Academic journal article German Quarterly

"Jenes herrliche Gefühl der Freiheit." Frieda von Bülow und die Sehnsucht nach Afrika

Academic journal article German Quarterly

"Jenes herrliche Gefühl der Freiheit." Frieda von Bülow und die Sehnsucht nach Afrika

Article excerpt

Czernin, Monika. "Jenes herrliche Gefühl der Freiheit." Frieda von Bülow und die Sehnsucht nach Afrika. Berlin: Ullstein, 2008. 384 pp. euro19.90 hardcover.

Today we (Germans, Europeans, whites) condemn colonialism and feel ourselves to be very distant from it, but in fact our thinking about Africans hardly differs from that of colonial times. That is the red thread that runs through this combination of history and travel memoir by journalist and bigrapher Monika Czernin. Her book is one of a growing number that describe encounters between Germans (usually women) and Africans in Africa. As its title suggests, it draws on the same myth and fantasy of the white woman alone in Africa as many other books do. But Czemin's book also criticizes that myth and fantasy.

Czernin's biography/memoir proceeds as twinned stories: she offers a historical narrative about Frieda von Bülow (1857-1909), the pro-colonial novelist and lover of Carl Peters, as well as a travel memoir about her research on Bülow, which she carried out in Germany and Tanzania. In both countries, Czernin consulted thoughtful interlocutors and previously unused archival material. Her African and German conversation partners drew her attention to Africans' agency, which opened onto alternative interpretations of Carl Peters's and other Germans' exploits in eastern Africa. (Full disclosure: She also spoke to me by telephone and e-mail about Bülow.) Czernin's new archival material apparently contained no unexpected revelations about Bülow's life or thoughts, for the basic story remains the same. Academic readers should note that Czernin presents her evidence in footnote-free, non-scholarly fashion. But her historical narrative about Bülow is authoritative and well-researched, and she makes it clear how one may retrace her steps as a researcher. Her book is necessary reading for anyone working on Bülow, on German women and colonialism more generally, and on current German-African interactions. The strength of the book lies not in an accumulation of facts but in Czernin's insightful and open-minded reflections on key moments in Bülow's life and the emotional logic that may have informed those moments. Czernin used her wide variety of sources to propel her own creative reflection, and she allows us, as much as possible, to observe her in that process. …

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