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Tim Opitz: The Order that came from the Colonies. Soldiers in Berlin and Hamburg 1919

After the First World War Germany was a country both in the physical state of emergency and in the psychological state of exception: Nearly all products of daily needs were hard to get, violence in the streets was common, the institutions of public life only ran on a rudimentary basis; at the same time the old Kaiserreich, the state itself, was gone and the country as a whole was searching for a new identity and a stable future. All of this was even worse in the big cities of Germany, first and foremost Berlin, where civil war like circumstances remained day-to-day business until deep into 1920. In this – for all right-wingers, revisionists, nationalists, conservatives, just to mention some groups – dark hour new inspiring visions for the nation were needed. On the way to establish a new order one surprising suggestion was to take a look at the remains of the colonies.

This is the general setting the presentation wants to address through highlighting two incidents of post-1918 colonial activity in German cities. First I want to take a look at a group of soldiers from East Africa, led by the war-hero Lettow Vorbeck, and their cheerful reception to Berlin in a victory parade in March 1919. Second I follow the traces of Lettow-Vorbeck to Hamburg where he one of the notorious Freikorps and ended a workers uprising in June 1919. The presentation will explore the various ideas that were projected on the colonial soldiers, as there were victory, order, a revitalised hope for greatness and empire, and them being exotic heroes. Through employing the concepts of the states of exception and emergency the presentation seeks to intertwine the histories of German (post-) colonialism, revisionism, and the Freikorps and shed a different light on early years of post World War One Germany.

About the Author

DFG Fellow, Transatlantic Graduate Research Program Berlin – New York, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University Berlin/Free University Berlin.

From 2000 to 2006 I studied History, New German Literature and Politics at Free University Berlin and University of Sussex at Brighton. Since 2008 I am member of the Transatlantic Graduate Research Program and work on a dissertation (working-)titled “Representation of Imperial Desires in Berlin and New York. 1873-1931”. In it the main focus lies on the urban manifestations of the various entanglements of the nation state and the globe – that are most often structured through images and realities of power. My general interests are modern German history (mainly the Kaiserreich), colonial history and urban history.

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