Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany and the third largest port in Europe. For centuries, this port was a gateway to the colonial world. It had trade relations with colonial powers and colonies, traded colonial goods and also people. Nowadays, a large part of Hamburg’s economic wealth is based on their colonial heritage.
Windhoek, the capital and largest city of Namibia. From 1884 until 1915, Namibia was a German colony, it was called “German South West Africa” (Deutsch-Südwestafrika).The country finally achieved independence in 1990, after it was captured by South Africa during World War I. Germany's colonial presence still has a major impact on present-day Namibia.
How do these two cities remember their colonial past? To what extent do these places provide historical reappraisal? And do they really remember victims or do they rather glorify exploiters?
We, the group from Hamburg and the group from Windhoek, both began researching and visited colonial sites of remembrance in our cities.
Further on, you will find two videos of our excursions and some pictures of each “colonial mark” with a small text providing background information for each one.
1. St. Michael's Church
Hardly anyone in Hamburg knows that the Church of St. Michaeli – the most famous church building of Hamburg and a very popular tourist attraction for travelers – also houses a controversial memorial regarding the German colonial era.
This board is dedicated to the memory of the citizens of Hamburg who lost their lives "for Kaiser and Reich" in China or Africa around 1900. For example members of the former “Schutztruppen” (colonial troops in the African territories of the German colonial empire) who have “fallen in battle” are honored here. The countless victims among the indigenous people during the German colonial period are not mentioned.
2. Bismarck Monument
Otto von Bismarck was the founder and first chancellor (1871–90) of the German Empire. But he did not only unite the empire and implement social reforms, as textbooks teach us. Despite a long delay, Chancellor Bismarck decided to establish African colonies in 1884. The Congo Conference he arranged was supposed to be about nothing less than the division of Africa. This marked the beginning of the era of German imperialism.
This monument was built from 1901 to 1906 in honor of Bismarck. It was placed so that the figure looks towards the Elbe River to emphasize the importance of global trade. It is protected by law (“Denkmalschutz”) since 1960 and is currently being renovated. Various initiatives have spoken out about Bismack’s colonial policies and therefore argue that his statue should no longer be part of Hamburg's cityscape.
Another controversial figure from the colonial era is the Hamburg overseas merchant and shipowner Adolph Woermann. He was the owner of the trading house family business C. Woermann from 1880 to 1910. It made very profitable business in West Africa under Adolph Woermann – often at the expense of the local population. Woermann played an important role in the African trade because his company was able to offer linked routes around the African continent. German soldiers were also traveling to Africa on Woermann ships – for example, to put down the Herero uprising (https://www.britannica.com/topic/German-Herero-conflict-of-1904-1907) Adolph Woermann utilized his money to establish the "Afrikahaus" in downtown Hamburg.
The company has been headquartered here since 1899 and still exists today. The trading house C. Woermann distributes high-quality technical goods and they advertise themselves with having “many decades of experience in Africa”. They own associated companies in Ghana, Nigeria and Angola and are also active in other African countries.
4. Ernst Brendler store
The traditional Ernst Brendler store near Hamburg's City Hall dates back to the heyday of German colonialism.
Tropical equipment has been for sale here since 1879. Until a few years ago, the tropical clothing store worked together with a tour operator who, according to the Arbeitskreis Hamburg Postkolonial, also offered "pioneer tours to Namibia's indigenous people".
5. Wissmann-Haus and other monuments
Hermann von Wismann was a German explorer who twice crossed the continent of Africa. His explorations led to the establishment of German colonies in East Africa. In German East Africa (Deutsch-Ostafrika), Wissmann acted with great brutality against uprisings from the indigenous people. In 1922 a Wissmann monument was placed in front of the university building in Hamburg for a long time. But over time, the image of Hermann von Wissmann has changed: Once seen as a colonial hero in Germany, since the 1960s many people begin considering him a colonial criminal. In the late 1960s, university students had overthrown the figure from its pedestal several times. Afterwards, the city removed the monument. But Wissmann continues to be present in the cityscape anyway:
On the site of the former Lettow-Vorbeck barracks in Hamburg-Jenfeld, there is still the "Wissmann-Haus”.
This Wissmann portrait and a portrait of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (a general in the former Imperial German Army and the commander of its forces in the German East Africa campaign) also still hang on the facade. Next to the Wissmann-Haus you can find the Trotha-Haus:
Nowadays, a large part of the barrack building is used for housing. There are several new construction projects planned for it as well. But parts of the building – including the parts mentioned above – have been granted monument protection since 1934/35 and therefore they “should be obtained as an entire ensemble”. Since 1950, a street in the district Hamburg-Wandsbek is named “Wißmannstraße” in his honor. In 2013 the district assembly had decided that the street should be renamed. But many residents protested: "We stand by our street name!" Therefore, the street still exists today.
We realize that there are many places in Hamburg that still demonstrate the colonial history of the city but there are no memorials to be found remembering the numerous victims who lost their lives at the hands of German colonists, at least none you get to see on the streets on a daily basis.
However, the MARKK museum in Hamburg supports the appreciation of different cultures and arts of the world and creates spaces for cultural encounter and critical reflection of their past. On their website they write: “[…], the museum intends to establish itself as a reflexive forum that critically examines traces of the colonial heritage, traditional patterns of thinking, and issues of the post-migrant globalized urban society. Today, the focus is no longer on depicting peoples. [...]”
If you are interested about the museum or maybe plan to visit you can find out more on their website: https://markk-hamburg.de/
Written by: Diana Arnhold
Sources: https://www.ndr.de/geschichte/schauplaetze/Kolonialspuren-im-HamburgerStadtbild,kolonialspuren100.html https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hermann-von-Wissmann https://www.c-woermann.de/englisch_de/ https://www.geschichte-abitur.de/quellenmaterial/quellen-deutsches-kaiserreich/bismarck-ueberdie-kolonialpolitik https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/debatte-um-denkmaeler-wie-bismarck-dekolonisieren100.html https://www.a-tour.de/de/jenfelder-au-wohnen-auf-der-ehemaligen-lettow-vorbeck-kaserne/
1. Nama War Memorial
This memorial serves to honor the German soldiers and their allies who died in the 1893-1894 Nama uprising against German colonial domination.
The monument carries the following inscription:
"In memory of the heroes who died in the war against the Witboois tribe in 1893 and 94."
The Christuskirche is the oldest Evangelical Lutheran church in Namibia.
The site was chosen on the top of the hill visible from a long distance and the name (Church of Christ) was chosen to symbolize an idea of peace.
Three stained glass windows (recently renovated) were donated by German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm.
Inside on the church's wall there is a bronze plaque with the names of German soldiers, marines and civilians killed during the Nama and Herero uprisings during the years 1903 to 1907.
The church services are conducted in German at 10.00 on Sundays.
The Christuskirche was proclaimed a National Monument on 29 November 1974.
3. Alte Feste
The oldest surviving building in the city of Windhoek is the "Alte Feste".
Until 1915 it served as the headquarters for the German Schutztruppe and after 1915 it served as the headquarters for the South African troops. Afterwards, as a hostel for the Windhoek High School.
It was declared a National Monument on 9 January 1957.
It now houses the State Museum, where the historic independence collection can be seen, depicting events leading up to the Independence of Namibia.
The memorial statue in front of the Alte Feste was inaugurated on the 20th of March 2014 by former President Dr. Hifikepunye Pohamba. The Genocide Memorial Statue was built in remembrance of the atrocities that were committed by the German troops against the Hereros and Namas in 1904. The broken chains portray freedom from colonization and oppression.
The Reiterdenkmal became Windhoek’s prominent equestrian monument and alleged symbol of German dominance in the region. It came to existence by a public fundraising campaign conducted in Germany and through an artistic competition announced in Berlin. Yet, local authorities and settlers in German Southwest Africa initiated the process. Thus, resources were involved from both the colony and the metropole. Adolf Kürle designed the monument in Berlin, from where it traveled via Hamburg to Swakopmund on the coast of Southwest Africa. Changing from boat to rails, it arrived in Windhoek a few weeks before its inauguration
In 2010 the Reiterdenkmal was placed in front of Alte Feste. It was then removed and placed in storage on Christmas Day in 2013.
5. Curt Von Francois Statue
Curt von François was born in Luxembourg in 1852. From 1891 to 1894 he acted as Landeshauptmann (head of government of a province) in the German colony of South West Africa.
Von François is most known for carrying out the 1893 Hoornkrans Massacre in which mainly women and children were killed.
This bronze statue depicting Von Francois was displayed in the Kaiserstrasse (now renamed Independence Avenue) in the centre of Windhoek in 1965 to mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of colonial Windhoek.
In 2015 Swanu President Usutuaije Maamberua called for the statue to be removed. He said in the National Assembly that the statue was an “an abomination” that should be removed because it celebrated colonial atrocities against Namibians.
Curt Von François Street in Windhoek was renamed Sam Nujoma Avenue in 1993. However, the Von François statue has remained standing in Independence Avenue.
6. Windhoek Station
The first public railway, and the core of the present system, was constructed by the German Colonial government in 1895 by the Damaraland Guano Company for commercial purposes. The 383 kilometers connection between Swakopmund and Windhoek was inaugurated on 19 June 1902.
The German colonial railway was taken over by the Railways of South Africa after World War I and linked into the network of South Africa. After the independence of Namibia, TransNamib took control of the national rail network.
City of Windhoek, The municipality
Janne Lahti (2022) SüdwesterReiter: Fear, Belonging, and Settler Colonial Violence in Namibia, Journal of Genocide Research
If you're further interested in this topic you can watch this documentary about the German colonialism in Namibia: