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The end of Germany’s formal colonial rule did not put an end to colonialism. This was true quite literally for the German colonies: in 1919, the German colonial empire was dissolved on the grounds that ‘Germany’s failure in the field of colonial civilization’, as the indictment of the Allied powers read, ‘has become all too apparent to leave the thirteen to fourteen million natives again to the fate from which the war has liberated them’. Liberation, however, did not imply sovereignty. Instead, the former colonies became mandates of the newly founded League of Nations and were transferred to the victorious powers (mainly France and England but also Japan, Belgium, and Portugal). In terms of international law they were no longer colonial territories, but in terms of the practice of rule, there was little difference. Moreover, colonial structures continued well into the post-war period. After 1945, and even after decolonization, the now-independent nations were still characterized by colonial modes of dependence, colonial world views and memories of the colonial era.
Colonialism had its after-effects in Germany, too, even if they differed markedly from the situation in the former colonies and followed a dynamic of their own. After 1918, the territorial empire was a thing of the past, but it lived on in the German imagination and in some expansionist projects at least until the Second World War. Social and economic structures and discursive patterns shaped by the colonial influence continued to affect German society in a number of ways and were still apparent even in post-1945 West Germany.