Which countries has Germany not colonized?


Dirk van Laak

To person

Dr. phil., born 1961; Private lecturer for modern and contemporary history at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Historical Institute, Fürstengraben 13, 07743 Jena.
Email: [email protected]

The fact that Germany once owned colonies in Africa has largely been suppressed from national memory. For generations of Germans, imperialist expansion was a national question of fate. It was not until 1884 that the German Empire devoted itself to economic development, but lost the colonies again in the First World War.

Extract from:
From Politics and Contemporary History (APuZ 04/2005) - Germany in Africa. Colonialism and its aftermath


Few parts of the world today appear as far away from Germany as Africa. According to reports on African life, there is paradise for animals, but hell for people. None of the human apocalypses - poverty, hunger, epidemics, state failure and wars - that do not apply to Africa in extreme form. Since the 1980s, Africa has been considered a "forgotten" continent. Almost all optimism, nurtured from Europe for a good century, has now disappeared. "In the heart of the continent, entire stretches of land have sunk back into the undiscovered." [1] Only in times of global political calm does the media reflect on the continent's potential. Otherwise, Africa is characterized by an absence in Europe and America that suggests a guilty conscience because it is connected with the constant call for humanitarian aid. The fact that Germany once had colonies in Africa and even strived for a unified Central African colonial empire is little present in the public consciousness.

The legacy of colonialism, which was partly actively suppressed after 1945, was still very much alive up to then. At the beginning of the 1940s the Reichskolonialbund had almost two million members, and considerable sums of money were invested in colonial research. Worked out plans for a renewed occupation of the areas lost in the First World War lay in the drawers of numerous authorities. Countless volunteers signed up for an early assignment on the southern continent. The technical knowledge of German colonial and tropical technology was up to date. And one of the last feature films of the "Third Reich", the no longer premiered "Quax in Africa", let Heinz Rühmann fly again to the black continent in 1945 - where he of course experienced a crash landing. [2]

This balance sheet was to be drawn for German colonial revisionism after 1918, perhaps even for German colonialism since 1884 as a whole. But the films and the expectations of the colonial lobby both show how strong the African fantasies were in Germany for a long time. When the victors of the First World War excluded Germany from the group of active colonial powers in 1919, this provoked an outcry. Political approval of the colonies was most unanimous in Germany when the Germans' colonizing mission was declared to have ended from outside and German South West Africa, German East Africa, Cameroon and Togo were passed over as mandate areas to the administration of the former war opponents. Economically and financially, the loss hardly hit the German Reich. The colonies' share of German foreign trade in 1913 was just 0.6 percent. Last but not least, the colonial opponents often branded the thirty years in which Germany had owned a few unprofitable areas in Africa, a bridgehead in China and some South Pacific possessions as a "national loss-making business".