Military Review

Myths of the German colonies

Myths of the German colonies

Why Germany abandoned the "colonial pie"

In Soviet times, one of the main causes of the First World War was considered to be “the struggle for the redistribution of the world” between the leading European powers. In textbooks stories it was clearly shown with a map of the colonies: look, green overshadowed by England 1914, purple by France, the Russian Empire by a single pink monolith from Warsaw to Kamchatka. They plundered all their colonies, grew rich on them, and Germany as a single state appeared only in 1871 and did not have time to divide the world. She got quite a bit - some Togo with Papuan, that's why the war began. But in fact, everything was much more complicated: the colonial factor, although it did take place, was definitely of secondary importance outside Europe.

Islands of bad luck

The biggest myth is that Germany did not have time to partition the "colonial pie." Rather, on the contrary, the Germans were almost the first colonizers in Europe, and the absence of a single centralized state did not in the least hinder their colonial policies.

The slogan "Drang nach Osten" - "Onslaught on the East" - appeared during the times of Charlemagne and Barbarossa, in the VIII-XIII centuries, when Germanic tribes, who originally lived in West Germany, launched an offensive on the lands of the Pomeranian and Polabian Slavs. Slavic Lipsk became Leipzig, Dresdjan - Dresden, Breslavl - Breslau. Having digested these territories, the Germans moved further to the Baltic states, founding Koenigsberg, Riga and other cities. They exterminated and assimilated some peoples (Prussians), the rest (Latvians, Estonians, Czechs) were heavily Germanized.

This is how East Germany, Prussia, German-speaking Silesia and Pomerania, Sudeten, Transylvanian, Baltic, Danube Germans appeared (and under Catherine II, German colonies in Crimea, Zaporozhye, Volga, etc.). It is probably difficult to even remember what other European people would have had an example of such a successful settlement and colonization on their own continent. Is that only the Russian, mastered the Urals, Volga, North and Black Sea.

Attempts were made to acquire colonies and beyond the seas, but for some reason, unlike Europe, the Germans had no luck, as if a mystical curse hung over them - to carry their "white man burden" only on the European continent. Beyond it, the others did better.

Map of the German colonies.

The most striking example - in the XVI century for some time, the German colony was the whole Venezuela, renamed Klein Venedig. This territory was given in 1529 to the Augsburg banking house of the Welser for the unpaid debts of the Spanish king Charles V. It would seem - what a chance!

But the mass migration of German colonists to Venezuela did not work. The Indians and Spanish settlers still lived, and they also traded with Spain through Seville. The Belzeras only appointed governors, laid a paw on most of the gold and silver mining and taxed all profits from other activities on 4%. More precisely - it seemed to them on paper that they imposed and laid on them, but in practice the governors sent were concerned only about personal enrichment, engaging in a profitable slave trade. Cities and roads were almost never built, and the Indians were not acquainted with Christianity. The potential rich colony did not bring profit, it did not help the payment of royal debts, and therefore the Spanish were taken back from the Germans in 1546 for mismanagement.

Brandenburg, the elector of Brandenburg, later became one of the main parts of the kingdom of Prussia, led its colonial policy. During the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm, the Brandenburg-African company was founded, in 1683, Major Otto Greben landed on the coast of modern Ghana, where he founded the colony of Gross-Friedrichsburg. She initially brought some profit at the expense of trade in precious metals and slaves, but obviously not the one that was expected, and therefore in 1718, the colony was chosen to be sold to the Dutch. Smaller possessions - the island of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania (belonged to the German colonialists in 1685-1721), the city of Vida in what is now Togo (1700), St. Thomas and Tortola (Virgin Islands, 1685-1720), Vieques (near Puerto Rico, 1689-93) suffered about the same fate.

Map of the location of Gross-Friedrichsburg — Brandenburg colony in Central Africa.

Even the Courland principality (part of modern Latvia then ruled by the Germans) made its attempts to “catch on” in America and Africa. From 1654 to 1689, the Courlanders tried to colonize Tobago Island three times a year. And not to seize, namely to colonize - to settle with the Latvian peasants. In 1651, the Courlanders established a fort at the mouth of the Gambia River. But again “it didn’t grow together” with a profit: expenses for communication with overseas possessions turned out to be huge, as well as losses from tropical diseases, attacks by pirates, Englishmen and Dutch. As a result, the Baltic Germans abandoned their overseas possessions.

The same fate was shared by another ambitious project “Hanau-India” already from the German Duchy of Hesse - an attempt to create in 1670-ies a German colony in the lands of present-day Guiana and Suriname. Again, instead of profits, there was one loss and bankruptcy. It would seem, how can you not believe in mysticism?

