Bismarck was generally ambivalent about colonial expansion, considering an overseas empire to be an expensive indulgence.
But public pressure for a colonial empire led to the acquisition of a number of territories in Africa.
The Berlin Conference of 1884-5 laid down the rules for European expansion in Africa and granted colonies to Germany.
However, Bismarck’s flirtation with colonialism was short-lived – by 1887 he was resisting pressure to acquire more colonies on the grounds that to do so would needlessly antagonise Britain.
Punch cartoon depicting Bismarck as the “irrepressible Tourist” (1885)
German Acquisitions in Africa 1884-85 Source: Farmer & Stiles, The Unification of Germany 1815-1919
Wilhelm II Imperial Chancellors Leo von Caprivi 1890-1894 Chlodwig zu Hohenloe -Schillingfurst 1894-1900 Bernhard von B ülow 1900-1909 Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg 1909-1917 Minister for the Navy: Alfred von Tirpitz Philipp zu Eulenburg
Fritz Fischer et. al. -> Three main aims of Weltpolitik : to create a large German Navy demonstrating her claim to be a world power, a Central African Empire ( Mittelafrika ) and a Central European customs union ( Mitteleuropa ). All part of a master plan to achieve World Power ( Weltmacht ).
Wehler, Berghahn, Geiss -> Weltpolitik motivated by domestic concerns and a substitute for unwanted social change (‘Social Imperialism’).
David Kaiser -> Weltpolitik was ‘a patriotic umbrella, not a magic wand’ – rather than being designed to outflank the Socialists, it was a means to unite the Conservatives, National Liberals and the Centre Party behind the government. Appearances more important than realities.
“ Up to now, our policies have completely overlooked the political significance of naval power. Yet if we want to go out into the world and increase our economic strength at sea, we will only construct a hollow edifice if we do not obtain a degree of naval strength. If we go out into the world, we will find either existing interests or interests that will be claimed in the future. These make conflicts of interest inevitable. . . . Naval power is the only politically versatile type of power there is. This is why we will always end up getting shortchanged politically, even if there is no war.”