Detlev Quintern

Beyond the Sea: Hinterlands, the Commercial Rise of Bremen and the Musealization of Maritime Trade 

As a consequence of the famine in 1817 in mainly southern parts of German lands — caused by an interplay of the chaos of war, crop failure, and the increase of wheat prices — first emigration flows towards North America began. Bremen became a center for the growing emigration business in the 19th Century. While salty waters carried German emigrants to Northern American lands, the sailing ships were, after having loaden off the human fright, reloaded with return cargo. While historical sources bearing witness to trading enslaved Africans directly are rare, reaping the profits of their final products (staple goods) became a pillar of Bremen’s commercial rise.

Staple goods, first cotton from the southern plantation belt, rice from the Mississippi Delta and soon tobacco from Cuba or coffee from Brasil. Bremen became a trading center mainly for cotton, while cigars were also manufactured in cottage industries, rice sometimes milled and more and more coffee roasted. Often shipping, emigration, and maritime trade business merged under the roof of big family-owned companies.

The trade, craft, industrial and colonial exhibition in 1890, covering large parts of Bremen’s park areas, had the so-called staple and colonial goods at its focus, representing the fast commercial rise of Bremen. Not surprisingly, nor was forced labor on the slavery-based plantations nor the local job-work exploitation being made a subject for memorization. The downsides of Bremen’s maritime trade were faded out throughout the museological representations in the following 20th Century.

I will trace back and critically discuss museum representations of Bremen’s maritime trade, following thereby theories of entangled, global and universal history and postcolonial museologies. The main challenge for decolonial maritime history is the visualization of the transoceanic social web reaching into the hinterlands of port cities. Critical museologies will be discussed, asking for decolonial paths of memorization which will not have collections, things, and objects but eco-social-human relations at its focus.