Neumarkt 22

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Photo by Monique Ligtenberg

Racism and the House at Neumarkt 22

By Ashkira Darman (Audio will follow shortly…)

WARNING: The following contains source citations that use racist language.

The house at Neumarkt 22 is documented with the name "Zum kleinen Mohr" since 1671. According to Susan Arndt and Nadia Ofuatey-Alazard, the two authors of the book ‘Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht’ (‘How Racism Speaks from Words’), the term "M***" is “die älteste deutsche Bezeichnung, mit der Weisse Schwarze Menschen als anders konstruiert haben” ("the oldest German term used by whites to construct black people as different"). Over the course of its history, it has come to have increasingly negative connotations. Characterized by a certain ambiguity in the Middle Ages, it later developed into a term to belittle the people designated by it. By the 20th century, its meaning overlapped with that of the N-word. In parallel to this shift towards the negative, the assertion that skin color supposedly shows essential and hierarchical differences between people moved into focus.

But it is not only the name, documented in the 17th century, that connects the house with the concept of "M***", but also the much newer mural emblazoned on its façade. Dating back to the early 20th century, it was painted as an advertising picture for a bakery located in the house at the time. Pictured is a young man, drawn in black, sitting cross-legged, exhibiting stereotypical and racist characteristics that were attributed to black people at the time. He was given specific attributes, such as a gold earring and spear. His green surroundings are meant to suggest that he is in nature. He looks enthusiastically at a golden pretzel in his left hand. On the right side is a basket filled with other products from the bakery.

This motif was very trendy at the time. Advertisements featuring racist depictions of black people - including the aforementioned "primitive M***" - were part of the popular imagery (see text ‘Wiedikon Train Station’). They were meant to symbolize the supposedly "exotic" and "foreign" and were often depicted as primitive and submissive, with the aim of reinforcing the colonial order. 

From the perspective of said Zurich bakery, the suggestion of exoticism and luxurious colonial goods may have made the baked goods special. This illustrates how modern capitalist consumer culture and its accompanying racist mindset permeated Switzerland and its people.

In May 2020, the collective "Vo Da" pointed out this connection between the name of the house, its mural, and its clearly racist meaning. In an open letter to the city of Zurich, the collective called for the renaming of the house, along with two others, and the removal of the racist depictions. As a result, the Zurich City Council decided in April 2021 that colonial and racist signs in urban spaces should be removed or contextualized. This is another small but important step in the fight against racism. 

Ashkira Darman is a historian. She wrote her doctoral thesis in the field of late medieval Jewish history with a focus on legal and financial history at the University of Zurich. Over the years, she has been dealing with questions of knowledge production and knowledge transmission within the framework of the postcolonial approach. She teaches history at the Realgymnasium Rämibühl.


Quellenexzerpte und Hausgeschichte von Heinrich Steinmann 1979. Baugeschichtliches Archiv Zürich.‍ (Bilder)

Further reading:

Geulen, Christian. Geschichte des Rassismus. München 2017(3).

Hinrichsen, Malte und Wulf D. Hund. Metmorphosen des "Mohren". Rassistische Sprache und historischer Wandel. In: Sprache - Macht – Rassismus. Berlin 2014. S. 69 – 96.

(K)erben des Kolonialismus im Wissensarchiv deutscher Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. Hsg. Susan Arndt, Nadia Ofuatey-Alazard. Münster 2019.

Purtschert, Patricia. "De Schorsch Gaggo reist uf Afrika". In: Postkoloniale Schweiz. Formen und Folgen eines Kolonialismus ohne Kolonien. Hsg. Patricia Purtschert, Barbara Lüthi, Francesca Falk. Bielefeld 2012. S. 89 – 132.

Schmidt-Wolffen, Wulf. Die "Zehn kleinen Negerlein". Zur Geschichte der Rassendiskriminierung im Kinderbuch. Berlin 2010.