back Colonial traces can still be found in German cities. Unseen by many, colonial figures stand in countless public places, looking at us from their pedestals. One of them is Hermann von Wissmann, brutal commissioner and governor of former German-East-Africa. The Wissmann monuments represent german colonial policies, the exploitation of African countries, and the oppression of hundreds of thousands of Africans.

How can it, therefore, be that Wissmann is still honoured with a monument in the German city Bad Lauterberg, whereas a similar monument in Hamburg has already been toppled? What stories do these two monuments reveal about the past and present? And why is it essential to uncover these colonial traces?
Wissmann monuments, drawings
Table of content:
I Wissmann’s role
II Deconstructing the monuments
III Locations
IV Timeline of events

1 — Inauguration of Wissmann monument in Hamburg, 1921 2 — German newspaper article about the toppling of the Wissmann statue in Hamburg, 1968 3 — Wissmann laying on the ground at the Exhibition “Pop and Protest” at the MKG in Hamburg, 2018 I Wissmann’s role in german colonial history
Which role did Hermann von Wissmann play in German colonial history?

After the Berlin Africa Conference in 1885, Hermann von Wissmann (4 September 1853 – 15 June 1905) was given the task of putting down the resistance of the local population and solidifying the control in the colonies of German-East-Africa.
From 1888 to 1891 he was Imperial Commissioner in German East Africa. He formed a 'Wissmann troop' of 1000 Askari (african soldiers), mostly from Mozambique and the Sudan. On so-called 'punitive expeditions' he practised the brutal 'scorched earth tactics': villages were looted, supplies set on fire and the captured people were forced to work on the plantations of the German settlers. The victory over the anti-colonial resistance of the coastal population was transfigured by the colonial movement in Germany into 'slave liberation', and Wissmann became its protagonist. From 1895, Wissmann took over the governor's seat in German East Africa for only a few months. Health reasons led him to return to Europe, where he was shot dead by his own rifle on his estate in Styria, Austria. After his death in 1905, he was celebrated as a colonial identification figure and honoured with two monuments in Germany, one in Hamburg, the other in Bad Lauterberg. The one in Hamburg has been toppled in 1968 by students from the Hamburg university, but the monument in Bad Lauterberg is still in the same place as it was more than 110 years ago.

The colonial crimes committed by the Germans have long been glorified and barely contextualised. The memory of the colonial past in Germany was largely characterised by nostalgia and with a positive public memory. The student movement of the 1960s gradually began to critically examine the colonial past in Germany.
5 — Shooting of a rebel leader, led by Wissmann 6 — Congo Conference, 1884
7 — German colonial leader in Togo, around 1885 8 — Imprisoned Herero and Nama
II Deconstructing the monuments Hamburg
The Wissmann monument in Hamburg not only has been moved intercontinental several times, but it has also travelled through different eras of admiration and contempt.
Bad Lauterberg
The monument in Bad Lauterberg is still in the same place as it was more than 110 years ago. And there is still discussion about how to deal with the monument.
9 — Wissmann monument in Hamburg, drawing
The monument in Hamburg was created by Adolf Kürle, a German sculptor and painter (* 20 March 1865, in Kassel; † 6 April 1912, in Berlin). The monument in Hamburg shows Hermann von Wissmann standing elevated on a pedestal, leaning on a settled sword, holding binoculars in his right hand, and looking into the distance. Wissmann is wearing an uniform and a helmet. An African soldier (Askari) is standing next to the pedestal, looking up to Wissmann, and holding a german flag in his hand. A dead lion lies under the german flag. The monument shows the colonial racist exaggerated hierarchy between the African soldier and the colonial ruler. The lines of sight reinforce the impression of the master-servant relationship, as do the proportions: Wissmann's figure is 2.60 metres tall, the African soldier a mere 1.70 metres. The upward looking soldier and the dead lion symbolise Wissmann's supposed colonial power over humans and animals. The reclining imperial flag indicates a funeral rite: the flag is also spread over the coffin in military honours. On the front of the pedestal was a plaque with the dates of Wissmann's life “Hermann von Wissmann, born 4 September 1853, died 15 June 1905”, on the back was an inscription in German praising Wissmann's actions and attributes. On the left side was a text in Arabic and on the right a speech in Swahili inscribed in Latin letters: “Our lord of the past, he calmed the coast and pointed us in the right direction.” For the exhibition in the port of Hamburg, initiated by the artist Jokinen, a plaque with an inscription of the website ‘’ was attached to the new pedestal. People interested in the monument and the art installation could find more information on this website, as well as discuss about the monument and vote on what should be done with it in the future.
10 — Wissmann monument in Bad Lauterberg, drawing
The monument in Bad Lauterberg was created by German sculptor Johannes Gottfried Götz (* 4 October 1865, in Fürth; † 11 September 1934, in Potsdam).

