Station: [16] Carl Peters

What’s that, lying over there – a bronze bust that’s toppled into the dirt?

The director of the museum put it like this: It was only when we hit on the idea of simply leaving the old monument lying on the ground somewhere that we were happy with the Carl Peters exhibit. 

But why is it better to topple a bust rather than not to put it on display at all? Well, let’s begin at the beginning: 

Carl Peters is regarded as the founder of German East Africa. This colony covered roughly the same territory as present-day Tanzania. There, Peters went on a murderous rampage and behaved with such brutality that he was recalled from the colonies in 1892 and ultimately dishonourably discharged from the Imperial service. He was given the nicknames “bloody hand” and “hanging Peters”.

Nevertheless, as early as 1914, people remembered the former coloniser and an over-life-size bronze statue was created, to be erected on the east coast of Africa. However, due to the outbreak of the First World War, the statue was never actually shipped to Africa. Instead, it was briefly erected on the bank of the River Elbe in Hamburg, before finally ending up abandoned in the warehouse of a Hamburg ship-owner.

But as the Nazis gained power and influence, Carl Peters was again revered as a visionary. In 1931, a suitable site for his monument was finally found on Heligoland. And – the islanders were delighted. People remembered that the German colonies in Africa had been the bargaining chips that had allowed Heligoland to be incorporated into Germany under Kaiser Emperor Wilhelm the Second. So at the time, people felt they owed Peters a great debt of gratitude. 

After the end of the Second World War, the monument (by now reduced to a bust) was again put on display in a public space on Heligoland – critical voices notwithstanding. But in 1990, that finally came to an end.

For the museum, it was a challenge to find a suitable way of showing this piece of history. Now, with its head on the ground, the statue has finally found its proper place in the exhibition.

All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland