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The German Empire existed from 18 January 1871, when many of the German-speaking states of Europe united under Prussian leadership in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, until the defeat of Germany in World War I in 1918. At its height, it had the third largest colonial empire among the European powers, only behind the British and French colonial empires.

Understand[edit]

Since the fall of the Roman Empire, the area that is today Germany had largely been comprised of numerous small kingdoms, principalities and duchies (see Franks and Hanseatic League). However, from A.D. 962-1806, many of the Catholic German-speaking states had formed a loose confederation known as the Holy Roman Empire, with the Holy Roman Emperor for much of its history being the Habsburg monarchs of Austria. The unification of the small German-speaking states into one single German nation-state only began in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars in 1864, and the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871, with the King of Prussia becoming the Kaiser of the German Empire. Austria did not join the German Empire, instead becoming the heart of the separate Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Germany hosted the Berlin Conference from 1884-1885, in which representatives of the United States and the European great powers met to divide Africa among themselves, with Germany obtaining its first overseas colonies in Africa (although some of the individual small German states had made short-lived attempts at colonisation prior to unification). The German colonial empire was to expand even further in the 1890s into Oceania and China, and their African holdings were further extended inland, though this expansionism would bring them into conflict with the French and the British. The German Empire came to an end after Germany's defeat in World War I in 1918, as the victorious Allies forced Germany to give up all its overseas colonies, and much of Germany's European territory was granted independence as new nation-states (in particular Poland) or ceded to neighbouring countries (Alsace-Lorraine to France).

Science and technology[edit]

The German Empire became a world leader in natural sciences, technology and manufacturing, winning many of the Nobel Prizes up to World War II. See also Route der Industriekultur.

Destinations[edit]

Map of German Empire

Europe[edit]

During the days of the German Empire, Germany's borders stretched far beyond its modern-day ones. Most of Germany's former European territories were ceded to neighbouring countries after Germany's defeat in World War I as part of the Treaty of Versailles or after its defeat in World War II.

Belgium[edit]

  • 1 Eupen. The city changed hands several times before becoming part of Prussia in 1815, and eventually part of the German Empire in 1871. It was ceded to Belgium following Germany's defeat in World War I, but the city continues to be majority German-speaking, and is considered to be the heart of the small German-speaking minority in Belgium. Eupen (Q151831) on Wikidata Eupen on Wikipedia

France[edit]

  • 2 Metz. The heart of the Lorraine region, which was ceded by France together with the neighbouring Alsace region in 1871, before being returned to France following Germany's defeat in World War I. The city's Imperial Quarter was built by the Germans during Lorraine's stint as part of Germany, and many buildings from that era still survive to this day. The now-moribund local dialect of French also exhibits a strong German influence. Metz (Q22690) on Wikidata Metz on Wikipedia
Old timber-framed buildings in Strasbourg
  • 3 Strasbourg. The largest city in the Alsace region, seized from France in 1871, and returned to France after Germany's defeat in World War I. However, the architecture in the old town and local cuisine still shows a strong German influence, and a now-moribund dialect of German known as Alsatian remains spoken by some residents of the city. The occasional seat of the European Union. Strasbourg (Q6602) on Wikidata Strasbourg on Wikipedia

Lithuania[edit]

  • 4 Klaipėda (Memel). Formerly part of Prussia and later, the German Empire, it was ceded to Lithuania following Germany's defeat in World War I. However, many German-style timber-framed buildings remain dotted throughout the city. Klaipėda (Q776965) on Wikidata Klaipėda on Wikipedia

Poland[edit]

Waterfront of Gdańsk
  • 5 Gdańsk (Danzig). Polish port city, annexed by Prussia in 1793. When Poland regained its independence following World War I, Danzig became the "Free City of Danzig", nominally independent but in practice under Polish suzerainty, though with an ethnic German majority, until it was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1939. Following Germany's defeat in World War II, the city was returned to Poland, following which it was ethnically cleansed of its German population, who were replaced with ethnic Poles. Gdańsk (Q1792) on Wikidata Gdańsk on Wikipedia
  • 6 Szczecin (Stettin). A Polish port city near the German border, it had for much of history been under the rule of the Dukes of Pomerania, who were initially under Polish suzerainty. It became part of the Swedish Empire in 1630, before being ceded to Prussia in 1720. After the founding of the German Empire, the city grew into a major port, retaining this status in the years between the world wars for the Weimar Republic. After Germany's defeat in World War II, the city was returned to Poland, who proceeded to expel its German population. However, numerous buildings, including two city gates, from its time as part of Prussia and Germany still survive dotted around the old city. Szczecin (Q393) on Wikidata Szczecin on Wikipedia
  • 7 Wrocław (Breslau). The largest city in the Polish region of Lower Silesia. It was annexed to Poland in 1945, following Germany's defeat in Wolrd War II, and ethnically cleansed of its German population. Much of the old town was destroyed during World War II as Soviet troops fought their way towards Berlin, but it was beautifully restored to its former glory after the fall of communism. Wrocław (Q1799) on Wikidata Wrocław on Wikipedia

