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The Color of Change in Berlin and Beyond

Expat insights


The consequential changes sweeping across Europe, from immigrants impacting demographics to an increasing embrace of right-wing ideologies, are not surprising to Professor Donald Muldrow Griffith, an American who has lived in Berlin, Germany for over three decades.

Griffith, born in Chicago and respected in Berlin for his achievements as a cultural impresario, feels “tensions” are afoot in Germany and other European countries.

“Many years ago, we knew the demographics of Europe would change,” Griffith said.

“As Europeans had partaken and continue to partake in the resources of many places in the world…those persons from the ‘contributing countries’ [will] seek to come to European countries for a return on their ‘investments’ and renewed hope, as a result of the past and recent political, economic and social chaos in their countries.”

Donald GriffithDonald Griffith

When Griffith first settled in Berlin decades ago, that city was in the Cold War cauldron. While West Berlin was a city aligned with ‘The West’ it was located deep inside of what was then East Germany –- officially the German Democratic Republic –- a Communist ruled country that was an ally of the Soviet Union.

That East-West political divide inside Berlin had a literal reality because the city itself was split into east and west sectors since the war, and eventually by a wall built by the East German government. That barrier inside Berlin, constructed in 1961, was demolished beginning in 1990, just before the reunification of the two halves of Germany.

Griffith is an Afro-American living in a city quickly associated in the minds of most Americans with Cold War intrigues and/or World War II Nazi-era excesses. However, Griffith said race-based ugliness has not proved a major problem in either his professional or personal experiences.

“I have been fortunate to avoid unpleasantness in Europe, although one senses a change in attitude in the atmosphere, with declining economies and newcomers from various countries seeking to become a part of Europe,” Griffith said.

Griffith has made an artistic mark in Berlin, a city that does not enjoy recognition as a nourishing place for artistic expressions by Afro-Americans on par with Paris, France.

“I was and am very fortunate to have wonderful friends and family, who supported our ambitions,” Griffith said.

The ambitions Griffith referenced ignited an artistic odyssey that grew from his decision to accept an invitation to come to Berlin in 1979 to perform in a Broadway-style musical. That odyssey created a body of accomplishments that have received accolades for his elevating the recognition of Afro-American culture in Berlin.

When in Berlin for that initial acting opportunity, Griffith said he “met a group of American co-performers and a German colleague, who were interested in creating artistic works, which also addressed social issues.” He decided to stay in Berlin at the conclusion of his theater contact.

story | by Dr. Radut