This is Alpha Unit’s first try at writing more of a magazine-type feature article. She’s been writing Maureen Dowd-type opinion columns, often with a moralizing or universalizing message underneath. Her work is excellent as far as it goes, but I am encouraging her to break out of formula and try different kinds of writing. Most writers, even good to excellent writers, have one style and write one type of work, similar to how some very good actors always “play themselves.”
However, in my opinion, the very best writers of all are the equivalent of character actors who play a different character in every movie. As character acting is the hardest kind of acting, “character” writing is the hardest kind of writing.
To me, a superb writer ought to be able to write poetry and prose. The prose should cover both short and long fiction. For non-fiction, he could be capable of opinion pieces, analytic work, humor, journalistic stuff, magazine type feature articles, scholarly academic work, on and on. And his style should differ as he takes on these various roles.
I originally started to work on this piece, but after it sat dead for a long time (for some reason, I could never quite figure out the rather simple story of Sabac al Cher), I handed it off to Alpha Unit and encouraged her to run with it. I think she did a nice job on her first feature piece.
Alpha Unit is a Black female.
“He was a Prussian through and through, proudly wore the uniform, his medals, and his beard like Kaiser Wilhelm.” This statement, in boldface, introduces an article in Der Tagesspiegel, written this past January by Andreas Austilat. And it describes the son of a Black African.
This African was brought to Germany as a seven-year-old boy, a “gift” from the Viceroy of Egypt to Prince Albrecht of Prussia. The only Arabic the Prince supposedly knew was “Sabac el Cher,” which means “Good morning.” This became the little boy’s name.
The story of Sabac el Cher and his Afro-German family has been the subject of a book, a documentary, and numerous articles. His story only came to the attention of his German descendants in 1999.
Sabac el Cher – later christened August Sabac el Cher – was a personal servant to Prince Albrecht and even accompanied the Prince on military campaigns. In 1867 he married a young White German woman and had two children, including the “through and through” Prussian described in Austilat’s article – Gustav Sabac el Cher.
There is a widely circulated photograph of Gustav Sabac el Cher in military regalia. It turns out that he was also the subject of a painting by Emil Doerstling entitled Preussiches Liebesgluck, which has been translated as Prussian Happy Love. The painting, dated 1890, depicts a black man in a Prussian Guard uniform, in a loving embrace with a reddish-blonde young woman.
Who was this Black Prussian?
The credit for tracking down Gustav Sabac el Cher goes largely to art historian Gorch Pieken, a consultant for the German Historical Museum. He and his colleague Cornelia Kruse published his findings in the book Prussian Bliss: A German Family from Africa . Doerstling’s painting is on the cover. The young White German woman embracing Gustav is typically identified as his fiancee, Gertrud Perlig.
Like his father before him, Gustav Sabac el Cher was devoted to his country and to its military; he was a Prussian army officer and a member of the Stahlhelm Association, described as “reactionary front fighters.” He also served as a bandmaster for a Prussian regiment and later was a civilian conductor.
And like his father before him, he married a White German woman and led his life as a good German. He is said to have been pro-Hitler.
What made him most German, perhaps? Maybe it was the fact that a good and decent German girl, from a good and respectable German family, openly embraced him, married him, and had her children with him.
How much more affirmation could any man have?
- Austilat, Andreas. January 18, 2009. “Gustav, der Kapellmeister.” Tagesspiegel (online edition).
Krampitz, Dirk. November 4, 2007. “Wie ein Afrikaner zu einer preussischen Gardeuniform kam.” Welt Online.