The Wilhelmine battle fleet was a powerful symbol of national strength and unity not only within the Reich but also in German ethnic communities abroad. A global network of 179 navy clubs with 9,500 members (1913) was coordinated by the Berlin-based Central League for German Navy Clubs Abroad (Hauptverband Deutscher Flottenvereine im Auslande). Its aims were the collection of migrants’ money for concrete navy projects and the promotion of allegiance to the Reich and of ethnic cohesion abroad. The article analyses German navy campaigning within a transnational framework and supports the view that migrants were discursively drawn into Imperial Germany’s global aspirations as outposts of ‘Germanness’ abroad. Existing scholarship, however, tends to look at them as passive objects of a discourse conducted within Germany, as a canvas onto which (semi-)colonial fantasies could be projected. This article argues, rather, that ‘Germans abroad’ could also be active participants within a transnationally conducted and multi-directional discourse. They did not necessarily defy nationalist assumptions but could, in fact, be deeply embedded in the construction of these assumptions.
- Imperial Germany
- ethnic organizations