• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
The German streets that honour murderers and racists
Photo: DPA

The German streets that honour murderers and racists

The Local · 9 Mar 2016, 14:41

Published: 08 Mar 2016 15:03 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Mar 2016 14:41 GMT+01:00

Die Bundesrepublik is often praised for confronting its past - think the Holocaust memorial in central Berlin or the Plaza for Victims of National Socialism in Munich.

But some shameful historical figures have managed to slip through the net.

Berlin Postkolonial is a group that seeks to confront Germany's colonial past, giving tours through city districts that had an especially strong colonial influence and petitioning politicians to change street names across the country.

"Germany has been turning a blind eye to its colonial history for the longest time. Our work is a means of changing the perspective on it and thinking about it critically," Berlin Postkolonial spokesman Christian Kopp told The Local.

We took a look at some of the places around Germany that are perhaps most in need a new identity. 

Wissmannstraße - Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Düsseldorf

Picture of a stamp of Herrmann von Wissmann; Photo: Wikimedia

When sent on a mission through today's Democratic Republic of Congo on orders from the Belgian King Leopold II between 1883 and 1885, Hermann von Wissmann coined his motto "if I can't find a way, I'll make one" - referring to his tendency to gun down anyone who got in his way.

Later under the pretence of ending the slave trade in German East Africa, he imposed control on the territory through a brutal new military technique: Known as "scorched earth,"  the merciless tactic involved burning whole villages that rebelled.

On July 8th 1889, Wissmann and his troops "scorched the earth" of the coastal town of Pangani in modern day Tanzania, leaving 30 dead and 50 wounded within two minutes.

After Wissmann gained control of the area, slavery continued, Kopp says.

Today, street names in 23 German cities, including Berlin and Munich, honour Wissmann, their "Volksheld" (hero of the people).

Dominikstraße - Munich,  Dominikweg - Hamburg

Picture of Hans Dominik, an officer of German imperial troops in Cameroon; Picture: Wikipedia

Hans Dominik (1880-1910) was the "Slayer of Cameroon", Kopp says.

The longest-serving German officer in the protectorate of Cameroon, Dominik was infamous for his cruel warfare such as in the Battle of Adamawa Plateau in the north of the country, where he "burned down whole villages", according to Kopp.

He was also known for collaborating with local Cameroonian auxiliary troops and giving women away as booty for their soldiers.

After suppressing anticolonial resistance Dominik died on a boat back to Germany, aged 40.

Düsseldorf, Petersstraße

Picture of a stamp of Carl Peters; Photo: Wikimedia

Inspired by British expansionist ambitions, Carl Peters founded the Germany East Africa Company in 1885, a chartered colonial organisation, and was the first to acquire territory in today's Tanzania by means of violence and fraud.

He was known as an imperialist megalomaniac and a die-hard racist – after lashing and executing his servant Mabruk and sexually abusing a girl, he was kicked out of the colonial service in disgrace.  

When Tanzanian activist Mboro Mnyaka leads groups through Berlin's "African District" - a neighbourhood named after German former colonies - he recounts how his grandma told him that the man on the moon is no one else but Peters, hanging for his sins.

Celebrated by the Nazis as a colonial hero, Germans honour him with 15 streets all around Germany, including "Petersstraße" in Düsseldorf.

Taku-Fort-Straße - Munich, Takuplatz - Cologne,  Takustraße - Cologne, Berlin

Picture of Takuplatz in Cologne; Photo: Wikipedia

German colonialists didn't just look to Africa for more Lebensraum (living space), but they also branched out towards the East:

After occupying the Chinese bay of Jiaozhou and the port of Qingdao in 1897, three years later the German gunboat "Iltis" under Captain Wilhelm Lans attacked the Chinese site of Taku-Forts.

It was the beginning of colonialist advances by a coalition of Western powers towards Bejing, Kopp explains.

"Commander-in-chief was the German General Alfred von Waldersee, who was sent out by his Kaiser to show no mercy on the Chinese," says Kopp.

Although most citizens aren't aware of this dark chapter of German history, a surprising number of streets commemorate German advancements in the East:

Taku-Fort-Straße in Munich, Takuplatz in Cologne and Takustraße in Berlin and Cologne. Lansstraße in Köln and Berlin, Walderseestraße in Hamburg and Hannover.

