Documentary film: Omulaule heißt schwarz (Omulaule means black)

DVD cover "Omuaule heisst schwarz""For the whites we are blacks. And for the blacks we are Germans" (Daniel Nalikonglole Stephanus).

During the Namibian War of Independence, more than 400 Namibian children were relocated from 1979 onwards, from various refugee camps to the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The children grew up in the GDR and only returned to their home country in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at the onset of Namibian independence. In the film ‘Omulaule heisst schwarz’ directed by Susanne Radelhof, Beatrice Möller and Nicola Hens (German with English subtitles), a couple of the colloquially denoted ‘GDR children of Namibia’ look back on their childhood and youth.

Life in the GDR
When the children moved to the GDR, they were accommodated in the SWAPO children's home that was specially set up for them in Bellin, to the north of East Germany. They had to get used to a new language, a different climate, and a completely different way of life. Good education and discipline remained important though with the assumption that they would return to their native country and would assume positions of importance. In order to maintain their African identity, the children also received lessons in the national language Oshivambo and in traditional Namibian dances and songs. For many kids, the group became a family substitute.

Life back in Namibia
When they were obliged to leave the GDR, the Namibian teenagers landed in a country which had become alien to them. They were shocked as their European image of Africa collided with Namibian reality. Those who still had relatives were confronted with the problem that reintegration into traditional family structures could hardly be reconciled with their values and goals shaped in the GDR. Many families lived in extremely simple conditions with traditional values far from civilization in Ovamboland;  a school-leaving certificate or further education could hardly be combined with a life in the parental kraal. Hardly any of the children who were used to European living standards could imagine living in a mud hut without electricity and running water. Orphans and teenagers who could not be reintegrated into their families were accommodated by German Namibian (white) foster families to enable the young people to graduate from school.

Identity: Ex-GDR children - Ossis of Namibia - Omulaule
Today, most of the Ex-GDR children describe themselves as "Omulaule," a word in Oshivambo that means "black"; however, this is not what they were often regarded as. They are seen as “Germans” by many of their countrymen. Regardless of their present place of residence and their social and professional success, all interviewees agree that their identities are made up of German and Namibian elements and that they do not feel that they belong completely to either one or the other group. However, they combine the best of both cultures and are trying to make something out of their lives.

The documentary
The film traces the extraordinary fates of the “GDR children of Namibia,” whose lives have been massively influenced by political decisions. It refrains from oversimplified thinking and leaves room for the interviewees to tell their personal stories. Even though the film was shot in 2003 and the position of the "GDR children" was unusual, the issues of home and identity addressed in the film are still relevant for many people who leave their home country, be it voluntarily or involuntarily. The film is accompanied by teaching material.



Further reading or watching

Ich musste mich durchbeißen, Dokumentarfilm von Beatrice Möller, Bayerischer Rundfunk, 30. November 2019


Kind Nr. 95 : meine deutsch-afrikanische Odyssee / Lucia Engombe and Peter Hilliges. - Berlin : Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH, 13e Auflage,  2019.

Transcultural memories of German-Namibian history (1978-1990) : micro-perspectives from the global autobiographies of Lucia Engombe and Stefanie Lahya Aukongo / Arianna Pasqualini. - Falun : Dalarna University, 2018

Children in exile : a pictorial record = Kinder im Exil : eine Bilddokumentation. / Jürgen Krause, Besse Kaplan. - Windhoek : Kuiseb Verlag, [2017].

A problematic sense of belonging : a media analysis of the 'GDR children of Namibia' / Yvonne Niekrenz, Christian Ambrüster and Matthias D. Witte.
In: Journal of Namibian studies : history, politics, culture, no. 15, p. 95-123, 2014.

Omulaule heisst schwarz, Dokumentarfilm, Deutschland 2003 : Medienpädagogisches Begleitmaterial / Herausgeber: Europäische Jugendbildungs- und Jugendbegegnungsstätte Weimar (EJBW) und Vision KinogGmbH - Netzwerk für Film- und Medienkompetenz im Rahmen der SchulKinoWoche Thüringen/Sachsen-Anhalt, 2006.

"Wir hatten noch nie einen Schwarzen gesehen" : das Zusammenleben von Deutschen und Namibiern rund um das SWAPO-Kinderheim Bellin 1979-1990 / Uta Rüchel. Hrsg. vom Landesbeauftragten für Mecklenburg-Vorpommern für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der Ehemaligen DDR in Zusammenarbeit mit RAA, Regionale Arbeitsstellen für Jugendhilfe, Schule und Interkulturelle Arbeit Mecklenburg-Vorpommern e.V. -
Schwerin : Landesbeauftragter für Mecklenburg-Vorpommern für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der Ehemaligen DDR, 2001.

Homecoming : the GDR kids of Namibia / ed. by Constance Kenna. - Windhoek : New Namibia Books cop. 1999.

Ursula Oberst