How a trip to Germany showed that very little has changed
After seeing the video that is attached at the end this blog post, I felt compelled to write this as its something I’ve experienced first-hand, as well as countless other black people.
For the last 10 years I have spent my time travelling around Central Europe. Having been born and raised in London, travelling around Europe and picking up three European languages including Dutch, French and Spanish, has allowed me to meet colleagues, friends and girlfriends from many of these nations. All different races all living across this beautiful continent.
As well as learning from the people I have met in Europe and London, football has been a big part of why I visit Europe. I am an avid Ajax and Liverpool football club supporter and therefore my passion for football has taken me on travels outside of London. Sadly, it’s unfortunate that I have experienced racism at grounds in the UK as well as in other parts of Europe. Whether witnessing or being the subject, either way it’s such a shame that even when enjoying sport, discrimination exists.
In September 2019, I decided to take some much-needed time out from work over the summer. My plan was to go and watch Bremen v Augsburg for the first time. I was a big fan of Davy Klassen, a player I had seen many times before at Ajax. He was playing for Werder as well as another hero of mine Theador Gabrie Selassie, who was the first player of African descent to play for the Czech Republic. I had watched him in Euro 2012 in sometimes hostile experiences. It’s people like him that inspire me to be fearless in everything I do.
When I changed trains at Hamburg Central station from Berlin, I boarded an empty train to Bremen. Having been warned from family and friends about racism occurring on public transport in Germany, I was lucky up to this point and had not experienced this until that day. I was having a conversation with a friend at the time on the phone in an empty carriage, as I noticed another young black man had boarded the train and sat on the opposite side from me. I also noticed he put his headphones in as soon as he sat down. I wish I had done the same.
Four Bremen fans walked through the carriage and saw us both. One of the fans stopped to look at me and said. “Eine N****r” which was then followed by sickening laughter. Without even thinking as I was in a state of shock, I stood up and said “what did you say?” They carried on laughing and continued into the next carriage. I’ve never been angrier in my life. It was like a punch in the stomach that I had never felt before. In disbelief, I kept saying to myself “did that really happen?”
When I got down from the train, I tried to take a picture of fans walking out of the station but some how caught this photo of a white family with the kid wearing a signed shirt of Selassie’s. Which gave me hope. Maybe it was God telling me not to worry, and that this incident was a one-off. However, that turned out not to be the case.
Still shell shocked by what had occurred, I dropped my bag at the hotel and began walking to the game. With a sea of green and white, the Bremen team colours, it was easy to find my way there. Walking to the stadium I couldn’t help but notice three other black people and while feeling isolated it was a comfort to see. While making my way to the entrance, I heard another roar of laughter and the N word being hurled towards me again. I chose to ignore it. I kept telling myself that I had the right to be there and to enjoy the same things as anyone else.
I had to find a ticket booth so I made my way to the VIP entrance to enquire where I needed to go. The ticket office staff were all shocked as I began to speak in English and proceeded to direct me to another ticket booth. I arrived where I was told and showed the attendant my booking reference, to which he asked for my passport. He then proceeded to inform me that I should go back to the VIP box. I returned to the same area I had been to in the first place and spoke to the same team who looked up my ticket, and by this time the game had started. They directed me from one ticket booth to another at least three times before I realised that there were merely mocking me. I was so angry that I swore at him and shouted “what’s this then?!”
Passing fans noticed me shouting and one other fan asked what had happened and he apologised and wished me well. Once I was finally granted my ticket, I entered the stadium and began looking for my seat. As I walked around hastily searching, a sea of people all turned around and stared at me. I heard that same putrid laughter again. By this point, I ignored it and I told myself after all I had been through, nothing would stop me from enjoying the game.
Finally, I found my seat and sat down. I noticed that there were only two other black people, Selassie playing on the field and the confectioner guy selling beer and snacks. I waved at the confectioner and he waved back. I ordered a beer from him and actually enjoyed the game.
Now after having cheered and enjoyed a great game of football, the next point in my journey was the walk back, which despite enjoying the game, I was quite apprehensive about. I knew what was coming. I lost count how many times I heard the N word used towards me. I would say I have been through many experiences in my life but none quite like this. I kept telling myself I had a great time. I will not let them win. There were two fans who stopped walking turned round and said “N****r”, so I stopped to look at them. They were confused by this, seemingly it was unusual for someone to react to racism. They then continued to walk in the other direction.
The walk was 30 minutes back to the hotel. I decided to jump on the train to see a good friend of mine that was in Germany at the same time as me who was in nearby Hamburg. I love Hamburg. Hamburg was the city I first visited all those years ago and inspired me to see the rest of Germany. We went to a few bars for me to drown my sorrows. I was so upset that I just wanted to forget what had happened. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t forget. Not knowing that that the experience of the previous 12 hours changed my outlook on life.
I returned to my hotel room to get some sleep before setting off back to my next destination, Dortmund. This was all just to avoid spending another day in Bremen before returning to London. As I was leaving the hotel, I met a cleaner from Ethiopia and spent a few minutes talking to her. Having raised her kids in the city she said racism was an everyday experience for her and her family. We exchanged stories and I explained to her what things are like in London. We wished each other well and I was on my way. After a few hours in Dortmund, I took my flight in the evening back to London.
This experience changed my life in many ways. I have never been more inspired to keep living, working and enjoying all the things that racists don’t want black people to have. We are here in London, Europe and around the world contributing so much to society, culture and deserve the right to live and enjoy a normal life.
I realised how strong we are as people to deal with all of this. Many of our families moved 1000s of miles to be here some were even invited to be here and yet this is what we get back in return. It took me a year and a month to finally write about this experience when I saw the interview with Erwin Kostedde.
The video opens with him recounting his experience of racism and being the first black player to play for West Germany. He had played from 1965 and ended his career in 1983. In the video he says “It will always be the case here in Germany, that the black man is always the second choice. Always.” In a video that is only 5 minutes and 55 seconds he sums up many of the experiences that black people and myself have had to face all over Europe and not just in Germany.
With all that has happened in 2020 which was a wake up call for many. With some coming terms with the struggle many black and ethnic minorities have had to live with for years. My wake up call was a year earlier in Germany and its clear to see that not much has changed from the 60s. Never stop living and fighting for what is right. We have a right to be here but if only our love of football could unite us.