Freiburg im Breisgau: Exhibition illuminates colonialism then and now

The Nazi past has already been dealt with in many places, but the focus is now increasingly on a time before that: colonialism. An exhibition is now examining the role that his legacy still plays in society today.

The Augustinian Museum in Freiburg is working on colonialism and its influence on the people of the city in one of the first exhibitions of this kind in Germany. The organizers are not only looking back to the period from 1884 to 1919, when the German Empire appropriated areas in Africa, Asia and Oceania. The show “Freiburg and Colonialism: Yesterday? Today!” also wants to shed light on how much, for example, prejudices have survived to the here and now.

For almost a year – until June 11, 2023 – visitors can get an impression of the colonial ties of the city from this Saturday: According to the information, some Freiburg residents were directly employed as colonial officials in what was then German Southwest Africa, now Namibia , “actively involved in the oppression and exploitation of the people living there”.

Others attended so-called ‘Völkerschau’ in Freiburg or enjoyed coffee, tea, exotic fruits and cotton clothing. “Scientists from the University of Freiburg used the colonial infrastructure for their research,” says the city. Professors disseminated racist content in their lectures to urban educational audiences. Today’s Museum of Nature and Man, formerly the Museum of Natural History and Ethnology, received a large part of its objects from the German colonies after it was founded in 1895 – sometimes with the use of force. The makers come to the conclusion that Freiburg was part of the broad base that supported and made colonialism possible.

According to the statement, the ideology of German colonialism is still in effect today. The exhibition wants to make it clear that racist thinking, speaking and acting were part of everyday life well into the 20th century, that prejudices and derogatory behavior patterns towards people of non-European origin were unconsciously or even consciously passed on over generations. “The show shows that we are still surrounded by traces of the colonial era and that racism and exploitation – contrary to what many assume – are still commonplace.” It should also encourage people to question their own actions.