Treaty between the German Empire and the United Kingdom over the colonies and Heligoland

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Parade for the cession of Heligoland to Germany on August 10, 1890
Parade for the cession of Heligoland to Germany on August 10, 1890

The treaty between the German Reich and the United Kingdom on the colonies and Heligoland of July 1, 1890 regulated the relationship between territorial and sovereign claims of the German Empire and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in colonized Africa . Above all, it was about clarifications with regard to the African colonies, but the United Kingdom also transferred the North Sea island of Helgoland to the German Empire.

This German-British agreement is often referred to as the Heligoland-Zanzibar Agreement , which falsely gives the impression that these two islands have been swapped. In fact, Zanzibar was not a German colony, but a free sultanate until the conclusion of the contract.


The imprecise but catchy name of the Helgoland-Sansibar Treaty is widespread and can also be found in historical studies. It goes back to the former Chancellor Otto von Bismarck , who had recently been dismissed by Wilhelm II . Bismarck wanted to devalue the extensive contracts of his successor, Leo von Caprivi . Caprivi was looking for a balance with the United Kingdom.

Bismarck's polemical designation gives the impression that the German Reich exchanged the valuable East African island of Zanzibar for a rock in the North Sea, Heligoland . In fact, in the colonial treaty, the German Reich merely waived the assertion of territorial claims , but never owned Zanzibar.

Meaning of Heligoland

British flag of Heligoland until 1890

The German interest in Heligoland related primarily to the plans at the time to expand German naval power . Heligoland was considered strategically important for a possible control of the mouths of the Weser and Elbe as well as the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal (Kiel Canal) started in 1887 . The blockade of the port of Hamburg by the Danish Navy in 1848, which had a neutral port of call with Heligoland, was not forgotten. Wilhelm II personally expressed interest in acquiring Heligoland in order to strategically secure the building of the fleet . The background, however, was an initially not nationally charged enthusiasm for Heligoland in the early 19th century, which since the founding of the empire turned into the often aggressively put forward demand that Heligoland should become German.

In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the military value was seen as low, as the Germans could have occupied the island in much less time than it would have been possible to bring an auxiliary fleet on the spot. Securing would only have been possible with extremely complex fastenings . The island was little known in England.

Significance for the Heligoland

German soldiers celebrate in front of the former English barracks. Consul Johann Gottlob Bufe (1832–1898), Helgoland brewery owner, does not take part. He is sitting on a lobster basket - in civilian clothes. In 1890, as a representative of the Heligoland, he greeted the emperor at the handover

The interests of the Heligoland were not in the foreground for the negotiating parties. Based on their intelligence information, both sides had to suspect that they did not want to become Germans. The press also wrote about this. In English newspapers that were critical of the treaty, a referendum was called for the islanders. The Heligoland were then granted in Paragraph XII, 4: "The currently existing local laws and customs remain unchanged as far as possible." They did not have to pay taxes until 1918. Conscription was only introduced for those born after 1890 and duty-free was guaranteed until 1910. However, the wording of the rights was so soft ("as far as it is possible") that the introduction of income tax and the abolition of the right to vote only for resident Heligoland after the First World War led to separation efforts, whereby this sentence of the contract text was quoted again and again. The exemption from customs duties has remained to this day, which could have been lifted in 1910, but this was not done for political reasons. In 1914 the Germans deported the Heligoland as sympathizers of the English from the island.

The Germans felt offended by the aversion of their new subjects; the opinion of the Heligoland is only discussed again in the latest literature.

Content of the contract

Assignment of Territories and Claims

In the treaty, the German Reich waived any claims north of German East Africa. This affected Deutsch-Witu , Lamu , areas north of the Tana and on Lake Baringo as well as the Buganda mentioned in the Uganda treaty . This was to achieve a balance with Great Britain. The claims to the entire Somali coast between Buur Gaabo and Aluula were given up, from which the relations with the Triple Alliance partner Italy benefited. In return, German South West Africa was connected to the Zambezi ( Caprivi Strip ). Under these circumstances the German colonial efforts in Southeast Africa failed again : In 1884 a treaty was signed in the name of Lüderitz with the Zulu king Dinuzulu , which was supposed to secure Germany a local claim to the Santa Lucia Bay in Zululand . In the course of a compromise with Great Britain, however, the request was dropped in May 1885. Two attempts at colonization in South African Pondoland , in 1885 and 1889, also failed.


  • Andreas Birken : The Helgoland-Sansibar contract of 1890. In: International yearbook for history and geography lessons. Vol. 15, 1974, ISSN  0074-9834 , pp. 194-204.
  • Heinz Schneppen : The Helgoland-Sansibar Treaty of 1890. In: Ulrich van der Heyden and Joachim Zeller (eds.): Colonialism in this country - A search for traces in Germany. Sutton Verlag, Erfurt 2007, ISBN 978-3-86680-269-8 , pp. 185-189.

See also

Web links

Contract text

Individual evidence

  1. a b The Anglo-German Treaty (Heligoland – Zanzibar Treaty) July 1, 1890 (English translation)
  2. Ulli Kulke: The fairy tale of the Heligoland-Sansibar exchange. In: . June 30, 2015, accessed October 7, 2018 .
  3. See Eckhard Wallmann, Helgoland Eine deutsche Kulturgeschichte, Hamburg 2017
  4. See Jan Rüger: Heligoland. Oxford 2017, p. 87, and Eckhard Wallmann: Helgoland - Eine deutsche Kulturgeschichte, Hamburg 2017, Chapter XIII
  5. ^ Eckhard Wallmann: A colony becomes German. Heligoland between the world wars. Bredstedt 2016 (first edition 2012).
  6. Lamu , in: Heinrich Schnee (Ed.): Deutsches Kolonial-Lexikon , Vol. II, Leipzig 1920, p. 411.
  7. ^ Rochus Schmidt: Germany's colonies . Volume 1, Berlin: Verlag des Verein der Bücherfreunde Schall & Grund, 1898, p. 19. (Reprint by Weltbild Verlag, Augsburg 1998, ISBN 3-8289-0301-0 )
  8. ^ Wilfried Westphal: History of the German colonies . Bindlach: Gondrom, 1991, p. 126ff., ISBN 3-8112-0905-1 .
  9. ^ Horst founder: History of the German colonies . 5th edition, Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn / Munich / Vienna / Zurich 2004, pp. 80f., ISBN 3-8252-1332-3 .
  10. Santa Lucīa , in: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon . Volume 17, Leipzig 1909, p. 587.
  11. Pondoland , in: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon, Volume 16, Leipzig 1908, pp. 145–146.