?” to outright insulting remarks about the supposed monstrosity of his facial features and his pale skin. There has been at the same time though a sincere sadness about Jackson’s death. The special editions of magazines – at least the ones I saw – seemed to be almost lovingly done, and that is rare.

Given the diverse reactions around me I do feel that it was Jackson’s incredible dancing which allowed him to defy physical boundaries in ways that race, gender, and age didn’t. Surely his dancing and his videos, along with his music of course, were able to link a global audience. Upon the news of Jackson’s death German MTV started to play his songs and show his videos for days. And men whom nobody suspected to be Jackson-fans were doing a fancy moonwalk for their wives and family. Kids were trying it on sidewalks. A white woman in her mid-fifties – truly into anything that has to do with beauty: hair, make-up, fashion, the ever-changing tasteful furnishing of her home, good food – came to my place and saw my daughter watching one of Jackson’s videos. When he went into one of his famous moves the woman just shivered and looked away and said: “Now that gives me the goose bumps.” She reacted in her body to the total perfection that at the same time looked like a crazy rejection of rules: gracefully moving forward, backward, and somehow even upward at the same time. I guess she saw something powerful she couldn’t name.

In the course of his life, Jackson went to all kinds of extremes. And his complex ways of dealing with race perhaps represented the most visible extreme. But in his dancing, this rejection of limits showed a magic creativity. I guess in many parts of the world and across the generations people reacted to that crossing of boundaries and admired him for it. During those moments of watching him sing and dance – in his videos or on stage – the other extremes were forgotten or considered less important. Encouraged by Stevie Wonder’s borderless music (it was incredible!), the millions around the globe who watched the memorial service at the Staples Center felt that they could connect.

Germany’s Next Top Model and the Psychology of Privilege [The Germany Files]

by Guest Contributors Carolina Asuquo-Brown and Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche

Heidi Klum may have never exactly been a catwalk super model like fellow German Claudia Schiffer, but she is definitely one of the country’s most savvy business women and biggest advertising stars.

In Germany, Heidi’s face sells sweets, shoes, fast food and almost every other product you could come up with. But her biggest media success so far has definitely been to follow Tyra Banks’ footsteps and host a show called “Germany’s Next Top Model,” a show that in most respects is the exact copy of its big sister “America’s Next Top Model.” We all know the story: Young hopefuls from all parts of the country flock to Heidi’s castings (conducted strict governess style), strut their stuff on the catwalk and undergo various photo shots and challenges before, in the end, one young woman is crowned the next Heidi.

One thing that is strikingly different though is the ethnic make-up (no pun intended) of the contestants. Though a look at any shopping-mall or classroom will suggest that Germany is an ethnically quite diverse nation, up to season 3 (this summer) no brown face made it to the final stages of the show. In last year’s show, a girl with a Brazilian mother came fifth. But it was not until the 2009 season, that Sara Nuru, Bavarian-born with Ethiopian roots, did not only crash the Top 10 ranks but also won the contest.

Interestingly enough, another hugely popular German TV format (also adapted from a US show, namely from “American Idol”) is well known to draw its contestants mainly from Germany’s migrant population. It has consequently elicited quite a number of vitriolic remarks from the media, branding it Germany’s “Migrant Idol.” But most Germans (at least those who admit to watching the show, as it is considered quite a bit of a guilty pleasure that most intellectually demanding German TV viewers deny watching), for 5 consecutive seasons have happily been going along with the highly diverse crowd of aspiring Idols.
Things seem to be a bit different though, when it comes to reactions to Sara Nuru’s victory and to modeling, a business that is almost solely based on looks: features, hair, body and the iconography created around those attributes.

Based on comments from German online communities, it seems that the majority of participants in those virtual discussions happily accepted the fact that the arguably prettiest contestant won, some voicing that they especially appreciated the fact that a not stereotypically German looking girl made it.

Of those that did not agree, only few were blatantly racist, but quite a few more flaunted an only slightly more subtle racism. Continue reading

Are curls the new straight hair? [The Germany Files]

by Carolina Asuquo-Brown

Just a few weeks ago I was flipping through the pages of a fashion mag with a friend.

An editorial featuring an obviously biracial black/white model sporting a huge curly ‘fro caught our eye and that I have to say – I just loved the style.

I have been natural most of my life (not necessarily out of conviction but due to the chronic and persisting shortage of German hairstylists who can deal with wild biracial hair more on the afro side-or with any kind of biracial or black hair) save a few relaxed spells every few years after which I desperately longed for my kinks and curls to come back.

Anyway, my style of the moment is natural and the model’s medium-length curls were something I really considered desirable. The hairstyle did strike a chord with me, but my friend Jen, who has two African parents, is many a shade darker than I am and has shiny and fantastically healthy-looking relaxed tresses (which I have never managed to obtain) was a lot less enthusiastic about the model’s look.

“That’s something mixed girls get away with” she said, “They can get their hair to look like that – I couldn’t. I feel that curls are something like the latest fetish – it’s like there are black girls with great curls all around, advertisement, movies, magazines. And lately it has become a bit like what straight hair used to be-you’ve got to have it.”

It had never occurred to me, but speaking to Jen, I realised that she might be right. Over the next weeks everywhere I looked, be it the streets of my city or most of he few female black German TV-presenters – it really seemed that nowadays the fly mixed or black girl hast to have curls. Generous, semi-loose curls that is, tight enough to give you the volume but loose enough to be considered beautiful in a more mainstream way. Continue reading