How Zewdi, Berlin’s First Black-Owned Travel Company, Shines a Light on German Black History
Meet Miriam Fisshaye, 27, founder of Zewdi, the first decolonial black travel agency in Berlin, where she is based. Born in Ethiopia in Eritrean parents, Miriam grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, but always maintained a connection to her African heritage.
Growing up, Miriam lived in a neighborhood full of immigrants, which she describes as “the UN” because of its diversity. However, although inhabited by Sudanese, Togolese, Afghans and people of various other backgrounds, most teachers in the schools were white Germans who reproduced structural racism.
“At school, the history of black Germany never appeared in our history books, unless it referred to colonialism or the transatlantic slave trade,” Miriam said. “Germany’s colonial past, aside from its role in the 1884 Berlin conference, was not mentioned at all, and our teachers were not equipped by the curriculum to bring out diverse histories.”
Miriam remembers asking her professor, during her studies on the National Socialist era, if black people were dying in concentration camps, as well as. The answer was succinct, bordering on pejorative: “I don’t think so. Black people did not exist in the past.
Her story echoes those of black children across the diaspora living in predominantly white societies, whose schools and teachers have failed miserably to provide truth and depth about their people and their stories. It is therefore not surprising that Miriam could identify with black youth in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
“For issues of diversity, racial equality and injustice, it was common to look to the US or the UK. We often had no word for our injustice and adopted American words to use as our own. Studying African American history and books gave me at least universal understanding of intersectional injustice and racial inequality.
Travel having always been a part of Miriam’s family life, it provided a gateway to knowledge. They had relatives in several European countries, such as the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom, which they visited during summer holidays.
“Seeing the world is learning, and I realized that even though black people were present, our history was somehow invisible. It may have been an occasional museum painting with a black person, but with no name or story given. What I have also observed through these childhood journeys is the predominance of the European perspective in the global narrative of travel, although the journey itself is broader. I did not see, in my youth, black explorers on TV or in travel and leisure commercials. Blacks or Browns were refugees; displaced, migrant, but not travelling.
Thanks to her grandfather, who was an Askari – a soldier in Italy’s Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali (Royal Colonial Corps) – and an avid storyteller, Miriam knew that Germany had a colony in East Africa and that some of the soldiers had emigrated to Germany in the 20th century. Finding proof that they existed, however, was a daunting task.
“Organizations such as Initiative Schwarze Deutch, Each One Teach One eV and Afrika Median Zentrum partly helped me to understand and reveal the hidden black history in Germany.”
Inspired by her discoveries, Miriam wanted to share the history of black Germany with others. She moved to Berlin to study and, in June 2021, she obtained her master’s degree in sustainable tourism.
Miriam founded Zewdi, which means “queen” in the Tigrinya language spoken in Eritrea and the North Ethiopiain June 2020. She named the business after her paternal grandmother, a beautiful and proud black woman who embraced her culture and stayed true to her heritage in the face of racism and discrimination at the time. colonial in Eritrea.
“Having a love-hate relationship with Berlin, I realized some time ago that I could use my passion for black history and my knowledge of tourism to showcase Berlin’s unsung black history. In my experience, even local Berliners are unaware of German black history, as far back as the 17th or 18th century. They wouldn’t know names like Gustav Sabac el Cher and Martin Dibobe. They wouldn’t have toured through Berlin focusing on black heritage.
The very first tour offered by Zewdi was the Black Bike Tour, where participants explored the city’s history together by bike. Today, in addition to this tour, Zewdi offers post-colonial walking tours, packages Zanzibarstartup group tours and exclusive events, such as a Kemetic yoga workshop in collaboration with Jamaican yoga instructor Akosua Aset.
Hugely popular and always sold out, all bike tours are individually curated, unique experiences where Miriam combines route and history for a fascinating journey. For those seeking an introduction to Berlin’s black history, the post-colonial walking tour is ideal. It takes participants through the Afrikanische Viertel or “African quarter” in Berlin.
“This tour aims to draw attention to Germany’s colonial past and its presence today in Wedding, Berlin. I’m doing this tour in collaboration with Mnayaka Sururu Mboro, a prominent Afro-German activist and one of the founders of Berlin Postkolonial eV, who has done a wonderful job of making the city’s colonial places visible.
Through the work of Zewdi, its collaborators and other organisations, people of all races learn about black history and culture in Germany. Miriam has built a place for herself at the table in the travel and leisure industry to help fill a gaping void and provide a valuable and much needed learning experience.
“The Afro-Diaspora community increasingly desires travel and leisure experiences that reflect their identity and reality. The demand is there, but the supply in Germany is limited. With Zewdi, I’m working on that. I think exploring Berlin’s black history makes this city more welcoming and accessible to black people. Berlin is not only Brandenburger Tor, but it is also the African quarter.
Since February is also Black History Month in Germany, Zewdi is hosting two special events on February 20 and 27.
“Both are an invitation to look back on German history to discover the stories of 106 people who were abducted from Africa, Oceania and America to be exhibited as colonial subjects.”
In the future, Miriam would like to create travel experiences, both virtual and analog, that intersect in an intersectional way to reach a diverse audience, not only in Germany, but all over the world.
“My dream is that from Basra and Cape Town to Brasilia and Stockholm, people have the opportunity to explore and connect with the Afro Diaspora community. I follow with interest the enormous possibility of creating virtual travel experiences on the metaverse I would like to be a pioneer in this area, especially the ability to create a virtual travel experience where you can do things like learn about pre-colonial Africa or experience an Afrofuturist city.
Related: Black Brown Berlin: Organization Makes Sure Black Germans Are Seen and Heard