What are the politics of colonial memory in Germany?

In a recently published essay collection (so far only in German), historians Horst Gründer and Hermann Hiery, seek to provide a response to these questions. German colonialism remains a tremendously under-researched field, and receives even less attention in German societal discourse or within the German education system. Given German history, the importance of grappling with a difficult past (in German “Aufarbeitung”) is recognized, and there is considerable awareness about the dangers of nationalist conceptions of “past.” Yet, the failure to face Germany’s relatively short-lived, but yet brutal, colonial history, and the politics of its memorialization continue to haunt Germany in the present. Germany’s colonial empire in Africa from roughly 1884-1919 is known to include German East Africa, including Tanganyika, Burundi, Rwanda, Witu (part of present-day Kenya), as well as parts of present-day Tanzania and Mozambique; German South West Africa (Namibia, and parts of present-day Botswana); and German West Africa (Cameroon and Togo). The legacy of “German empire” can, however, be traced back earlier to Prussia.nGründer and Hiery’s work sheds light onto the long “journey” to German colonialism. Historian Ulrich van der Hayen outlines Prussia’s initial imperial ambitions, and how they were subsequently memorialized and strategically deployed. Prussia’s then emperor Friedrich Wilhelm (1620-88) and a range of Dutch merchant interests, forcefully co-opted local leaders in what is now Ghana to establish the colony of ‘Groß Friedrichsburg’ (also known as ‘Brandenburg Gold Coast’). Subsequently, the ‘Brandenburg-Afrikanische Kompanie’, mirroring the Dutch East India Company, was set up in order to merge commercial, geopolitical, and imperial interests. Though ‘Großfriedrichsburg’ was eventually “sold” to the Dutch in 1721 (having only been “acquired” in 1683), both the interest groups behind the renewed colonial enthusiasm of the 1870s-1880s, and the Third Reich, which named Friedrich Wilhelm the “creator” of the first German empire, deployed a romanticized narrative of Friedrich Wilhelm and ‘Großfriedrichsburg’ in order to (re-) legitimize imperialism within German society. Winfrid Baumgart’s contribution on the motivations of Germany’s renewed colonial ambitions in the late 19th century focuses on Bismarck, who famously stated that his “map of Africa was in Europe.” It argues that Bismarck’s personal motivations for supporting German colonialism and the hosting of notorious “Berlin conference” (1884-85), were not so much motivated by commercial or civilizational interests, but rather, driven by his disdain for the British Gladstone administration, and domestic political rivalries in the context of Bismarck’s uncertain political future in Germany after Wilhelm I.nDespite these contributions, the book falls short of critically examining the legacy of German colonialism. The six chapters dealing with “every-day colonial life” normalize extraction and violence by framing it in purely functional terms, and one can clearly depict an overcompensating strand throughout the book, which seeks to underline themes beyond “resistance and violence” instead of situating the “every-day” within the context of dominance and exploitation.nArticle Link: https://africasacountry.com/2018/03/what-are-the-politics-of-colonial-memory-in-germany


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