The Tierpark Hagenbeck in Hamburg is apparently having a hard time coming to terms with its past at the Völkerschau. Descendants of people exhibited at that time are finally demanding a critical examination.
It is an almost unknown story in this country that Christian Karembeu tells: Not even 100 years ago, his great-grandfather was presented as an alleged cannibal in a ethnological show at Hagenbeck's zoo. Karembeu is a French soccer star and was the 1998 soccer world champion. Years ago, in France, he drew attention to the story of his great-grandfather. In Germany, too, he now wishes for a critical debate and reappraisal of this chapter.
Willy Karembeu, Christian Karembeu's great-grandfather, came to the zoo in Hamburg with a group of 30 men, women and children. Here they had to dance and swing their spears for visitors every day. They were to build dugout canoes out of wooden trees, which visitors would later take for a walk on a pond.
Willy Karembeu was a Kanak native of New Caledonia, a former French colony in the South Pacific. There he is recruited together with around 100 other Kanak in 1931. Supposedly to represent their home in Paris at the Colonial Exhibition. Instead, as soon as they arrive in Paris, they are taken to the zoo in the Paris Jardin d'Acclimatation and displayed there as alleged cannibals. They have to let out wild screams, baring their teeth, "all visitors should be afraid," says Christian Karembeu.
For Willy Karembeu and his group, this was just a stopover. Shortly thereafter, they are passed on to Hamburg, to Hagenbeck's zoo, which praises the group as the "last cannibals of the South Seas". After a few weeks in Hamburg, the Kanak are so desperate that they write letters to the French colonial minister asking for help. Even when it rains, they have to dance barefoot and almost undressed for many hours a day, they report - "we don't want to stay here any longer".
Shortly thereafter, the matter became public in France and became a scandal. The Kanak around Willy Karembeu are brought back to France from Hamburg and taken from there to their homeland. According to Christian Karembeu, his great-grandfather would not let go of these experiences until his death, "they felt like slaves".
The zoo is obviously having a hard time processing it. Last year there had already been protests in relation to the Völkerschau past. At that time, Hagenbeck initially reacted defiantly: "The zoo is proud of its founder and that will remain the case," it said. Shortly thereafter, however, a public review was announced.
Panorama 3's questions about the Kanak, who were presented as cannibals, went unanswered.