The First German Colonial Exhibition (1896)

On 1st May 1896 the First Great Berlin Industrial Exhibition opened in southeast Berlin in Treptow Park. Lasting just under six months the exhibition was originally designed to rival previous world exhibitions held in Paris and London, to promote German industry and to demonstrate the increasing global importance of both Germany and its capital city, Berlin. Over the course of the summer the exhibition drew around seven million visitors. One of the exhibition’s key attractions was the First German Colonial Exhibition.

Organised partly by the German Foreign Office and partly backed by private finance the Colonial Exhibition was intended to reignite public interest in the German Empire after years of being affected by mismanagement and public scandals. It featured displays on colonial hygiene and medicine, including recreated administrative buildings, as well as examples of colonial goods such as ivory and cocoa. These led into the Colonial Exhibition’s greatest spectacle: recreated African and Melanesian villages, populated by over 100 individuals from Germany’s overseas empire. The very layout of the areal served to emphasise notions of difference between German visitors and the people on display  and in turn to legitimate the German colonial project.

Robbie Aitken


Source: “Alte Ansichtskarte zur Berliner Gewerbeausstellung 1896 im Treptower Park – Ansicht der Kolonial-Ausstellung,” Deutschland in alten Ansichten (DVD-ROM) (Berlin: Kunstanstalt J. Miesler, 2003).

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