“Die Schwarze Germania:” Race, Gender and Monstrosity within Rammstein’s Deutschland


Described as a Gesamtkunstwerk (an all-encompassing comprehensive art form), Rammstein’s rise to musical prominence has centered on their unique artistic and performance practice. The  industrial metal band within the Neue Deutsche Härte (new German hardness) movement are known for their controversial public and stage presence, musical stylings and the band’s reception in local, national and transnational platforms, making their live performances a must-see.[i] Lyrical content often focuses on German political and social issues, as well as critiquing the common perception of Germany’s history of nationalism. The band has often defended their aesthetic based on their liberal, progressive political views.[ii]

An important part of Rammstein’s Gesamtkunstwerk is their music videos. Known for their cinematic quality as well as their emphasis on explicit sexual and violent content (2009’s “Pussy” featured masturbation, oral sex and group sex scenes featuring band members with adult film stars), the band employs top German film directors to create visual narratives that interweave the song topic with additional visualizations to extend the story. In the opening credits of Deutschland (2019) the 9-minute video is described as a “film,” which it ostensibly is, as the story extends far beyond the song.

Chronicling German history from 16 AD to the late 1980s, Deutschland introduces the figure of Germania, the Roman term for Germany. Germania was once a regional area within Central and Northern Europe.[iii] Initially, it was populated with migrants from various tribes and cultures, such as the Greeks Slavonians, Balkans, Scythians and Germanic tribesman, but over generations, these groups eventually assimilated into what is now known as Germany. Deutschland features Afro-German theatre actor Ruby Commey as portraying Germania, an iconic figure in German history. This essay will argue that she represents the aesthetics of a westernized notion of black identity within the 21st century, and not necessarily an Afro-German identity. This correlates with the band’s philosophical trajectory of exploring the ties within contemporary society. While Commey is depicting an iconic German figure, she is simultaneously depicting westernized notions of blackness and noting the erasure of Afro-Germans within these historical eras depicted within the video. Throughout their discography, Rammstein has critiqued Germany’s reliance on American cultural commodification. Hence, Commey’s presence suggests a symbol of America’s reliance on black cultural commodification and exploitation to create and maintain an economic, political and entertainment source that they can use, abuse and discard to maintain their cultural dominance over various countries, such as Germany.

Scholars and activists Lisa Guerrero (2016) and Patrice Cullars (2018) have noted that that political, social and cultural developments such as the Civil Rights era and prominent black activist movements like the Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter symbolize a post-modernist resistance to the accepted co-optation of humanity and the selected subjectivity of black bodies. Yet, in Deutschland, the viewer is conflicted: is Commey positioned as an extension of subjugation of years past, or does she symbolize a post-modernist resistance to her body being co-opted by the “other?” By centering this discussion on the definition of monstrosity by Bernadette Marie Calafell, in which she defines the theoretical response to literal and symbolic framings of monsters in popular culture, this paper will provide a brief analysis of how the character of Germania represents how acts of violence offer a symbolic frame of monstrosity within this video.



In France, Italy, and Germany, statuesque female figures portrayed as mythological icons were often used to represent their respective countries’ strength in battle and protection (2016, 35). In Armed Ambiguity: Women Warriors in German Literature and Culture in the Age of Goethe, Julie Koser writes that in the mid-to-late 1700s, German women were deployed to fight in the occupation of France and their presence was purposefully displayed as fierce revolutionaries to counter the usage of French women patriotic icons. “The German press’s model of idealized femininity reinforced a normative model that presented women with the illusion of equal participation while protecting the system of power in the male-dominated public sphere” (2016: 35). In her overview on women warriors, Koser writes that the positionality of women invoked a myriad of contradictory emotions, stemming from the need to have women participate alongside men in battle yet still desiring but fearing the strength that challenged the abilities of men:

Evoking simultaneous feelings of aversion and attraction, women warriors, as the prospect and feminine ideal, deceitful criminal and valorous patriot, deviant villain and sacrificing heroine, bloodthirsty hyena and defender of the domestic good…..the trope of the woman warrior became a central vehicle by which men and women writers sought to negotiate the role of women in the social and political life of the emerging German nation.(3)

In Deutschland, Germania is positioned in four distinct ways: She is the nurturer, protecting her country; she is a bloodthirsty warrior who is willing to kill while also egging on the brutal violence of others; a sexual temptress in a gold rope bikini, and vulnerable, whether as Germania the iconic figure or as a woman-in-the-flesh, to the evils of men. As previously noted, a component of Rammstein’s continued popularity is their ability to provoke through controversial imagery that plays with Germany’s nationalism and questions its cultural dependence on North American popular culture. While vocalist Linderman has repeatedly stated that the band is not right-wing nor anti-Semitic nor racist, even writing a song addressing the rumors (2001’s “Links 234”) they still employ what Forbes magazine describes as “Wagnerian” metaphors and dabble in fascist imageries to provoke.


