German Colonialism in Africa: The Forgotten Genocide with Dr. Finn Ballard

German Colonialism in Africa: The Forgotten Genocide with Dr. Finn Ballard


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In the Berlin neighborhood of Wedding, you might find yourself strolling through the ‘African Quarter,’ along streets named for various nations - Ghanastrasse, Togostrasse - but also over squares dedicated to ‘eugenicists’ and colonialist ‘explorers’ such as Adolf Lüderitz and Hans Nachtigal: names long-forgotten by many in Europe, but acutely remembered in Africa. In 1884, at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin’s city center, Otto von Bismarck opened the meeting which would define the ‘Scramble for Africa:’ the so-called ‘Congo Conference.’ The representatives of nine nations divided the African continent amongst themselves: Germany pledged to establish six colonies dotted from East to West, in modern-day Namibia, Tanzania, Nigeria, and beyond.

During this conversation, we will investigate the history of the first genocide Germany perpetrated - involving the first concentration camps the nation ever established: the mass murder of the Herero and Nama people. We will discuss resistance from African leaders such as the Cameroonian King, Rudolf Duala Manga Bell, and Namaqua chief Hendrik Witbooi. We will also discuss the phenomenon of the ‘Völkerschau’ or ‘human zoo’ in Germany (and beyond) and the remarkable tale of Martin Dibobe from Cameroon, a train driver and political activist in Berlin. And we will investigate a connection rather overlooked at the Nuremberg Trials: the ramifications of an education imbued with concepts of imperialism and ‘eugenics’ for the generation which followed the imperialists–that of the National Socialists.

Finally, we will examine critically the long-standing failure to acknowledge, let alone compensate for, this brutal past - a reluctance cast in sharp contrast to the culture of memory surrounding the victims of the second genocide perpetrated by Germany. At last, in 2021, Germany has pledged to pay reparations - and to return not just artifacts, but human remains–to its former colonies. And Berlin has promised to rename the streets of the ‘African Quarter.’

Led by an expert on 20th-century German history, Dr. Finn Ballard, our conversation will illuminate a chapter of history that has long remained murky. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of Germany’s colonial ‘enterprise’ and those who resisted it. 

To learn more about German History with Context, please click here. 

Finn grew up in Northern Ireland before moving to England to study and later teach in the department of Film and Literature at the University of Warwick. He completed his doctoral study on German folklore and popular cinema in 2012, and has published extensively in the fields of Film Studies and Gender Studies. Since 2008, he has been living and guiding in Berlin. He now works as a historical advisor for television and film productions set in Berlin, particularly during the Weimar era or Third Reich. He is a journalist for the 'Siegessauele', Europe's foremost Queer magazine, and organises events at Berlin's English-language bookstore 'Another Country'.

Not suitable for children under age 13 (sensitive content).

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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