Russia[edit]

  • 8 Kaliningrad (Königsberg), Kaliningrad Oblast. Original capital of East Prussia, it was annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II, which proceeded to ethnically cleanse the area of its German population and repopulate it with ethnic Russians loyal to Moscow, and renamed the city to its current name. However, seven of the original German city gates survive, while the old German cathedral, with the grave of philosopher Immanuel Kant, has been restored. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad became an exclave of the Russian Federation, separated from the rest of Russia by the Baltic States. Kaliningrad (Q1829) on Wikidata Kaliningrad on Wikipedia

German East Africa[edit]

See also: German East Africa

German East Africa comprised of Rwanda, Burundi, and the mainland part of modern-day Tanzania (then known as Tanganyika), as well as the Kionga Triangle, a small piece of land in modern-day Mozambique. After Germany's defeat in World War I, the colony was split up: Rwanda and Burundi were ceded to Belgium, Tanganyika to the United Kingdom, and the Kionga Triangle to Portugal.

Burundi[edit]

  • 9 Kiganda. The former royal capital of the Kingdom of Burundi, this was where King Mwezi IV surrendered to the Germans in 1903. Commune of Kiganda (Q5154018) on Wikidata Commune of Kiganda on Wikipedia

Rwanda[edit]

  • 10 Kigali. Today the capital of independent Rwanda, it is home to Kandt House Musuem, the former home of Richard Kandt, the first German Resident of Rwanda who made Kigali the administrative centre of Rwanda. The museum is today dedicated to the history of Rwanda, with some exhibits about the German colonial period. Kigali (Q3859) on Wikidata Kigali on Wikipedia

Tanzania[edit]

  • 11 Dar es Salaam. This became the colonial capital in 1890 and was Tanzania's capital until the 1970s. It is also Tanzania's largest city and the mainland's main port. Dar es Salaam (Q1960) on Wikidata Dar es Salaam on Wikipedia
  • 12 Bagamoyo. This was the colony's capital from 1885 to 1890. Today it is just a minor town 70 km north of Dar es Salaam; it is somewhat down-at-the heels, though it does have a lively arts scene and some good beaches. It is also the closest port to Zanzibar. Bagamoyo (Q799843) on Wikidata Bagamoyo on Wikipedia
  • 13 Kigoma. This port on Lake Tanganyika was the main German base in the area; today it is a provincial capital and still an important port. The ship that the Imperial German Navy built to dominate the lake still sails from Kigoma; today it is the ferry MV Liemba. Kigoma (Q244509) on Wikidata Kigoma on Wikipedia

German South West Africa[edit]

What was German South West Africa is today the independent country of Namibia, and was first colonised by Germany in 1884. It was seized by South Africa on behalf of the British in 1915, and subsequently awarded to the United Kingdom as part of the Treaty of Versailles, but with South Africa continuing to administer it on behalf of the British. After South Africa gained self government in 1931, South West Africa would become a colony of South Africa before gaining independence as the Republic of Namibia in 1990.

  • 14 Lüderitz. A town known for its particularly high concentration of German colonial buildings. Lüderitz (Q159325) on Wikidata Lüderitz on Wikipedia
German building in Swakopmund
  • 15 Swakopmund. A beach resort town that still has many preserved German colonial buildings. The Swakopmund Cemetery is home to a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Herero and Namaqua genocide that the German government committed from 1904–08. Swakopmund (Q59698) on Wikidata Swakopmund on Wikipedia
  • 16 Windhoek. The capital of Namibia, the city is still home to an ethnic German community that speaks a local dialect of German. There are three castles in the city that remain as a legacy of German colonial rule. Windhoek (Q3935) on Wikidata Windhoek on Wikipedia

Kamerun[edit]

German colony from 1884-1916. After Germany's defeat in World War I, the colony was split between the United Kingdom and France. The French-controlled part became independent as Cameroon in 1960, while the British-controlled part was split between Nigeria and Cameroon in 1961.

