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Grenzgang in Biedenkopf 2012, with the 'racist' figure of a Moor. Photo: Eckhard Henkel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Folk festival in Hesse: Moor evokes outrage

In the Hessian spa town of Biedenkopf a folk festival is under attack for being "racist".

Published: August 17, 2019, 10:06 am


    Under the hashtag “RassismusalsTradition” leftists attacked the festival on social networks. A member of the Jusos Hessen Nord – the Social Democrat Party’s youth wing – complained about the figure of a Moor in the parade.

    Several videos on Twitter with the hashtag and appeals to spread them showed up on Thursday.

    Within a few hours lobby groups and leftists took up the call and stirred up outrage over the “terrible” conditions in the Hessian town. It soon hailed racism allegations and insults against the city and its customs.

    The figure of the black Moor, a white man with his face painted black in a colurful costume traditionally dances ahead of the centuries-old procession. It is considered an honor for the audience, when they embrace the Moor and it leaves some traces of black paint on the face.

    But there is little understanding of such customs from the young Social Democrat Liban Farah. “This is the worst case of racist blackfacing in Germany!” Therefore, he requested, inter alia, that the Hessian broadcaster, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Tagesschau and Spiegel Online report on it.

    Spiegel Online soon took up the case and questioned a history doctoral student at the University of Marburg about customs. Johannes Häfner, who researches the history of colonialism in Hesse and is a member of the Left Party, however did not want to accuse the inhabitants of Biedenkopf of sweeping racism.

    Although, he did say that the character embodies “racist attributions”. This figure should therefore “be abolished as soon as possible in its current form”. Since this is currently not possible, “sensitivity” should be developed for “people who are affected by racism” he added.

    The Moor is a symbolic figure and one of the most iconic figures of the Grenzgang. He wears a black uniform with gold buttons, wields a (crooked) saber and likes to dance. His face is blackened, and a full beard is obligatory.

    He is said to have served to frighten and drive away envious residents, but it has not been proven.

    During the prelude to the three-day celebrations, the mayor of Biedenkopf, Joachim Thiemig (SPD), defended the Grenzgang against criticism, according to the news portal Mittelhessen.

    “We live our tradition and our customs.” At the same time, Thiemig emphasized the openness to change. He defended himself against racism allegations and against being categorized as old-fashioned.

    The Grenzgang takes place every seven years. Whether it takes place in 2026 with black Moor as part of the festive programme could depend on how high the waves of indignation are still rising.

    The aim of the Grenzgang or “border patrol” is to control the city boundary during a multi-day hike through the city forest. In the Middle Ages there were ongoing disputes with neighboring municipalities around the numerous groves.

    Today it is essentially made up of male societies and fraternities and from whose ranks functionaries are assigned to organise this folk festival. Every day in the early morning, during the festival, the population of the city is awoken by gunfire from Schlossberg.

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