chapter  10
The German Variation: A Sketch of Colonial Städtebau in Africa, 1884–1919
ByPatrick C. Hege
Pages 15

Obschon wir uns anfangs zum Teil an englische Vorbilder anlehnten, sind wir in der Verwaltung doch bald eigene Wege gegangen.2


By the end of the nineteenth century, the emerging discipline and institution of urban planning, or modern Städtebau, was not only heavily influenced by the Germans, it became internationally recognized as a – if not the – model for European emulation (Ladd, 1990; Ward, 2010). With the radical industrialization in imperial German cities, surpassing the British in industrial production by 1900,3 civic authorities and strong municipal governments became the source of admiration for their ability to team up with movements and exigencies in modern public health and social reform, creating urban spaces which were low in density, well-lit, organized, and, above all, clean and hygienic. But this was in Europe. Making a case about the central role Imperial Germany played in developing what we currently understand as modern urban planning is an easy one to make. However, when we consider the global implications of this urban explosion, it becomes equally important that we trace the story of German planning at the apogee of empire building. German colonial urban planning in Africa has received little attention in the planning history of twentieth-century Africa. And for good reason – the German colonial presence in Africa was comparatively short-lived (ca. 1884-1919). Historians of colonialism have traditionally assumed the Germans had a very limited impact on African societies (and in their colonies in Kiaotchow, China and in the South Sea), and that their building craze did not have long-lasting legacies under the subsequent British and French mandates. Recent research (Eckert, 1999;

Kironde, 2007; Brennan, 2012), however, has demonstrated that the German presence in Africa certainly mattered and their French and British colonial successors largely implemented German urban schemes well into the 1930s and 40s. Paralleling the drastic developments of rapid German industrialization (ca. 1880-1900) was the equally expeditious task of building colonial cities, which could generate and network global empire within a very short timetable. Indeed, colonial settings in German Cameroon, Southwest Africa (Namibia), Togo, and East Africa (Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda), offered German bureaucrats and official architects a dream situation of planning from scratch – or so they thought. And while it has become commonplace (Bissell, 2011; Brennan, 2012) to dismiss the agency of colonial planners, such critics are right to lament the ambiguities of planning as a category of practice and analysis (Cooper, 2005). Neglecting the role of the colonial state as architect, however, runs the risk of obscuring colonial multiplicity and their consequences on modern African societies. Since Franz Fanon’s powerful critique of French Algiers (1961), the Manichean view of colonialism has largely persisted: racial dualism with Europeans enforcing urban distance from the “other side” of the colonial city. Yet binary characterizations of European colonialism have rightly come under attack in recent years – as colonial identities, power-relations, and social-space were rarely if ever definite or finished colonial projects (Cooper, 2005). Nonetheless, both Partha Chatterjee (1993) and George Steinmetz (2007) have made convincing arguments about the dual structure of European colonialism. European colonialism was based upon the legal inequality between Europeans and so-called natives. As such, the legitimacy of European hegemony rested on, as Steinmetz puts it, an ever-present rule of difference. It was the defining characteristic of modern colonialism, which erected barriers and materialized “the assumption of essential difference and incorrigible inferiority of the subject population” (2007, p. 36). This legalized inequality, or legal dualism, required constant maintenance, as assimilation signified an existential threat not only to modern colonial states, but also to the entire discursive and material forces of colonialism (Chatterjee, 1993). According to leading scholars of German colonialism (Gründer, 2004; Conrad, 2008), a diverse and inchoate mixture of German colonial practices, nonetheless, adhered to this common denominator of European colonial practice, often vacillating between standard conceptions of French and British colonial policies. Despite this broad pattern of European colonialism, this chapter builds upon the thesis of variation and diversity of German colonialism (Steinmetz, 2007; Schnoor, 2013) in order to facilitate comparative inquiry among German colonial cities, and in the future, to those of the British, French, Belgians, Portuguese, and Italians. With a specific focus on colonial urban space and racial segregation, we may open new lines of inquiry into other dimensions of colonial urban design, architecture, and building projects such as infrastructure, port expansion, and so on. While the pattern in the diversity relates to global scales, it should not be forgotten that individual planners encountered unique situations at the local levels. Often in contradiction to ill-informed empire-wide agendas, colonial planners

were confronted with complex local realities, and entangled in unique political situations. This chapter operates from the assumption that variations in German practices were largely products of pre-existing African urbanisms, everyday political negotiation, as well as large-scale conflicts such as the Maji Maji rebellion in East Africa, Herero resistance in Namibia, or the Boxer Rebellion in Shandong, China.4