The monument in Bad Lauterberg shows Hermann von Wissmann standing elevated on a stone. His figure is disproportionately tall and measures more than 2 meters. He is shown in an uniform, wearing a helmet, holding a folded map in the one hand and a sword in the other one. The fact that the monument depicts Wissmann in disproportionate size and that he stands elevated on a stone that serves as a pedestal shows that Wissmann is attributed a special position of power. Through the objects, such as the map and the sword, which he holds in his hands, it can be interpreted that he is the one leading the groups and he can threaten others with violence.
At the front of the stone is the inscription “Wissmann”. At the base of the monument is a plaque with the inscription “Germany's great African Hermann von Wissmann, born 4 September 1853, died 15 June 1905. The grateful fatherland”. And engraved in the rock in Latin and in capital letters is the inscription “Inveniuam Viam Aut Faciam” (I find or I make my way.)
Behind the monument, a plaque was erected in 1971 by the 'Traditionsverband ehemaliger Schutz- und Überseetruppen' (Traditional Association of Former Protection and Overseas Troops) with the inscription: “He fought successfully against the slave trade and for the freedom of the oppressed”. The 'Traditional Association' glorifies and trivialises German colonial history and denies the crimes associated with it.
III Locations
Events that have taken place around the monuments in Hamburg and Bad Lauterberg. From the inaugurations, to paint attacks, to glorifications and to the toppling of one of the monuments.
Bad Lauterberg
Wissmann's mother had settled in Bad Lauterberg with her daughters in 1881, and her son, Hermann von Wissmann, visited her frequently. From his visits, Wissmann brought back 'gifts' from the German colonies in Africa. Also two young African boys, Moanso and Sankurru. The boys were cared for by Wissmann's mother and went to the local school. The image shows one of them sitting in the front row on the right side.
This image shows Hermann von Wissmann with his family in Bad Lauterberg. The image shows the hierarchy of the family members. Wissmann is standing centrally, the mother and one sister sitting, one standing sideways, the boy called Moanso sitting on the ground and the dogs lying down.
The Wissmann monument was casted in Berlin in 1908 and erected in 1909 in Daressalam, in the then colony of German-East-Africa, now Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.
The monument was made by artist Johann Götz after Wissmann's death and was erected on 4th September 1908 in the Kurpark in Bad Lauterberg.
On 8 February 1914, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the East African protection group, wreaths were laid at the monument.
Subsequent to the loss of Germany’s colonies during World War I, the monument was shipped to London in 1921 as a ‘war trophy’ and stored in the Imperial War Museum. Afterwards, it was erected in 1922 in front of the University of Hamburg, which had emerged from the former colonial institute. The Wissmann Monument in front of the University Hamburg became a central colonial site of dedication in Germany, but its erection was controversial among the urban public from the very beginning.
During the Nazi era, the monument was turned into Germany's most important colonial shrine. Wissmann was regarded as “the great soldier-leader of the colonial struggle of the Germans in Africa”. During the numerous national colonial celebrations, it was a symbol of the humiliation caused by the colonial loss. For the colonial commemoration year 1934, the Deutsche Reichspost (German Imperial Mail) issued a series of stamps with portraits of famous people from German colonial history. In addition to Wissmann, the controversial Carl Peters was also honoured in the same series.
In 1945, the Wissmann figure fell from its pedestal when the Allies bombed Hamburg. In 1949, the Wissmann figure was re-erected, but hardly noticed until 1961, when students demanded that the university should remove the monument.
A group of students were trying to torn down the Statue of Wissmann. Shortly afterwards, the police intervened and arrested the organisers of the action.
A group of students were trying to torn down the Statue of Wissmann. Shortly afterwards, the police intervened and arrested the organisers of the action.
