Four major regions of Sub-Saharan Africa had been colonized by Germany. They are today’s Tanzania, Namibia, Togo, and Cameroon.
Tanzania was acquired via the efforts of Dr. Carl Peters of the German Colonization Society from 1884 to 1885. Promising protectorate status to the various tribes inhabiting its territory, Peters rapidly accomplished the subordination of the realm to Kaiser Wilhelm I.
Namibia was purchased by Germany shortly after the 1884 Berlin Conference. Its de facto occupation began in 1889, when 25 German troops in tourist garb, under the leadership of Major Curt of Francois, crossed through British territory near the port of Walvis Bay and occupied the colonial capital of Winterhoek (Windhoek).
The first German involvement in Togo occurred in 1884, when Dr. Gustav Nachtigal, a representative of Chancellor Bismarck, signed a protection contract (similar to those undertaken by Peters in Tanzania) with King Mlapa of Togo City. In 1888 Curt of Francois conducted an exploratory journey into the interior, and a permanent research station was founded at Bismarck Castle by Dr. Wolf. In 1891, Germany assumed direct control over Togo.
Cameroon was acquired by Dr. Nachtigal in 1884 via protection contracts with coastal peoples. The remainder of Cameroon was gradually assimilated via expeditions into the southern reaches by Captain Kund in 1887 and Captain Morgen in 1890. In 1898, rich rubber deposits were discovered in southeast Cameroon, and the area became an economic powerhouse.
Major conflicts with natives flared up in Tanzania from 1891 to 1898, when Chief Mkwawa of the Hehe systematically raided German settlements, protectorates, as well as columns of German troops. In 1898, realizing the futility of his struggle, Mkwawa shot himself over a fire.
The Maji Maji Rebellion in 1907 was sparked by natives believing that drinking a sacred water rendered them immune to bullets. They suffered devastating losses at the hands of German artillery.
In Namibia, German forces were considerably crueler to the Herero natives. In 1904, enraged by almost haphazard killing of their people at the hands of settlers, the Hereros erupted in war. They were defeated by the forces of General Lothar von Trotha at the Battle of Hamakari on August 11, 1904, and were pursued through stretches of barren desert until all but 6000 of a population of 50000 perished of starvation or skirmishes. This is widely considered to be the first twentieth-century genocide.
All German possessions in Africa were confiscated by a superior Allied military presence from 1914 to 1918.
German Language and Architecture in the Former German Colonies of Sub-Saharan Africa
Although Germany lost possession of its African colonies in 1918, traces of the German language and architecture remain there to this day. A visit to Namibia, Togo, and Tanzania especially will reveal numerous aspects of German culture, legacies of the colonial era.
German is widely spoken in Namibia, although it is not an official language. Namibia also maintains one of the only German-language newspapers in Africa.
All Germans were expelled from Tanzania in 1918 by a decree of the League of Nations. In 1925, many were allowed to return and rebuild their livelihoods. Today, under 2% of Tanzanians are Europeans (many of them Germans) who largely inhabit the urban centers
The Church of Christ in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, was designed by the architect Gottlieb Redecker and constructed in 1907. Its Neo-Romanesque design is almost unique on the entire continent, and within it is contained a valuable replica of Reuben’s’ “Resurrection of the Lazarus.” The original painting had been destroyed in Berlin in 1945.
Other German monuments remain in the former African colonies today. The “Old Fort” in Windhoek is the oldest building in the entire city. It was constructed in 1890 by Curt of Francois and the 32 men under his command and for some time served as a barracks the headquarters of the German occupation in Namibia. Today it is the country’s National Museum.
The Windhoek Railway Station was built in 1912 and is still in use. It is ideal in representing German colonial architecture, and displays in front a locomotive, the Illing, which had traversed a total of 271,000 miles between Swakopmund and Otavi from 1904 to 1939.
Heinitzburg Castle in Windhoek was formerly a lavish private residence constructed for the Count of Schwerin in 1914 by the architect W. Sander. Today it is a prestigious private restaurant.
Of course, no visit to Namibia is complete without visiting the statue of the man who almost single-handedly colonized the country, Major Curt of Francois.
Lome, the capital of Togo, contains a governor’s palace, which was completed in 1898, displaying an adaptation of German aesthetic tastes to the extremes of tropical climate. This building displays many of the simple angular features of indigenous African architecture.
Although the German colonial presence in Africa has been non-existent for the past 89 years, the language and architecture of Germany that remains in Namibia, Togo, and Tanzania serve as reminders of these countries’ past.