The German Empire established several colonies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the aim of expanding its global influence and acquiring resources for its growing economy. These colonies were located in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and were primarily established through treaties, purchases, and military force. Germany's colonial ambitions were cut short by World War I, which saw the loss of its colonies to Allied forces. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 formally ended Germany's colonial empire, with its former colonies either becoming mandates under the League of Nations or being divided between Allied powers as spoils of war.
German colonialism refers to the period of time between the late 19th and early 20th century when Germany had colonies and territories outside of Europe. These colonies were located in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific and were established during a time when European powers were competing for imperial dominance. While Germany's colonial empire was relatively small compared to those of other European powers, it had a significant impact on the regions it colonized, including the establishment of infrastructure and the imposition of German culture and language.
The first undertakings to establish a German colony were made by private companies, such as Little Venice, Venezuela, in the 16th century, or the Hanau-Indies in the 17th century. Germany's colonial era started after the country had been unified. Because private initiatives failed, the German Empire proclaimed protectorates. The colonialism of European powers is a chapter of history which brought much sorrow for the locals. The Herero and Nama revolt in German South-West Africa (1904 - 1908) and the Maji-Maji rebellion in German East Africa (1905 - 1907) are just a few examples of violent encounters. Yet, some geographical areas shaped by German colonialism are historical regions, influenced by at least two cultures.
Togoland was a German colony in West Africa, which was founded in 1884 when the Germans signed a treaty with the local rulers. The colony was located on the coast of modern-day Togo and extended into modern-day Ghana. Initially, the Germans saw Togoland as a commercial venture, and they established trading posts along the coast. However, as time passed, the Germans extended their control over the interior of the colony, and Togoland became a formal German protectorate in 1894.
The German colonial administration in Togoland implemented a policy of forced labor and imposed heavy taxes on the local population. This policy led to widespread resentment among the people, and there were several uprisings against the German authorities. One of the most significant uprisings was the Togolese Revolt of 1914-1915.
The Germans also imposed their culture on the people of Togoland, and they encouraged the spread of Christianity. They established schools and missions, which had a profound impact on the social and cultural life of the colony. However, this cultural imposition did not extend to granting citizenship to people of mixed-race, such as Nicolas Grunitzky, who was born to a German father and an African mother. This lack of citizenship for mixed-race individuals illustrates the paradoxical understanding of colonialism, which allowed the colonizers to impose their culture and values on the colonized but did not grant them equal rights.
After World War I, Togoland was divided into two parts, with the western part becoming a British mandate, and the eastern part remaining under German control until it was taken over by the French in 1916. Today, Togoland is split between Togo and Ghana, and the legacy of German colonialism continues to shape the region's social and cultural life.
■ German population: around 440 (1914)
■ trade goods: corn, cutton, ivory, palm oil,
Cameroon, also known as Kamerun, was a German colony in West Africa that existed from 1884 to 1916. The territory of Cameroon was initially a protectorate of the German Empire, but in 1901, it became a colony. The colony covered an area of over 480,000 square kilometers and had a population of around 6 million people. The German colonization of Cameroon had a significant impact on the region's political, social, and economic landscape. Germany used the colony for economic purposes, primarily for the cultivation of cash crops like rubber and cocoa. During World War I, Cameroon was invaded by Allied forces, and Germany lost control of the colony. Cameroon was then divided between France and Britain under the League of Nations' mandate system.
■ German population: around 1640 (1913)
■ trade goods: corn, ebony woods, ivory,
3. GERMAN EAST AFRICA
German East Africa was a German colony that existed from the late 19th century until World War I. The colony was established in 1885 after German explorer Carl Peters signed treaties with local leaders in present-day Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. The colony was initially called German East Africa, but its name changed several times throughout its existence.
The German Empire established German East Africa as a protectorate to secure commercial interests and to provide an outlet for surplus population. The colony became a major producer of coffee, cotton, sisal, and rubber. The Germans also constructed a railway system that linked Dar es Salaam, the capital of German East Africa, with the interior of the colony, facilitating trade and commerce.
Resistance to German rule led to the Maji-Maji rebellion from 1905 to 1907, during which the local population rose up against the Germans.
During World War I, British and Belgian forces invaded German East Africa and captured the colony. After the war, the unjust Treaty of Versailles gave the territory to the British, who established a mandate over the region. Today, the former German colony is divided among Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda, with Tanzania holding the majority of the territory.
■ German population: around 4110 (1913)
■ trade goods: cutton, coffee, cutton, hemp, tobacco
4. GERMAN SOUTH-WEST AFRICA
German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) was one of Germany's most significant African colonies. The colony was established in 1884 and officially recognized by other European powers at the Berlin Conference the same year.
