“The Welser Phantom”: Apparitions of the Welser Venezuela Colony in Nineteenth and Twentieth-century German Cultural Memory.”

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German Colonialism, Venezuela, Welser, Cultural Memory, Decolonization


This article explores the mostly-forgotten history of the sixteenth-century colonization of Venezuela by the Welser Company, a German merchant family company from Augsburg, and its reinterpretation in Germany’s cultural memory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When Imperial Germany began to colonize parts of Africa and the South Pacific, the Welser episode resurfaced in its popular culture. The Venezuela Welser colony became a hopeful symbol for Imperial Germany’s colonial desires, and supported imperialists’ idea that Germany had a legitimate right to colonization. Later, after the loss of its colonies at the end of WWI, Germany continued to try and make sense of its colonial past while transitioning between the short-lived German Empire, the democratic Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich. Through an analysis of works of history and historical fiction from the Imperial era through the Third Reich, this paper analyzes how and why the fantasy of the Venezuelan colony fueled the desire for imperial expansion and why it matters to discuss it amidst Germany’s belated imperialism and its ultimate turn to Fascism. The article concludes with an an examination of how Germans have recently decided to decolonize their public spaces. This time Germans’ de-colonial turn aims to connect early colonial history to ongoing struggles against racism and anti-Semitism in the German public sphere.