The Body as Monstrosity

The use of black or marginalized bodies in dialogues about primitivism and civilization is commonplace within popular culture, but in Deutschland, Commey’s body is anthropologically othered to the point that while she and “it” are visible, she is rendered invisible. In Nazi Germany, most notably in the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler revitalized the mythology about the power of wolves, as he felt that himself and those under his command embodied wolves’ power, strength and malice. Wolves became the symbol for WWII para-military troops and eventually, extreme right-wing nationalist organizations. In one scene, Commey (as Germania) gives birth to a pack of puppies, surrounded by the band members wearing white masks and gowns.

While viewing this scene without any knowledge about German history can be confusing to the American viewer, the imagery represents common racialized and sexualized stereotypes about the control the State (in this case, Nation-State) has over black women’s bodies, suggesting that they are unable to control their sexual drive and bear multiple children. While the puppies in Deutschland are positioned as a symbolic nod to Germanic religion and mythology, there is a suggestion here that they represent a new breed of werewolves, a symbol of destruction and death.[iv] Calafell uses Lycanthropy (the transformation from person to wolf) to explain generalized notions of monstrosity that are embodied within public images of marginalized women: “Women of color already embody monstrosity; therefore, the transformation is rendered mute. While women of color werewolves are frequently absent on the screen, the construction of the general monstrosity of women of color continues to permeate popular culture through the images of them as overly sexual or welfare queens” (2012, 114).

An alternative view to this imagery is to look at the breed of dog used in the video. The Leonberger, a German dog whose breed barely made it through both the first and second World Wars – reportedly only eight dogs survived the latter (Isberg, 2007). The images of Commey giving birth to these puppies could also suggests a new “birth” of German nationalism. As the Leongerger was specifically bred to appeal to royalty, often given to leaders of wealthy countries, it is a symbol of the return to German prominence.

 Unlike Hitler’s belief that werewolves are mystical and powerful beings that can shapeshift from animal to superior men and the importance of German Shepherds (which many Germans adopted after watching countless propaganda films featuring Hitler with his loyal dog, Blondi) and Leonbergers in German history, there is no shapeshifting here (Isberg 2007). The presence of the band within this scene suggests that they are protecting the multiple pups, but not her. Therefore, her body is simply excess flesh and because of her ethnicity and the lack of reasoning of that black body within this scene (and video), the birthing of animals is what Alexander G. Weheliye (2014) describes as part of a racialized assemblage that in part, creates distinctions between who are seen as human, not-quite human and nonhuman. By using Hortense Spiller’s theory of hieroglyphics of the flesh (1987) which argues in part that bodily scars and other markings from torture are concealed by ethnicity – they are not visible because ethnicity clouds them, makes the positioning of the black body birthing animals or physiologically contorted in dehumanizing poses justifiable within popular culture imagery (2014, 97).  The position of the black body suggests a more underlying and insidious attempt of making meaning without having to pointedly state the intent.

For Bleulife, an online arts and culture magazine for black millennial Germans, their criticism about Deutschland is focused on the numerous characters Commey represents. In one scene, the band are portrayed as Jewish prisoners in a town square. As with many in the German media, the depiction of Germans appearing as Jews during the Holocaust was the most controversial image in the video. “This is a major talking point regarding these structures of society,” wrote Bleulife’s Johanna Lopez. Commey is prominently featured in this scene as an SS officer. “She isn’t just represented as a leader, she’s essentially Hitler. She watches the band members dressed in what Jewish prisoners were made to wear during the Holocaust, as they are tied to nooses hanging from a post with a sign that reads “photographs forbidden.[v]

Calafell extends this argument further by contending that black women’s outward appearances supposedly mask their primal instincts which include degenerate, hyper-sexual straits and the absence of gender-specific aesthetic traits, such as being “ambigendered,” lacking attributes of westernized notions of femininity (2012, 113-114). Later and out of sequence, a pregnant Germania’s stomach is softly caressed by men in astronaut suits (similar images are found in a previous Rammstein single, 2004’s “Amerika”), which pays homage to Sigmund Jähn, an East German Cosmonaut who flew with the USSR’s Intercosmos program.[vi] This symbolized not only the relationship East Germany had with the Russians, but also provides a political and ideological separation between communist East Germany and the more liberal West Germany, which remained until the Berlin Wall was eradicated in 1989. When – or if – situated within a contemporary setting (symbolized by an Afro-German actor) Germania’s birth to “wolves” suggests in both scenes that the continuation of German nationalism would exist throughout time.