No mystery, only business

Contrary to what was taught in the Soviet school, most of the colonies of all metropolises were unprofitable. Here you can recall, for example, Russian possessions in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which in tsarist and Soviet times were subsidized. Or the Italian colonial empire sounds beautiful, but in practice all Italian colonies also consumed budgets from Rome. And not only poor Somalia, but even the richest oil-bearing Libya, in which, ironically, oil was found only after the expulsion of the Italians.

Otto von Bismarck. Photo: Deutsches Bundesarchiv

The evil irony of fate here is that enormous profits really flowed into the hands of the very first colonialists - the Spaniards and Portuguese who had captured almost all Latin America. From the plundering of treasures accumulated over the centuries by Indians, from the exploitation of gold and silver mines, from the export of "colonial" products - sugar, tobacco, rubber, new fruits and vegetables, which at first were unusual and costly. Later, the British, who also exploited the captured India, gold mines in Australia, diamonds of South Africa, were also lucky. “Hands on hunters” have grown for everyone, but such examples have turned out to be more rare than the rule. Probably because it was so easy for the metropolis to part in the twentieth century with almost all of its colonies — they simply got rid of the enormous expenses (protection of the territory, roads, education, medicine, etc.) and little of the burden they brought in and began to grow rich. turning into a prosperous and well-fed modern Europe.

The cleverest of the Germans understood this already in the XIX century. Otto von Bismarck, the first Reich Chancellor of the German Empire, announced back in 1871 that colonial policy was not a priority for him: “We should not have vulnerabilities in other parts of the world. Which may be prey for France in the event of war. I don't want colonies. ” Prior to this, on his initiative, Prussia in the 1864 year refused to acquire Danish possessions on tropical islands in the Caribbean, preferring the neighboring Schleswig-Holstein, and the islands were sold to the United States. In 1870, Germany refused to accept Indochina from defeated France, preferring, again, much closer and more native Alsace.

And again - some losses

However, with all the power of his influence, Bismarck could not ignore the opinions of other German imperialists, who were still dreaming of new “Klein-Veneedians” and “Hanau-Indies.” “The most prominent of them was the historian and philosopher Heinrich von Traitschke,” writes researcher Sergei Boutaliy, who stated that the British Empire was “pure deception that will soon end.” The English idea of ​​freedom and consideration for the interests of the native population seemed to him too sentimental and weak, and he called for the development of colonies in the wake of "the absolute domination of white power." As another architect of the German colonial policy, Paul Rohrbach, stated, “the barbarous people of Africa, being inferior people, should consider it a privilege to give their lands to Germany”.

Heinrich von Treychke. Photo: Deutsches Bundesarchiv

In 1873, the dreamers of the German colonies formed the so-called “African society in Germany”, which set the goal of “exploration of Africa”, and in 1882 - the “German colonial society”, which united more than 15000 supporters of colonial policy. Formally, Bismarck even supported these undertakings, saying in a narrow circle: “The whole story with the colonies is a hoax, but we need it for the elections,” because the average man-shopkeeper really likes his country to become “great” and grow new ones (even if especially unnecessary) possessions.

In 1884, the territory of present-day Namibia, “German South-West Africa”, redeemed from local leaders by the Bremen merchant Adolf Lüderitz, German Togo and Cameroon, also acquired by entrepreneur Adolf Werman, was transferred to “under the protection of Germany”. A year later, another businessman, Karl Peters, who was concurrently head of the “German Colonial Society”, bought German East Africa, which occupied the continental part of present-day Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Colonial troops of the German Government, Cameroon, Africa. Photo: US Library of Congress

In addition, German New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, Nauru (1885), Palau (1888), part of Samoa, Mariana (1899), Karolinska (1889) and Marshall Islands (1885) passed under the protection of Germany in May 1889 in Oceania. In the declining China, the Germans acquired concessions in Tianjin (1899) and Qingdao (1897), having learned Chinese brewing. 12% Chinese beer of the best varieties still produces a factory founded by the Germans.

As is known, during the First World War, almost all German colonies (except East Africa) were captured in the very first months, and after the war were transferred to other countries under the League of Nations mandates. The German Empire owned them for a very short time - from 15 to 30 years, and therefore, with all the desire, she could not get any profit again. This was facilitated by the really unreasonable, brutal policies of the colonialists towards the local population, which led to constant conflicts.

Colonial order

In contrast to the "soft" (but somehow able to retain their possessions for centuries) the British and French, the Germans initially put the people of Africa on the lowest level in the hierarchy on their own land. For all the time of German rule, not one (!) African was naturalized in order to obtain full German citizenship. But they were immediately forbidden to own land and horses, to move around the colony (“vagrancy”), the judicial system created for the “natives” did not take into account African traditions and widely used cruel corporal punishment.

