The German East African exhibition 1897 in the present-day Clara-Zetkin Park

Most of the inhabitants of Leipzig will have spend at least some part of their free time in the Clara-Zetkin Park. How the park came into existence and what it has to do with German colonialism might however only be known to few.

Blick über das Gelände

View on the grounds, in the direction of the inner city
(along the latter-days Bruckner-Allee)

The development of the park goes back to the Saxony-Thuringia Trade Exhibition, which took place on these grounds in the summer of 1897. This exhibition is of interest here because of the German-East-African exhibition which was part of it. This colonial exhibition was conceived by the lieutenant (ret.) Kurt Blümcke who served under Hermann von Wissmann, governor of German-East-Africa.

According to the exhibition newspaper, the goal of the exhibition was to »put next to the highly developed modern European culture the singularly formed African one, which only bothers to reach the bottom levels of our cultural life, as a means of comparison.«(1) Alongside, the population and the economy should be infused with the »colonial idea«. The hopes for the colonies to cause an economic upturn showed itself in the financial support of the costly exhibition by Leipzig entrepreneurs, politicians and colonial societies.(2)


A copy of a colonial station projected the visitors into a voyeuristic gaze onto the servants, as they were being presented an escapist, peaceful-harmonious view on colonial relations.

In order to convey an impressive image of the German colonies to the visitors, the organisers spared no efforts, constructing multiple buildings, true to original, on the 20.000 square grounds; two colonial stations (Usungula and Mquapua), an expedition camp (the »Wissmannlager«), an evangelic mission and the main commercial street Barra Rasta in Dar es Salaam, including souvenir shops and Arabic café.(3)

In the buildings a multitude of ethnographical objects, typical products and images were on display, amongst others »a few very interesting pieces from the collection of sir governor von Wissmann, acquired by him […] in the battles against the Wawamba«.(4)

What made the exhibition especially popular was the integrated »Völkerschau«. With the permission of the colonial department of the foreign ministry and the governor of German East Africa, the official Karl Kaufmann had travelled to Dar es Salaam on the 27th of December 1896 to recruit »indigenous«. He eventually returned to Leipzig the 16th of April with a group of 47 inhabitants of the colony of German East Africa. Important for the selection of the participants was that they should have had as few as possible previous contact with Europeans. The official mission was to »recruit representatives of the inner African tribes, as the Suaheli, being too well-known – how many Suaheli caravans could be seen in Germany in the last decades! – could not provoke the same fascination as the representatives of other tribes.«(5) Through spreading the rumour that members of the Wadoe are cannibals, the organisers hope to attract more visitors to the exhibition. The exhibition paper wrote:

»… Wadoe, a tribe which distinguishes itself by its beauty and is especially interesting because of the rumours that on special occasions they eat people, that also three sailors from the ship ›Leipzig‹ were eaten by them when those went too far away from the ship during the Buschiri revolt. After being asked, the people gave Mister Kaufmann the assertion that they had eaten people in former times but that they could not remember the three sailors.«(6)

Apart from the thrill, fired up by these reports, the attribution of cannibalism served to brand the people on exhibition as »others«, as »not completely human«. In the reports of the exhibition newspaper the participants in the Völkerschau« are often described as similar to animals or children. Likewise »they pass time with eating, drinking, dancing and sleeping«, »feel […] comfortable« »in the homes destined for them«, are »always very friendly« and do not exert the least »intrusiveness«.(7)

These dehumanising descriptions were part of the racist ideology of colonialism, through which the dominance over the colonised could be justified.

The main duty of the exhibited Africans was the performance of dances, fights and traditional handicrafts. Despite of the reportedly good treatment and medical care, a young member of the Wasukuma died from a pneumonia(8) shortly after the opening of the show and was buried on the Leipzig Südfriedhof. In the last editions of the exhibition newspaper the report about the »Völkerschau« became more and more sparse. The appeal of the exotic seemed to diminish. The fate of the 47 other men, women and children remains unknown.

Grußkarte aus Leipzig

Contemporary greeting card from Leipzig

Especially in a time in which there was no television and travelling a privilege of a selected few, the impact of the colonial exhibitions on the public opinion should not be underestimated. Through its newspaper and a total of 635.000 visitors (9), the German East African exhibition played a pivotal role in the dissemination of colonial thoughts.



About the Clara-Zetkin-Park:
Clara Zetkin (1857 – 1933)

During her time as an apprentice to become a teacher, Clara Zetkin, born in Wiederau (Saxony) in 1857, came in contact with the workers and women’s movement. She affiliated herself with the revolutionist, anti-militaristic and also anti-colonial part of the workers movement. Other protagonists who lived in Leipzig and were outspoken critics of the German colonial policy were August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht.

This colonial-critical position was at the time however far removed from the mainstream, as demonstrated by the so called »Hottentottenwahlen« in 1907; after the SPD spoke out against further financial support for the colonial troops after the genocide on the Herero and Nama in German South-West Africa, the party lost a third of its seats in parliament.

  • (1) Ausstellungszeitung der Sächsisch-Thüringischen Industrie- und Gewerbeausstellung 1897 (nachfolgend Ausstellungszeitung), 29.4.1897. As a guide to the exhibition, an exhibition newspaper was published weekly and later daily, containing background reports on the different subdomains and information about current events.
  • (2) Vgl. Blümcke, Kurt: Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Ausstellung. Sächsisch-Thüringische Industrie- und Gewerbe-Ausstellung Leipzig 1897. Offizieller Führer. Leipzig 1897, S. 5.
  • (3) Vgl. Ausstellungszeitung, 27.6.1897.
  • (4) Ebd., S. 23.
  • (5) Ausstellungszeitung, 29.5.1897.
  • (6) Ausstellungszeitung, 12.4.1897.
  • (7) Alle Zitate: Ausstellungszeitung, 21.4.1897.
  • (8) Vgl. Ausstellungszeitung, 5.5.1897.
  • (9) Vgl. Enrico Hochmuth: »Von der Dschungelhütte zum Glashaus. Was die Parkgaststätte im Clara-Zetkin-Park mit einer Kolonialausstellung verbindet.« In Leipziger Blätter 39 (2001), S. 29 – 31.
Images on this page:

all: -› Musikviertel e.V.

Ausstellungszeitung, Titelblatt

With the use of orientalist imagery, the exhibition newspaper (here the front page) advertised for the German East African exhibition.