Does this suggest that it is acceptable to employ a black actor in the role of Germania? Because of the iconic status of the woman warrior in European countries, it could be dismissed as a positive image in response to other accounts of black womanhood in music videos. If used as a counternarrative, Commey’s character has more agency than a black woman appearing in a mainstream hip-hop video. On the other hand, the black woman as what Calafell describes as “monstrous,” embodies Weheliye “theory of the flesh” that marks the black woman’s body; creating various usages that are not controlled by the woman, but by the outside society. Similar to the use of the werewolf in German mythology that allowed the rational and intelligent man to shapeshift into a more powerful being to dominate, black women’s bodies are a collection of animalistic, irrational traits with limited ability to transform into the rational and logical human (Calafell 2012: 117).

In order for the “State” to maintain control, there is a need to control the black body and to deny the logical and intelligent ones. There is also a long history about the troubling gaze within films that are positioned to attract black audiences. As briefly mentioned above, contemporary hip-hop videos often position black women bodies as strictly situated for the male gaze, often employing white and Western notions of femininity while employing racialized gendered stereotypes. When interviewing black women filmgoers, bell hooks writes in “The Oppositional Gaze” that one of the reasons why they were not “fans” of cinema was because of what hooks describes as “the erasure of black womanhood,” as bodies were positioned only to serve – “to enhance and maintain white womanhood as the object of the phallocentric gaze” (hooks 1992: 119).


I have argued that the image of Commey within Deutschland is simply another example of a continuing issue of the positionality of black women’s bodies to provoke and as a continuance in racialized stereotypes. It is also a protraction of a deeper problem within Germany in how they position black actors. In the article, “Rammstein und die schwarze Germania” (Rammstein and the black Germania), writer Alexander Graf refers to Commey within the article as “the black actress,” instead of referring to her by her full name. This article is more focused on the provocativeness of the video and uses “the black actress” as part of that provocation, as he doesn’t provide any analysis about the character she is playing (also note that in the English translation, “black” is in lowercase), and she is barely mentioned in the article (Graf, 2019).  
After conducting online research and discovering a similar pattern in other video reviews, I reached out to a German professor friend that specializes in Afro-German studies, who told me there is a history of purposefully omitting the inclusion of black actors within German art forms. In the German documentary, Majub’s Journey, filmmaker Eva Knopf traces the history of actor Majub bin Adam Mohamed Hussein (aka Mohamed Husen), who appeared in several German propaganda films in the 1930s. Born in Dar es Salaam when Tanzania was under German colonial rule, the actor was used as a racial foil to more prominent white actors, usually as a comedic sidekick or in servitude. Interestingly, Hussein also held a prominent job in Berlin University’s Foreign Institute, teaching Swahili, but was never credited for any of the several films he appeared in. He was eventually arrested, sent to a concentration camp, and executed in 1944. Arguing that neither “whiteness nor white supremacy can exist in a vacuum,” film reviewer Katarina Hedrén writes that “both concepts rely on black bodies onto which fantasies and fears can be projected and without which white bodies wouldn’t even be white.” [vii]

This is similar to the response from heavy metal fans to Commey’s presence in Deutschland. For some, the decision to cast an Afro-German actor was simply to elicit a laugh, and to “piss off” right-wing fans. Other reviews and commenters didn’t mention her at all. While the video is extremely confusing for those not well-versed in German history, one of the main mechanisms to draw in viewers from all walks of life is to use black bodies within a densely “white” music genre and culture (and country) in a way to illicit a provocative response, regardless of the humanity of the actor providing that source of entertainment. While a black woman in a heavy metal video is surprising, the way in how she is employed within a patriarchal, capitalist white supremacist society, is not.


[i] Corinna Kahnke, “Transnationale Teutonen: Rammstein Representing the Berlin Republic” (Journal of Popular Studies, 25:2, 2013) 186.

[ii] Kahnke, “Transnationale Teutonen,” 187

[iii] Julie Koser, Armed Ambiguity: Women Warriors in German Literature and Culture in the Age of Goethe, (Northwestern University Press, 2016), 38.

[iv] Terra Arnone, “Important Lessons: Why Hitler considered himself a wolf and his enemies Vampires,” National Post, August 14, 2017.

[v] Johanna Lopez, “Controversial Band “Rammstein” Releases Controversial Video “Deutschland,” (bleumag.com, March 28, 2019). https://bleumag.com/2019/03/28/controversial-band-rammstein-releases-controversial-video-deutschland/

[vi] Cristian Cercel, "The Military History Museum in Dresden: Between Forum and Temple," (History and Memory 30, no. 1 ,2018): 3-39.

[vii] Katarina Hendrén, “Majub’s Journey by Eva Knopf,” Südafrika (Goethe Institut, November 2014).



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Shapira, Avener. 2007. “Why Did the Nazis like Dogs? Haaretz.com.  https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-why-did-the-nazis-like-dogs-1.5237372 (accessed May 18, 2020).

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Laina Dawes is the author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points, 2012). She is a Ph.D. student in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. She is also a music and cultural critic whose writing can be found in print and online magazines, such as SPIN, Wondering Sound, Flavorwire, The Wire, NPR, and more.

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