Plans for the territorial acquisitions of Germany in Europe as represented by the Western allies in 1917.

On the territory of present-day Namibia — in South-West Africa, almost all the time of colonization, the Germans had to wage a bloody war with the local Herero and Nama tribes in order to take away their land for future immigrants from Germany. The inhabitants of Kalahari fought before 15 of thousands of German soldiers, the war not only "cost a lot", but was accompanied by a real genocide - ethnic cleansing, the imprisonment of women and children of Herero in concentration camps, exile of the survivors in the British colonies. At the turn of the century, up to 80% of the local population died in South-West Africa, but a large number of German settlers did not come to the war-stricken colony — when peace was established there, World War I broke out.

German Cameroon (which was geographically larger than the current country Cameroon) “blasted” in moderation, but it was intensively absorbing subsidies from Berlin. Thanks to subsidies from the imperial treasury in the colony, they built two railway lines from the port city of Douala to agricultural plantations (160 and 300 km long), created an extensive telegraph network, mail, river navigation system. In return, a certain amount of bananas and pineapples went to the metropolis ...

Similarly, the Togo colony “stuck” to the imperial budget, promising to become “exemplary” in return. Until the very end, East Africa remained unprofitable, where roads and railways and schools for the local population were also built against the background of the constant suppression of riots and uprisings of disadvantaged and disaffected tribes. Life increasingly clearly showed the correctness of Bismarck and the errors of the proto-fascist "imperial romantics."

Loading bananas for shipment to Germany. Cameroon. 1912 year. Photo: Deutsches Bundesarchiv

By the beginning of the First World War in Berlin, there was a point of view according to which the fate of the overseas colonies would still be decided in the European theater of operations, during which it was intended to conquer and annex “living space” to Germany primarily in Europe itself.

Germany spent a lot of money on rearmament fleet, but failed to catch up with Britain to maintain reliable contact with overseas possessions. As a result, only 2 thousand soldiers were to defend the empire’s colonies with an area of ​​953 km² and a population of 000 million. And therefore it is not surprising that Togo, Cameroon, Samoa or Qingdao were generally easily surrendered and fell in the very first months of the war, but that one of the German colonies - East Africa - managed to hold out until its surrender in 12,3. But this is another story.

Subscribe to our Telegram channel, regularly additional information about the special operation in Ukraine, a large amount of information, videos, something that does not fall on the site:

Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must sign in.
  1. parusnik
    parusnik 14 July 2014 10: 07
    Well, yes, the colonies were unprofitable and the colonial powers financed them ... and Italy took Libya from Turkey on the principle that you invest a little money in the colony, we will do more ... otherwise the poor Libyans are sitting on bread and water, but under our arm they’ll also eat butter ..
  2. ImPerts
    ImPerts 14 July 2014 10: 29
    The Germans were always unlucky. Their attempts to stand on the same level with the Anglo-Saxon world ended in war and another humiliation.
    They received the lion's share of humiliation in the East, where they were attracted by the vastness of "living space" ... We have always loved the Germans, but we were very offended by their persistence and promiscuity. Not there they were looking for living spaces. They were bred by the Anglo-Saxons, then the cream was skimmed. It's the same now ...
  3. Kernokol19
    Kernokol19 14 July 2014 12: 17
    "Iron kaput" in one word from the pun
  4. alicante11
    alicante11 14 July 2014 14: 14
    So I wonder when the Anglo-Franks were soft-bodied colonialists? In India, or in the same Africa with the Zulus, or when the machine guns were "tested". Ah ... let me guess, probably in America they were so soft and fluffy, and the Indians massively made themselves hara-kiri. Well, I liked the word when the Angles taught them to read and gave them a book about the customs of the Japanese to read.
    The Germans simply loved order too much. And therefore, no "german" could naturalize. By the way, black ... skinned "naturals" like Maksimka Huseynich, first worked their way on the plantations and only when Lincoln was told that the South would make the Federation a handle, decided to "naturalize". and even then not immediately, but when there was no one to put in the ranks of the valiant northern armies. But that the Germans were building schools for the local population, the author mentioned in vain, does not fit too closely with the harsh "ordnung".
  5. Fox
    Fox 14 July 2014 20: 57
    Russians colonized the Urals and Siberia ... I didn't read further. The author is clearly "in the subject."
    1. tripletrunk
      tripletrunk 19 July 2014 18: 01
      Like Germany, to the East ..)))
  6. fan1945
    fan1945 29 July 2014 21: 17
    So what are we talking about?