  • 17 Buea. The second capital of German Kamerun, with a German cemetery and the old German post office building remaining as a reminder of that era. Buea (Q312209) on Wikidata Buea on Wikipedia
  • 18 Douala. The largest city in modern-day Cameroon, it was the first capital of the German colony of Kamerun, with several colonial buildings, such as the old German government headquarters and the Palace of the Kings Bell, remaining as a reminder of that era. Douala (Q132830) on Wikidata Douala on Wikipedia

Togoland[edit]

  • 19 Lomé. The modern-day capital of Togo, the Sacred Heart Cathedral is one of the city's most iconic landmarks that was built by the Germans during colonial rule. The Palais de Lomé was originally built as the residence of the German governor, before later becoming the residence of the French governor and briefly, the president of independent Togo. Today, it has been converted into an art gallery and is open to the public. Lomé (Q3792) on Wikidata Lomé on Wikipedia

German New Guinea[edit]

German New Guinea included the northern half of what is today Papua New Guinea, as well as several of the neighbouring islands such as Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Northern Mariana Islands. After Germany's defeat in World War I, the territory was split between the United Kingdom and Japan, with Australia mostly administering the areas that were awarded to Britain. The Japanese controlled-parts would be ceded to the United States following Japan's defeat in World War II.

Papua New Guinea[edit]

  • 20 Kokopo (New Britain (Papua New Guinea)). This was the capital of German New Guinea from 1899-1910, during which it was known as Herbertshöhe. Little remains of the town's German colonial heritage, but the Kokopo War Museum, while primarily dedicated to Japanese military equipment of World War II, has exhibits donated by the German government about the town's German colonial history. Kokopo (Q1017369) on Wikidata Kokopo on Wikipedia
  • 21 Rabaul (New Britain (Papua New Guinea)). This was the capital of German New Guinea from 1910-1914, during which it was known as Simpsonhafen. While little trace remains of its German colonial heritage, the Rabaul Museum, located in the former New Guinea Club, has exhibits about the German colonial period. Rabaul (Q218768) on Wikidata Rabaul on Wikipedia

German Samoa[edit]

  • 22 Apia. Formerly capital of German Samoa, and today the capital of independent Samoa. German Samoa was seized by New Zealand on behalf of the British in 1914 during World War I. Today, not many reminders of the German colonial heritage survive but the Museum of Samoa is housed in a former school that was built under German colonial rule. There is also a memorial on the site where the Germans first raised their flag. Apia (Q36260) on Wikidata Apia on Wikipedia

China[edit]

The famous Tsingtao Brewery
  • 23 Qingdao. Under German colonial rule from 1898 to 1914, the city is still home to numerous German colonial buildings. Another legacy of German colonialism is the local Tsingtao beer, China's most famous beer brand, whose brewery was founded in the city by German settlers in 1903. Beer remains an integral part of the local culture, and a unique local tradition is for beer to be dispensed directly from the keg into plastic bags and drunk with a straw. The city was conquered by Japan at the beginning of World War I, and subsequently awarded to Japan as part of the Treaty of Versailles despite protests from the Chinese government.
  • 24 Tianjin. Much of Tianjin was home to concessions for various Western powers and Japan, with the German concession existing from 1899-1917, when it was seized by Chinese and American forces during the course of World War I. The Americans would proceed to take over the old German military barracks, while the rest of the German concession was returned to China. Today, numerous colonial buildings survive in the former German concessions, including the villas of some prominent Chinese of the time. A number of these villas have been restored and now form part of the luxury Hotel Indigo where you can stay in (if you can afford it).
  • 25 Weifang. The Germans establised a concession in Weifang in 1898. In 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, the Japanese displaced the Germans and turned the area into a Japanese concession. It remained in Japanese hands until the end of World War II. Today the area is a tourist attraction known as Fangtze Eurotown. There are 166 colonial era buildings, including 103 German-built buildings and 63 Japanese-built buildings. Notable buildings include the German-built Fangtze Railway Station, the German Army Hospital and the German Army Headquarters. Weifang (Q217698) on Wikidata Weifang on Wikipedia

Turkey[edit]

In the late 19th century, the German Empire was looking for ways to reach its far-flung colonies without having to negotiate the maritime choke points controlled by the rival British Empire (such as Dover, Gibraltar, and Suez), while the already falling-apart Ottoman Empire wanted to strengthen its influence in its southern provinces with a fixed link. So the two empires found themselves in an alliance over the ambitious idea of a railway to be jointly constructed from Berlin to the Persian Gulf through Constantinople, a project later coined the "Baghdad Railway".

