Expat story: Hair trauma in Germany
Finding products and hairdressers in Germany to care for African American hair isn’t easy, as Annabelle Baptista-Baumann finds out.
African American hair is not the simplest to deal with. To be blunt, I’ve had trouble with my hair myself. It’s thick and I can’t conceive of anything short of superglue that will hold it down; and I've experimented with every product in the German DM (the equivalent of a Walgreen’s in the US). I’ve recently discovered African shops in Heidelberg and Mannheim, which carry black hair care products, which sadly are not carried by any of the large German chains.
I’ve tried to get on the USAEUER base, but the American security is tighter than spandex. And yet, I have this recurring dream that if I could get past the guard station on post, I would find a team of professionals with hair care products strapped to holsters around their waists waiting to make me over. Needless to say, I haven’t had a perm in three years. I do it myself now with “texturizers” which keep my hair at least soft and make even the most uneven “wet” cuts, look okay, and it is more natural. I’m not brave enough to cut my hair myself, although I have started “evening it out” around the edges--this after a dummy run first on the bushes in our garden.
As a Black woman, married to a German with no ties to the American Army base, I sometimes feel adrift culturally, although I am gifted with the best of European culture. I have been told, go to Frankfurt or some other big city, and I’ve tried.
I’ve run into some interesting personalities, like, the African hairdresser who talked as fast as her snipping. I would remind her, every few minutes, to ‘please just trim it.’ Unfortunately, I couldn’t get her to stop talking or cutting. I exited two hours later looking like I planned to enter a boot camp. Another great African shop I heard about in Mannheim, said the woman who could perm my hair wasn’t there and to come back. I had to pay a EUR 10 deposit to make sure I kept the appointment; she obviously didn’t have to pay because she never showed up.
An Afro hairdo in the US is usually seen as a political statement. I’ve had my hair permed or straightened since I was old enough to sit alone in a chair. I am rethinking this reliance on chemicals and beauticians. African hair is beautiful, and I have seen women and men, both European and non-European wearing dreadlocks or Africanized hairstyles. I’ve come to the realisation that my hair in its natural state isn’t a terrible thing. I am slowly waning from my addiction to perms, and I’ve grown to love my hair. Living in Europe has transported me closer to Africa, both geographically as well as internally. I’ve stopped doping my hair with heavy chemicals, and it has responded by being lush and healthy. Although I still have a dying need to look like Halle Berry, I accept that I can look beautiful naturally, in my own gene pool.
African American Annabelle Baptista-Baumann lives in Dilsberg, Germany, with her German husband.
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Photo credit: Peter Klashorst (Afro hairstyle).
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