Institute for Geography, today: Johannisallee 19 a

Ratzelstraße and Ratzel arcade (named after Friedrich Ratzel)

A similar development to the Museum of Ethnology can be observed in regard of the geography department at the University of Leipzig. The seminar for geography was established in 1883 by baron Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833 – 1905). Richthofen was a China explorer who after his return campaigned for the acquisition of the colony Kiautschou?/?Jiaozhou in a memorandum to Bismarck. He imagined them as a staging post for the exploitation of the Chinese coal deposits and a naval base there as enhancing the prestige of the German navy. Shortly after the publication of his text »Kiautschou – Seine Weltgeltung und voraussichtliche Bedeutung« (1897), the German navy occupied Kiautschou and Bismarck purchased the colony a year later as a lease from the Chinese government.

Richthofen was succeeded in 1886 by the founder of the anthropogeography, Friedrich Ratzel. He as well was a brisk proponent of the colonial thoughts and member of the German colonial society. His opinions on the colonial question can be found for example in the book »Wider die Reichsnörgler« from 1884:

»The tree of these powerful folklores has long stretched its roots over the borders to which history and nature have initially allocated them. Ever again they strive, evermore they rush, those thirsty roots of national grandeur and riches, the backward folk make room, the world, so it seems, belongs to a few cultivated people. And as such almost everyone of us, of whichever disposition, today has his oversea interests …«(1)

In Leipzig there is named a street after Ratzel, as well as the Kaufhaus am Ratzelbogen shopping arcade in the city part of Grünau.

Nachbau einer Kolonialstation

Hans Meyer, 1929

Hans Meyer

Another important purveyor of geography in Leipzig was Hans Meyer. He is today mostly known for having climbed, as first European, the Kilimandjaro, at that period called »Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze« and celebrated as the highest mountain in the German empire.

Hans Meyer was the son and succesor of Joseph Meyer, the founder of the Bibliographic Institute in Leipzig and publisher of »Meyers Konversationslexikon« and the Duden dictionary. He was an outspoken advocate of the colonial project and had gathered a large influence in politics and business circles through the publishing house and the resulting wealth. From 1915 on he was professor for colonial geography at an especially established academic chair and was furthermore chairman of the commission for applied geographical research of the German colonies.

His position towards German colonialism can be demonstrated by a couple of quotes from the magazine article »Gegenwart und Zukunft der Deutschen Kolonien« (Present and future of the German colonies) from 1916:

»The scandalous intention of the French and the English to destroy the entire German cultural effort in Cameroon, to dispel the Germans and ridiculing them with the indigenous has proven to be successful. The German standing has been shattered and it will take a strong hand to reinstate it, in particular with the [N*] on the coasts of Cameroon«(2)

About the plans for the time after the war has been won, he writes:

»The complementation of this one-sidedness of tropical and subtropical Africa, necessary for our economy, is thus what we have to search for outside of Africa.«(3)

The grave of the »Africa scientist«, who died in 1929, can be found on the Leipzig Südfriedhof.

  • (1) Ratzel, Friedrich: Wider die Reichsnörgler. Ein Wort zur Kolonialfrage aus Wählerkreisen. R. Oldenbourg: München 1884, S. 8.
  • (2) Meyer, Hans: Gegenwart und Zukunft der Deutschen Kolonien. Mittler: Berlin 1916, S. 9.
  • (3) Ebd., S. 71.
Images on this page:

Middle and right: Wikimedia

Hans Meyers Grabstelle auf dem Leipziger Südfriedhof

Hans Meyers gravestone on the Leipzig Southern Cemetery. The inscription Impavidi progrediamur – dauntless we will advance – indicates with which ruthless determination Meyer conducted his expeditions.