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OTD in Berlin History | 15 November 1884: The Berlin Conference & the “Scramble for Africa”

The Berlin Conference, as depicted by Adalbert von Rößler for the Allgemeine Illustrierte Zeitung, S.308

15th November 1884: On this day in Berlin history, Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, called together the major European powers to divide and formalize the colonization of Africa. The Berlin Conference lasted until February 26th 1885.

Formed only in 1871, the German Empire was the new power on the block at this time and Bismarck hosted 13 other European nations, as well as representatives from the United States, at his official residence on Wilhelmstraße. There they discussed a cooperative policy for the African continent with the aim of ensuring peaceful negotiations between the colonial powers – especially with the new, powerful German Empire on the rise.


European claims in Africa, 1913. Today’s boundaries are shown. Yellow: Belgium | Green: Germany | Pink: Spain | Blue: France | Orange: Britain | Lime Green: Italy | Purple: Portugal | Grey: Independent | Eric Gaba, CC BY-SA 3.0

During the conference, European leaders mapped and formalized their claim to African territory and agreed to free trade between colonies, as well as prepared for future European claims in Africa. With no consideration for any of the cultural or linguistic borders already established, they remapped Africa. No representatives from Africa were invited to be present at the conference.

Whilst the Berlin Conference did not initiate European colonization of Africa, it did legitimize and formalize the process. Additionally, it sparked a new interest in the area and led to the so-called “Scramble for Africa”. In 1870, 10% of Africa was under European control – by the early 1900s, European states had claimed 90% of the continent.






This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Susan Grouchy.

It’s one of four noteworthy events she’s chosen to remember this November. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.