Therefore, despite the fact that no part of the country has ever been a German possession, Turkey has significant Imperial German heritage, mostly related to that railway project. The European part of the rail line came to fame with the Orient Express.

  • 26 Istanbul. Both of the city's main railway stations are German-built, but in strikingly different styles, so the incoming passengers had an idea about the continent they are about to step on: Sirkeci, the European terminal, is one of the most famous examples of European Orientalism, while schloss-like Haydarpaşa, the Asian terminal, is a prime example of German Neoclassicism. Nearby Yeldeğirmeni developed as a German neighbourhood during the construction of Haydarpaşa; many historic apartment buildings still adorn the area. In Sultanahmet Square on the other side of the city is the German Fountain, built in Neo-Byzantine style to commemorate one of the visits of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Sultan Abdülhamit II, while the former was bidding for the latter's support to the Baghdad Railway project. Istanbul (Q406) on Wikidata Istanbul on Wikipedia
  • 27 Hereke. In 1884, a prefabricated wooden mansion was constructed in Istanbul in three weeks, then transported here and assembled on site along the waterfront in a single day, just in time to accommodate Wilhelm II during his visit to the nearby imperial carpet factory. Hereke (Q5738119) on Wikidata Hereke on Wikipedia
  • 28 Konya. The "German houses" (Alman Evleri) are a row of several identical buildings near the station. They have a distinctive architecture with pointed roofs and were built to house the railway staff. As of 2022, they are undergoing a renovation and are planned to be opened to public as a museum or a cultural centre. Contemporary and beautiful Baghdad Hotel, built for the passengers of the rail line as its name suggests, is in the vicinity, and has served as a guesthouse for the official visitors to the Turkish State Railways since 1980. Konya (Q79857) on Wikidata Konya on Wikipedia
  • 29 Beyşehir (Lakes District). As the construction of the rail line progressed across the Konya plateau, its engineers also explored the possibility to irrigate the area, perhaps with an eye towards diversifying the freight potential of the line. The most impressive piece of this side project — the earliest large-scale irrigation to be implemented in Anatolia — is the Taş Köprü ("Stone Bridge"), a combined regulator dam and pedestrian bridge built in 1908–14 and forwarded the waters of Lake Beyşehir to the arid steppes in the east. Beyşehir (Q127389) on Wikidata Beyşehir on Wikipedia
  • 30 Çumra (Central Anatolia). This is where the eastern outlet of the main irrigation canal was, and has various infrastructure remained from that project as well as its own set of "German houses", more elegant and elaborate than those in Konya, in the leafy grounds of the State Hydraulic Works (Devlet Su İşleri) local headquarters. Çumra (Q1922408) on Wikidata Çumra on Wikipedia
  • 31 Varda Viaduct (near Karaisalı). An arched structure over a deep ravine of the seemingly impregnable Taurus Mountains, this is the jewel in the crown of the Baghdad Railway. The locals call it the "German Bridge". Varda Viaduct (Q1522793) on Wikidata Varda Viaduct on Wikipedia
  • 32 Belemedik (near Pozantı). This is the ruins of a German village founded to shelter the construction workers of the Taurus section of the railway project. Tens of Germans died of natural causes during those years, so there is also a German cemetery. Belemedik (Q815385) on Wikidata Belemedik on Wikipedia
  • 33 Adana. Built in 1912 in conjunction with the rail project, the city's train station is the most monumental station building along the Baghdad Railway east of Istanbul, perhaps except that of Aleppo in what is now Syria which shares a similar design. Adana (Q38545) on Wikidata Adana on Wikipedia

See[edit]

  • 1 National Museum of Tanzania (Dar es Salaam). This museum has exhibits on all of Tanzanian history, including the German period and the campaign in East Africa during the First World War. National Museum of Tanzania (Q1960827) on Wikidata National Museum of Tanzania on Wikipedia
  • MV Liemba. This ship was built for the Imperial German Navy before the war, intended to dominate Lake Tanganyika. Perhaps surprisingly, it is still in service today, but as a ferry rather than a warship.
  • 2 Tsingtao Brewery Museum (青岛啤酒博物馆; Qīngdǎo Píjiǔbówùguǎn) (Qingdao, China). A museum at the brewery of China's most famous beer brand, which was originally founded by German settlers.
  • 3 Swakopmund Cemetery (Swakopmund). Home to a memorial stone dedicated to the victims of the Herero and Namaqua genocide who had perished in concentration camps in the region.
  • 4 Traité de Kiganda (Kiganda). The site where King Mwezi Gisabo of Burundi surrendered to the Germans

See also[edit]

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