Hoffmann, however, is confronted with the first crack in this worldview when he meets Kezia Kunouje Kambazembi (Girley Charlene Jazama), a Herero who was forced to work as a translator for her people during a world fair in Berlin. Smart and assertive, she challenges Hoffmann, who treats her and her people like curios. Kraume thankfully refrains from dipping into a plot played out too often in bigger, more preachy productions. Hoffmann is not presented as a naïve person who can be changed, but rather as a product of his time. He starts having doubts about whether these people are inferior, yet he is still more aghast at Kunouje being rude to the German emperor than Germany stealing these people’s land.
His paper on the equality of the races does not find much favour, especially with his professor (Peter Simonischek). But in order to prove himself right, he joins an expedition to the colony a few years later. This is where Hoffmann, as well as the viewer, is confronted with the real horror that goes way beyond some outdated assumptions about skulls. Kraume shows the agony and murder that economic and territorial imperialism enabled. So-called men of science scavenge in one village after another, looting one grave after another. The treasures are thrown into bags, and the approaching Herero, looking for water, are shot at. To crush an uprising, they are driven into the desert to die, while others are captured and thrown into concentration camps. Their skulls are collected, “as they don’t need them any more”. Kraume gives these images of the unforgiving land a majestic look. Death lies in every direction, be it caused by nature or the Germans.
Hoffmann, shattered by this experience, but still driven by the will to “study these people”, sets out to look for Kunouje. His conviction that her underprivileged life is not a product of her race, but of her circumstances, will be challenged on more than one occasion, however. And as Kraume shows, this is not the story of a hero, a man changed and willing to fight the status quo; this is the story of how certain horrors of the mid-20th century found a fertile breeding ground despite people’s conscience.