A small train station with classical facade decoration, two gentlemen chatting on the track and in the background a mountain summit. An idyll like that of the German-Alpine province – if it were not for the peculiar form of the trees and the desert sand in the foreground. The color photograph shows the train station Ababis in German Southwest Africa, today's Namibia. What looks so harmlessly familiar is actually part of a large propaganda work intended to justify the possession of German colonies.
Jens Jäger, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cologne, is researching with the support of the Gerda Henkel Foundation on "Colonial Propaganda in Color". So far, researchers have primarily examined text sources and hardly any image sources, and these played a major role in the spread of the colonial idea.
On the way for the work "The German Colonies"
The German colonies were extremely unpopular despite higher salary payments as a settlement area. The tropical diseases certainly contributed to this. In addition, the rebellions of the Herero and Nama in German Southwest Africa (now Nambia) from 1904 to 1907 and the Maji Maji uprising of 1905-1908 in German East Africa (now Tanzania) against the brutal despotism of the Germans the reputation of Colonies were not exactly conducive. The foreign press reported on these events in the German colonies.
To strengthen the awareness that these colonies belonged to the German Reich and thus to the "German homeland", something had to be done. Helpful was a brilliant invention, which allowed to print color photos in excellent quality with the help of three negatives directly. Adolf Miethe, Professor of Photochemistry at the Royal Institute of Technology Charlottenburg (today TU Berlin) published this "Miethesche Dreifarbenverfahren" in 1902.
With his invention Miethe could also organize slideshows that fascinated the audience. "Miethe was an ingenious PR man, he introduced the Kaiser to his invention and so three photographers were selected from this environment, who traveled and photographed all areas for the work, The German Colonies," says Jäger.
In search of originals, Jäger found in the Federal Archives a file that gave him information about the photographer Robert Lohmeyer (1879-1959), one of the three photographers of the Propaganda Works. His son Wolfgang was a child star at silent film times and had written his memoirs. So Jäger finally came across the grandson, who still has many handwritten notes kept by his grandfather, which give insight into the functioning of Lohmeyer. Lohmeyer had studied chemistry at the Royal Technical College Charlottenburg from 1902 to 1907 and therefore knew Miethe. In turn, he had commissioned a special camera from Berlin carpenter Bernpohl, which was built according to Miethe's ideas and needs.
With special cameras and First Class tickets
With this Bernpohl camera Lohmeyer and Bruno Marquardt (1878-1916), who had studied painting in Berlin, Dresden and Königsberg, and Eduard Kiewning (1843-1912 / 13 or 1915), who also worked as a photochemist in Rixdorf, from the International Weltverlag (Berlin) sent on trips. Equipped with the special cameras, special records and first class tickets as well as lavish daily allowances and cover letters, the three made their way to the German colonies. According to research by Jäger her trips cost about 10 000 Reichsmark, a considerable sum.
Lohmeyer traveled from 1907 to 1908 to Togo and Cameroon and in 1909 on behalf of the publisher Weller & Hüttich to German Southwest Africa and German East Africa. Marquardt traveled 1908 the Pacific colonies new Guinea and Bismarckarchipel, Samoa, further islands in the Pacific and finally Kiautschou in China. Kiewning was sent in 1907 also for half a year to German Southwest Africa.
Previously, the passengers of the ocean liner were still announced in the newspapers. This made it easier for the Cologne historian to document the itineraries of the three photographers, who proved to be extremely hard-drinking on their travels, and not just because alcoholic beverages were cleaner than local drinking water.
The job of the photographers was to photograph the colonial buildings and the infrastructure. The landscapes should be captured with a European view, palm trees and deserts were allowed to occur, but it should not be too exotic, the exotic had to be fenced again. "Things had to seem familiar to the local audience," says Jäger. For example, Lohmeyer noted in the description of the Governor's Palace of Lomé that the building crowned a sphere like the Tietz department store in Berlin.
The photos were anonymous, although the names of the photographers were known. "The photos should speak for themselves and not be seen as the expression of an artist," says Jäger. He could assign the pictures based on the travel routes.
A punch of jungle fruits and Mosel wine
The most famous of the three photographers is Robert Lohmeyer. Hunter outlines him as a patriot with Berlin snout, who found the colonial policy good and right, although quite "tolerant", but had not been good to talk to Catholics and was also the view that the whites are superior to all others. "Lohmeyer was a typical representative of the Protestant national educational middle class," says Jäger. He can tell quaint anecdotes. For example, in the Cameroon jungle with Mosel wine and sparkling wine, a punch with local fruits was added. Marquardt started studying painting in 1898 after his father's death, as seen in his photographs, especially his portraits of indigenous people.
The three photographers were productive, their best photos were published in the two-volume work "The German Colonies", which cost then the astronomical sum of 220 Reichsmark. Editor was Kurd Schwabe, an ex-colonial officer and a colonial propagandist. A one-volume narrow issue went for 3.50 Reichsmark in many school libraries, also portfolio works with 48 photos were sold to the schools.
"… there it was already: the picture of Togo, colorful and tall, flat as an old engraving, a magnificent print, and in front, in front of the colonial houses, before the negroes and the soldier, who stood there meaningless with his rifle, above all was the big bundle of bananas pictured realistically … ", recalls the first-person narrator in Heinrich Böll's novel" Wanderer, do you come to Spa "(1950), which plays in the last days of the Second World War. As late as the Nazi era, this view of colonial heritage was part of school education.
The colonial photos were also sold to shipping companies, which used them for advertising purposes – also into the Nazi era. "The photos served a so-called civilizing mission, they worked on the aesthetics and should evoke pleasant feelings," says Jäger. The aim of his project is to analyze the existing photos and finally make them available on an interactive online publication to the public, where you can research for your own interests.