Hamburg Colonial Institute

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The Hamburg Colonial Institute was the first state university in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg . It opened on October 20, 1908. From the beginning, the institute had more tasks than its historical name suggests. When it was founded in 1908, the vision of a public university was behind it . After the First World War , part of the University of Hamburg emerged from the scientific institutes of the Colonial Institute and its lecture building, which was completed in 1911 .


Cooking course at the Colonial Institute in 1921 under the direction of Prof. Fülleborn
Seal mark Hamburg Colonial Institute

Since the 1820s, Hamburg had been considering founding its own university. This idea was not politically feasible during the 19th century, but it continued to have an effect. One of the advocates for the establishment of a university around 1900 was Werner von Melle , who was then head of the Hamburg high school authority , and later First Mayor . However, his intention was opposed to reservations about the needs and costs of a university in the commercial port city of Hamburg.

Designations such as "Lion River" and "Elephant River" on a map in the treatises of the Colonial Institute from 1915 are intended to convey an attractive picture of German South West Africa .

At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a growing interest in Hamburg in general lectures aimed at imparting knowledge to the educated adult population of Hamburg. The Hamburg Scientific Foundation was established in 1907 to promote this . From the interest income from the donated foundation capital - four million marks - additional professors and lecturers positions for general lectures, as well as exhibitions, research trips and scientific publications were to be financed.

At that time, Senator von Melle learned of plans by the Berlin Reich Colonial Office to establish a new chair to improve the training of personnel for the German colonies of the time . In order to be able to settle this professorial position for colonial sciences, combined with funds from the Reich Treasury, in Hamburg, von Melle developed a concept together with Hamburg scholars. The Berlin project was to be bundled with the Hamburg plans. By creating an academic institute, new professorships should also broaden the basis for general lectures in Hamburg.

The Hamburg concept of expanding existing facilities in the city into a colonial institute convinced the head of the Reich Colonial Office , Bernhard Dernburg . He expected that merchants would also take part in the courses at Überseehandelsplatz Hamburg. Dernburg campaigned for Hamburg in the Berlin Reichstag . After further negotiations, also with the involvement of the Reichsmarinamt , a corresponding agreement was concluded on January 21, 1908. The Senate and the Hamburg citizenship then founded the institute by law of April 6, 1908.

A donation from the businessman Edmund Siemers enabled the construction of a building for general lectures on a plot of land on the Moorweide between the Wilhelm-Gymnasium (today: the old building of the State Library ) and the Dammtor train station . Designed in 1908, the plans for the construction, extensions, lectures and inclusion of the colonial institute were revised. It was ready for occupancy in 1911 and handed over on May 13, 1911.

Research and Teaching

Taught at the Colonial Institute from 1908 to 1913: the Islamic scholar and later Prussian minister of culture, Carl Heinrich Becker

Only at the beginning were the lessons limited, geared towards the needs of a job in the German colonies in Africa , Asia and Oceania . Soon after its foundation, the content of the colonial institute continued to develop, initially to a general institute for foreign studies. This expansion continued; it was accompanied by an increase in the number of full professors and institutes. In the beginning there were only twelve professors, but in 1914 the teaching staff already consisted of 23 professors and 63 lecturers: for ethnology , history, German linguistics, English language and culture, Romance languages ​​and culture, languages ​​and history of East Asia, languages ​​and history of the Orient , African languages, physics, language and culture of Japan, history and culture of India, history and culture of Russia, geography, geology, mineralogy , astronomy, zoology, general botany, applied botany, tropical medicine , economics, public law, philosophy.

The lessons were held in the form of a university, divided into lectures, practical courses and training seminars. The audience, however, was and remained not very numerous. When it was founded in the winter semester of 1908/09, there were 56 registered students; when the war began in 1914, there were 109 students who followed a two-semester curriculum to prepare for colonial tasks. The colonial officials sent from Berlin and the expected Hamburg merchants came only in small numbers (up to 20 people from Berlin per year; merchants hardly at all). Foreign students hardly followed either, since visiting semesters at the Colonial Institute were only recognized by a few universities. The number of listeners thus fell short of the planners' expectations. In contrast, the number of interns who attended individual lectures for the purpose of personal training was up to three times greater in all years.

To support teaching in the Colonial Institute, a central collection point for documents and information from the German colonies and their scientific processing was set up from 1908. This central office of the institute soon expanded its collection and information activities to include the entire world economy.

The Colonial Institute published the series of publications by the Hamburg Colonial Institute.


With the First World War , Germany ended as a colonial power for a short time , which began in 1884. With this, the Hamburg Colonial Institute lost one of its tasks, but most importantly the purpose was omitted in its name. The scientific institutes and their academic tasks continued to exist. From 1919 various parts of the University of Hamburg emerged from them, including today's Asia-Africa Institute . The former central office became an archive and library on the world economy, which from 1945 was continued outside the university as the Hamburg World Economic Archive , before being incorporated into the German Central Library for Economic Sciences (ZBW) on January 1, 2007 .

On the night of October 31 to November 1, 1968, students at the University of Hamburg fell two monuments in front of the main building of the university, those of the two colonial officers Hermann von Wissmann (1853–1905) and Hans Dominik (1870–1910).


  • Georg Thilenius : Hamburg Colonial Institute . In: Deutsches Kolonial-Lexikon , Volume 2, 1920, p. 12 [1]
  • General Student Committee (ASTA) at the University of Hamburg: The permanent colonial institute. 50 years of Hamburg University . Scherberth, Trittau 1969.
  • Ludwig Paul (Ed.): From the Colonial Institute to the Asia-Africa Institute. 100 Years of Asian and African Studies in Hamburg (= German East Asian Studies 2), East Asia Publishing House , Gossenberg 2003, ISBN 9783940527110
  • Johanna E. Becker: The establishment of the German Colonial Institute in Hamburg. On the history of the Hamburg University . Hamburg 2005 ( PDF ).
  • Jens Ruppenthal: Colonialism as Science and Technology. The Hamburg Colonial Institute 1908 to 1919 (= Historische Mitteilungen Beihefte 66), Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 9783515090049
  • Jens Ruppenthal: The Hamburg Colonial Institute as a hidden place of memory, in: Ulrich van der Heyden and Joachim Zeller (eds.): Colonialism here in Germany - A search for traces in Germany. Sutton Verlag, Erfurt 2007, ISBN 978-3-86680-269-8 , pp. 161-165.

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