A place in the sun

November 10 2009

The year after his Hun speech, Kaiser Wilhelm II coined the phrase “place in the sun”, Platz an der Sonne, which Toynbee quoted in English.

It came into a speech on June 18 1901 during the Lower Elbe Regatta, addressed to the Bürgermeister of Hamburg and others on board the passenger steamship Prinzessin Victoria Luise of the Hamburg-Amerika line.

“In spite of the fact that we have no such fleet as we should have, we have conquered for ourselves a place in the sun [in Africa, the Pacific and China]. It will now be my task to see to it that this place in the sun shall remain our undisputed possession, in order that the sun’s rays may fall fruitfully upon our activity and trade in foreign parts, that our industry and agriculture may develop within the state and our sailing sports upon the water, for our future lies upon the water. The more Germans go out upon the waters, whether it be in races or regattas, whether it be in journeys across the ocean, or in the service of the battle flag, so much the better it will be for us.

“For when the German has once learned to direct his glance upon what is distant and great, the pettiness which surrounds him in daily life on all sides will disappear. Whoever wishes to have this larger and freer outlook can find no better place than one of the Hanseatic cities. … We are now making efforts to do what, in the old time, the Hanseatic cities could not accomplish, because they lacked the vivifying and protecting power of the empire. May it be the function of my Hansa during many years of peace to protect and advance commerce and trade!

“As head of the Empire I therefore rejoice over every citizen, whether from Hamburg, Bremen, or Lübeck, who goes forth with this large outlook and seeks new points where we can drive in the nail on which to hang our armour. Therefore, I believe that I express the feeling of all your hearts when I recognize gratefully that the director of this company who has placed at our disposal the wonderful ship which bears my daughter’s name has gone forth as a courageous servant of the Hansa, in order to make for us friendly conquests whose fruits will be gathered by our descendants!”

Alfred von Tirpitz had been appointed Secretary of State of the Navy in 1897 and held the office through the naval arms race with Britain, until his dismissal in 1916.

On the night of December 16 1906 the Prinzessin Victoria Luise had departed from Kingston, Jamaica, while on a cruise, when her captain mistook one lighthouse for another and grounded her. Salvage operations began immediately, but waves caused further damage. The passengers were safely taken off on the following morning. Captain Brunswig remained on the vessel, retreated to his cabin, and shot himself. A German Admiralty court posthumously found him negligent in May in the following year. The ship was declared a total loss on December 19.


Consecrating a memorial to German sailors, January 4 1891, Samoa. The territory became a German protectorate in 1900. Flickr credit: National Library of New Zealand.

3 Responses to “A place in the sun”

  1. […] largest place in the sun that Germany staked out in East Asia and the Pacific was German New Guinea (Deutsch-Neuguinea), […]

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