Behind the monument, a plaque was erected by the ‘Traditional Association of Former Protection and Overseas Troops’ with the inscription “He fought successfully against the slave trade and for the freedom of the oppressed”. Since 1971, the ‘Traditional Association’ has held its annual meeting in the Kursaal in Bad Lauterberg. Wreaths or flower arrangements adorned with St. Peter's flag are then regularly laid at the monument and also in the mountain cemetery.
The meetings of the ‘Traditional Association’ in Bad Lauterberg were not free of protests. In 1982, the ‘Antifaschistischer Aktionskreis Bad Lauterberg’ (Antifascist Action Group) and the group ‘Kunst und Kampf’ (Art and fight) mobilised a demonstration in front of the Wissmann monument. The action poster shows the Wissmann bronze figure trampling an African, in the background are the flags of the ‘Reichskriegerbund’ (Imperial Warriors Union) and the ‘Reichskolonialbund’ (Imperial colonial confederation) of the National Socialists. The title of the poster says “No colonial meeting in Bad Lauterberg and anywhere else”.
In 1985, a group called ‘Aktion Springteufel’ placed a dummy bomb at the base of the Wissmann monument, it was a harmless fire extinguisher filled with sugar and sand. A police operation taking care of the summy bomb delayed the beginning of the wreath-laying ceremony of the ‘Traditional Association’ for several hours.
In 1987, an exhibition at Kampnagel entitled “Männersache” (Men's Issues) included the monument as a satirical symbol of colonial adventurer romanticism. The Wissmann figure lay backwards on the floor, the Askari figure stared at the ceiling.
From October 2004 to November 2005 the damaged monument was placed as a ‘post-memorial space’ at Hamburg's Überseebrücke in order to confront the city and its inhabitants with the colonial past. The temporary installation was initated by artist Jokinen.
After 14 months and countless events, debates, statements, the temporary monument was dismantled again. The Wissmann monument was stored again in the basement of the Bergedorf observatory in Hamburg.
On the occasion of the meeting of the ‘Traditional Association’, the citizens' alliance ‘Bunt statt Braun’ (Colorful instead of brown) protested in front of the Wissmann monument on 14 October 2007. “Through the Association,” says the spokesperson of ‘Bunt statt Braun’, “crimes committed by Germans against Africans are glorified, historical revisionism is present, and right-wing radicalism is also supported.”
Every year, the ‘Traditional Association’ meets in front of the monument and lays wreaths with the St Peter's flag. As protest, the monument and the panels are repeatedly covered with paint.
From October 2016 to May 2017, the toppled and damaged Wissmann Monument was part of the exhibition “German Colonialism” at the German Historical Museum in Berlin for seven months.
The exhibition “68. Pop and Protest“ at the MKG Museum in Hamburg explores the relationships between the social and political developments of the late 1960s. On display were 200 objects, including music installations, films, photographs, posters, historical documents – and the Wissmann statue. Wissmann was shown lying down on the floor and the traces of time were clearly visible.
A group of people from Bad Lauterberg cleans the monument and the plaque after the paint attacks. In the public chats in which they organise themselves for the cleaning of the monument, it can be read out that the group is right-wing orientated.
Why is it essential to uncover colonial traces?
It is important to uncover colonial traces and to examine the impact of German colonialism in its complex contexts and meanings for postcolonial societies. Through the presence of colonial monuments and other traces, such as street names, colonial actions continue to be glorified in public spaces. The critical examination of the German colonial past can contribute to overcome colonial-racist thinking structures in society. In the case of the Wissmann monuments and the traces around them, a public discourse must take place on how to deal with the legacies of the German colonial era. The toppling of the Wissmann monument in Hamburg is a symbol of protest against the colonial glorifications of that time. It is essential to bring the stories about this protest movement back into the public space, to make the stories and the debates accessible to a large audience. 
The Wissmann monument in Bad Lauterberg is a falsification of history and a relativisation of his actions. It is therefore important to question the presence of the monument and to examine what a counter-memorial could look like that does not erase history but recalls it.