Hindenburgstraße - Hamburg, Hindenburgdamm - Berlin

Picture of a Hindenburgstraße-sign in Hamburg; Photo: DPA

Paul von Hindenburg left his traces both in German history books and street names. Born the son of a Prussian aristocrat on October 2nd, 1847, he became field marshal during the First World War and went on to be the second president of the Weimar Republic between 1925 and 1934.

His most fateful decision though was appointing Adolf Hitler Chancellor in 1933 and thereby effectively killing off German democracy for 12 years,

Berlin's district of Steglitz holds on to its "Hindenburgdamm" despite his dodgy track record – Hamburg on the other hand is a step ahead of them:

They renamed at least parts of Hamburg-Nord's Hindenburgstraße to Otto-Wels-Straße – on the 23rd of March 1933 Wels held the last free speech in the Reichstag against the Nazi's empowerment laws (Ermächtigungsgesetze).

Story continues below…

Hamburg, Trotha-Haus

Picture of Lothar von Trotha in former South-West Africa; Photo: Wikipedia

After taking over the command of the German colony South-West Africa (today's Namibia), Lieutnant-General Lothar von Trotha issued the extermination of the Herero people.

In the following years the tribe was almost exterminated, its numbers falling from 80,000 to 15,000.

Trotha's soldiers killed the Herero by shooting and starving them in the desert and enslaving the survivors in concentration camps.

Unlike his fellow criminal colonialists, it's not a German street that commemorates him - but the Trotha-Haus in Hamburg.

Ironically, "it's Bundeswehr (German army) students who walk in and out of the house every day", Kopp remarked.

Residents are attached to the names

"Changing street names and honouring anticolonial resistance fighters from Africa and Asia instead is not so easy", explains Kopp, "often, it is the residents of the particular district that revolt against the name changes. They say they are attached to it or that the names are part of Germany's cultural heritage."

"But we also have to look out for the growing black community in this country. When my friend from Tanzania sees the Petersallee-sign in Berlin, it is just terrible for him. It's kind of like dedicating a street to Goebbels."

Reporting by Max Bringmann and Raphael Warnke

SEE ALSO: 6 ways Donald Trump is nothing like Adolf Hitler

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Telekom warns all users to change passwords after scam
Photo: DPA.

German giant Deutsche Telekom is warning customers to change their passwords after finding that up to 120,000 customers' data was being sold on the black market.

Brexit vote
How Brits can escape to Germany and still feel at home
The store Broken English in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Giving up on the UK post-Brexit? Come to Germany - it's not so different!

German MPs file war crimes suit against Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: DPA

A group of German politicians and public figures have filed a lawsuit against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of committing war crimes against his country's Kurdish minority.

Brexit vote
Merkel: no backroom deals with UK on Brexit
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out on Monday informal talks with the UK on the terms of a Brexit, but said the EU should be patient with London.

Sartorial slip-up leads police to pipe bomb
A sign reading FCK CPS. Photo: Jürgen Telkmann / Flickr Creative Commons.

Police stopped a man because he was wearing a FCK CPS shirt, only to discover he had been making a pipe bomb.

Gay German MP 'violently arrested' at Istanbul demo
Volker Beck and Terry Reintken in Istanbul. Photo: DPA

One of the most prominent members of Germany's Green party has been arrested in Turkey after attending a banned demo at the end of Gay Pride Week.

Man Utd target blasts Germany to win over Slovakia
Julian Draxler (l) celebrates with Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller. Photo: DPA

Germany coach Joachim Löw appears to have found the right formula to get his attack firing at Euro 2016 after Julian Draxler's outstanding contribution in Sunday's 3-0 win over Slovakia.

Germany says 'won't let anyone take Europe from us'
Steinmeier called the European Union “a successful project of peace and stability”. Photo: DPA

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Saturday that the EU would weather the shock of the British vote to leave the union as he convened crisis talks.

Brexit vote
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
A sign in Berlin's tech giant and startup-building company Rocket Internet. Photo: DPA.

London is currently thought of as the main hub for startups in Europe, but that will all turn around when the UK leaves the EU, tech industry experts say.

Brexit vote - Analysis
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
British Leave campaigners celebrate Brexit result. Photo: DPA

Britain leaving the EU means trouble ahead for Germany - and its hardest task will be convincing the Brits to drop a self-defeating ideology, a leading foreign policy expert told The Local.

Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
US expats: Taxes are due June 15th
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sport
How to sound like an expert on German football this summer
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Features
6 reasons Germany's summer is unbeatable for thrill-seekers
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
Society
How pictures of footballers on chocolates made Pegida really mad
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
7,843
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd