Anna Wolter

The Role of Hanseatic Shipping Companies in German Colonialism 

"City of Colonies" was the proposed title of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen in the time of National Socialism, suggested by the Gauverbandleiter Friedrich Rendemann. In a discussion about colonial affairs in the Bremen town hall on June 24, 1938, the mayor Heinrich Böhmcker referred to this request by adducing several reasons, such as Bremen’s colonial tradition and history, Bremen being the birthplace of colonial thinking and the apprehension of Bremen’s inhabitants concerning the need for colonial undertakings. While these are examples from the German colonial revisionist era, they impressively represent the role of one of the most important port cities in the history of German seafaring. An important cooperation partner for the successful operations by ship was the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. While one of Bremen’s most important achievements was the founding of the Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1857, Hamburg, with the end of the Napoleonic Era, resumed trade and contact to its twin cities and developed new trading possibilities in South America and Africa. After the German-French War and the unification of the German Reich in 1870/71, the idea arose to declare Bremen the "world port in the national service of the new Reich" („Welthafen im nationalen Dienst des neuen Reichs“; Elmshäuser 2007: 80). It was, however, only Hamburg which was granted industrial settlements in the foreign countries, as it - at that time - maintained 279 consulates abroad, of which in turn more than half were overseas. An overview of the most important shipping companies founded in Bremen and Hamburg includes the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt- Actien-Gesellschaft (HAPAG), Hamburg-Süd, the Woermann-Linie, the Deutsche Ostafrika-Linie, and the previously mentioned Norddeutscher Lloyd. The latter successfully managed to implement a route between Bremen and East Asia and dispatched several steamboats carrying German soldiers to overpower the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 (see Klein 2013: 164).
These highlighted aspects of German colonialism represent the most important role of German seafaring as well as the role of two of the Hanseatic Cities, without which the outcome would definitely have been a different one. The aim of the study is to look closer at these aspects, at the motivations of the politicians as well as the traders and founders of the companies. Furthermore, it should be discussed, how the shipping companies enabled the first settlers to undertake their so-called expeditions which led to the colonizing of overseas territories.