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German blackface pastries stir racism debate

Sou-Jie van Brunnersum
February 16, 2020

The controversial pastries feature thick lips, fez hats, and even a bone weaved into the hair. The bakery in Cologne has caused nationwide anger, but the owner insists there were "no racist thoughts" behind them.

Children eating chocolate treats
Image: Imago-Images/Westend61

A bakery in the western German city of Cologne has caused a storm in local media for its selling of dark-glazed pastries with exaggerated facial features.

Some of the pastries — normally a kind of meringue on wafer covered in plain chocolate — were sporting eyes, nose and thick red lips, with some even carrying bones on top of their heads or comical hats.

The pastry, now known as "Schokokuss" (Chocolate Kiss) is popular in Germany, particularly during Carnival every February.

Formerly known as "Mohrenkopf" ("Moorish head"), the name of the pastry was altered because of its racialized reference to Muslim inhabitants across what is now Europe and North Africa during the Middle Ages. 

The Cologne-based bakery features the treats in its display entitled "Funny carnival heads."

This year's supply has stirred debates on social media after author and columnist Jasmina Kuhnke, or Quattromilf as she is known on Twitter, posted a picture of the pastries after a friend sent her a photo.

"Dear Café Konfiserie Fromme, your pastries disgust me!" Kuhnke wrote, adding that, "no, the white ones are not intended to represent balance, they represent North Africans."

Bakery reacts to criticism

Other Twitter users shared their disgust on the platform while others said they couldn't see what the fuss is about.

One Twitter user responded with: "I'm slowly in favor of such colonial-racist representations being punished (financially)," and another tweeted sarcastically: "The oh so tolerant Cologne. Disgusting."

Gregor Fromme, owner of the Fromme pastry shop, responding to the criticisms in an interview with the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, insisted that his controversial pastry display has been a tradition since the 1960s.

"We decorate it for Carnival the way many carnival costumes were designed in the past," adding that the lips are the same on all the heads.

"We have no racist thoughts behind it. We are visited by many people of color and Asians, and so far, there have been no complaints." Fromme said that while he considers the pastry a tradition, he would rethink whether he would "keep it this way."

Read moreGermany: 'No Arabs please' job rejection controversy 

Carnival's problem with racism

The pastry shop, which opened in 1893,  said it features its "Funny Carnival heads" display only during the busy Carnival season in February.

During the rest of the year, Fromme sells the unclad version of the pastries and labels them either "Mohrenkopf" or "Othello" (a Moorish character in William Shakespeare's tragedy).

Fromme told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger he was aware the term 'Mohrenkopf' has been deemed racist.

Racist debates are nothing new at the Cologne carnival. The carnival association in the Cologne district of Frechen formerly known as "Frechener Negerköpp" (The Frechen Negro Head) only changed its name to "Wilde Frechener" (The Wild Frecheners) in 2018 after much public criticism.

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