The colony became partially Germanized. German names, such as Lüderitzbucht (now Lüderitz), and cultural elements, such as the Black Forest cake and German garden goblins, are reminders of the region's colonial past. The German language was also widely spoken, and the colonial administration made efforts to promote German culture.
In 1915, during World War I, South African forces invaded the colony, and Germany was forced to surrender. South Africa gained control of the territory and maintained apartheid policies until Namibia's independence in 1990. Today, German influence in Namibia is still present, with many people speaking German and several German-language newspapers and radio stations operating in the country.
■ German population: around 12.000 (1914)
■ trade goods: copper, diamonds, iron ore, marble
5. ASIAN TERRITORIES
Germany did have a presence in Asia through concessions granted by the Qing dynasty. The most notable of these was the Kiautschou Bay concession, which was established in 1898 and became the only German colony in East Asia. The Germans also had a concession in the port city of Qingdao, which was established in 1897 and became a major commercial and naval base for the German Empire in East Asia.
Overall, Germany's presence in Asia was short-lived and ended with the outbreak of World War I, which saw the Kiautschou Bay concession occupied by Japanese forces in 1914.
The Asian territories were part of the German Empire's trading policies through the foundations of trading bases.
■ trade goods: tea, silk, groundnuts, pharmaceuticals
6. MARIANA ISLANDS
The Mariana Islands are a group of islands in the western Pacific Ocean, located about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines. The islands were originally inhabited by the Chamorro people, who had a unique culture and language.
In the late 19th century, Germany began to take an interest in the Pacific region and established a colonial presence on the Mariana Islands in 1899. The German administration lasted until the end of World War I, when the islands were taken over by Japan under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
Under German colonial rule, the Mariana Islands were used primarily for economic purposes. The German government encouraged the production of copra, which is the dried kernel of coconuts that is used to make coconut oil. Other agricultural products, such as sugar cane and bananas, were also grown on the islands.
Today, the legacy of German colonialism is still evident in the Mariana Islands. German place names are still used on some of the islands, and German cultural influences can still be seen in some aspects of local life. However, the Chamorro people have also maintained their own unique cultural identity, which continues to be celebrated and preserved.
■ trade goods: birds of paradise, copra (see German New Guinea)
7. MARSHALL ISLANDS
The Marshall Islands, a chain of islands located in the central Pacific Ocean, were part of German colonialism in the late 19th century. The German Empire claimed the islands in 1885, and they became known as German New Guinea. The islands were an important strategic location for the German Empire due to their proximity to major trade routes and access to copra, a valuable commodity used in the production of soap.
Under German rule, the Marshall Islands underwent significant changes. The Germans established a colonial administration, which included a governor and other officials who oversaw the islands' economy, social structures, and culture. The Germans also introduced Christianity to the islands, with various Christian denominations establishing missions throughout the territory.
During World War I, the Japanese seized the Marshall Islands from Germany and took over colonial administration of the islands. After World War II, the Marshall Islands became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the United States. Today, the Marshall Islands are an independent country, but their history under German colonialism remains an important part of their cultural heritage.
■ trade goods: see German New Guinea
8. CAROLINE ISLANDS
The Caroline Islands are a group of islands in the western Pacific Ocean, located between the Philippines and the Marshall Islands. The islands were first sighted by European navigators in the 16th century and were later claimed by Spain in the late 19th century. In 1899, Spain sold the islands to Germany, and they became part of German New Guinea.
Under German rule, the Caroline Islands saw significant economic development, with the establishment of coconut plantations and the introduction of modern infrastructure.
The Caroline Islands were also the site of several uprisings against German rule. In 1910, a rebellion broke out on Ponape (now Pohnpei), led by a local chief named Faustino Ablong. The rebellion was eventually put down by German forces, and Ablong was captured and executed.
During World War I, Japan occupied the Caroline Islands and later took control of them under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Today, the Caroline Islands are divided between the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. The islands' cultural heritage remains influenced by their colonial past, with some German place names and architecture still visible on some of the islands.
■ trade goods: see German New Guinea
9. GERMAN NEW GUINEA
German New Guinea was a colony from 1884 to 1914. Colonization started with treaties of protection, supported by Germany's naval forces.
■ trade goods: birds of paradise, copra, phosphate, tobacco
10. GERMAN SAMOA
The colony was in focus during the Spanish American War of 1899, which resulted in a division of the island into East- and West Samoa. East Samoa became an American insular area, and West Samoa became German. German Samoa was a colony from 1900 to 1914.
■ German population: 300 (1914)
■ trade goods: bananas, cacao beans, coffee
Sources / Quellenangabe:
Naumann, Günter. Deutsche Geschichte. Wiesbaden: marxisverlag, 2018.
Scriba, Arnulf. "Statistische Angaben zu den deutschen Kolonien."LeMO, 17 September 2014.