German colonial empire

German colonial empire

The German colonial empire was an overseas area formed in the late 19th century as part of the Hohenzollern dynasty's German Empire. Short-lived colonial efforts by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but Imperial Germany's colonial efforts began in 1883. The German colonial empire ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 following World War I.

German Empire

Owing to its delayed unification by land-oriented Prussia in 1871, Germany came late to the imperialist scramble for remote colonial territory — their so-called "place in the sun." The German states prior to 1870 had retained separate political structures and goals, and German foreign policy up to and including the age of Otto von Bismarck concentrated on resolving the "German question" in Europe and securing German interests on that same continent. [Washausen, "Hamburg und die Kolonialpolitik des Deutschen Reiches", p. 21; in this effort and conjointly with his firm rejection to take over the French colonial possessions after the Franco-Prussian war, Bismarck stated on 9 February 1871, that a German acquisition of colonies was equivalent to the Polish nobility wearing silks and furs when they were in need of shirts] On the other hand, Germans had traditions of foreign sea-borne trade dating back to the Hanseatic League; a tradition existed of German emigration (eastward in the direction of Russia and Romania and westward to North America); and North German merchants and missionaries showed lively interest in overseas engagements. It was above all the Hanseatic republics of Hamburg and Bremen that sent traders across the globe. It was these trading houses who conducted themselves as successful “Privatkolonisatoren” [independent colonizers] and concluded treaties and land purchases in Africa and the Pacific with chiefs or other tribal leaders, but saw no advantage in any governmental meddling or oversight. [Washausen, p. 61; these early agreements with local entities, however, later formed the basis for annexation treaties, diplomatic support and military protection by the German Empire] The rise of German imperialism coincided with the latter stages of the "scramble for Africa," during which Germany competed with other European powers for control of the last unexplored continent's territories.

Many Germans in the late 19th century viewed colonial acquisitions as a true indication of having achieved nationhood. Public opinion eventually arrived at an understanding that prestigious African and Pacific colonies went hand-in-hand with dreams of a High Seas Fleet. Both aspirations would become reality, nurtured by a press replete with “Kolonialfreunde” [supporters of colonial acquisitions] and by a myriad of geographical associations and colonial societies. Bismarck did not conduct an aggressive colonial policy. It was not geopolitical or strategic considerations, nor emigration that guided the chancellor; it was merely the protection of trade, the safeguarding of raw materials and export markets that were the motives for his conversion to the colonial idea in the last quarter of his time in office. [Washausen, p. 115]

Because Germany was so late to join the race for colonial territories, most of the world had already been carved up by the other European powers; in some regions the trend was already towards decolonisation, especially in the continental Americas, encouraged by the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Nevertheless, Germany did assemble an overseas empire (see List of former German colonies) in less than two decades. Acquisitions and the growth of the colonies was accomplished in a variety ways, but principally through mercantile domination and succeeding “take-overs,” through agreements and treaties with other colonial powers or interests, and through the purchase of land or island groups. [as example, on 12 February 1899 a treaty was signed by which Spain sold the Caroline Islands, the Mariana Islands and Palau for 17 Million Mark to Germany] The leadership in Berlin committed the nation to financially support, maintain, develop and defend these possessions across the oceans.

War, however, changed everything. In the course of the First World War (1914-1918) and its subsequent peace treaties, primarily the Treaty of Versailles, [to make "de facto" annexations of German protectorates palatable for President Woodrow Wilson and his United States negotiation team, the system of “mandates” (classes ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’) was formulated] the victorious Allied Powers dismantled and annexed this empire among themselves by bringing forth “the renewal, not the end, of an imperial era,” [Louis, "Great Britain and Germany's Lost Colonies", p. 7] and a concurrent “huge scramble” for territorial aggrandizement. [Louis, p. 155]

In the treaties concerning African protectorates, France and Britain divided German Kamerun (Cameroons); Belgium gained small parts of northwestern German East Africa; the United Kingdom by far the greater landmass, thus seizing the “missing link” in the chain of British possessions stretching from South Africa to Egypt (Cape to Cairo). Togoland was divided between France and Britain; German South West Africa was annexed to the Union of South Africa. In the Pacific Japan gained Germany’s islands north of the equator (the Carolines and Marianas) and Kiaochow (Jiaozhou) Bay in China. German Samoa and German New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago were assigned to New Zealand and Australia as mandatories. [Louis, p. 117-130] This placing of responsibility on white-settler dominions was at the time perceived to be the cheapest option for the British government, although it did have the bizarre result of British colonies having their own colonies. This outcome was very much influenced by W.M. Hughes, William Massey, and Louis Botha, the prime ministers of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. [Louis, p. 132]

German East Africa remained a special case. The colony’s military commander, "Generalmajor" Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, led his formations undefeated through the colony and into British and Portuguese territories. Then finally on 25 November 1918 at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia he oversaw “the capitulation of an army that had not lost to an army that had not won.” [Miller, "Battle for the Bundu", p. 325] In March of 1919, Lettow-Vorbeck on a black charger led his repatriated soldiers through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin giving the defeated nation its only victory parade.

ee also

* List of former German colonies
* German colonization of the Americas


Sources and references

* Westermann, "Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte" de icon
* []


* ISBN 978-0520067028 (1990 Abridged edition).
* ISBN 978-0275951382 (paperback).

External links

* [] ("German Protectorates") de icon

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