While the Great Powers of Spain, Portugal, Great Britain and France had long divided the world among themselves, the young German Empire under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was initially skeptical of colonial expansion in the Age of Imperialism. Economic interests and, above all, Wilhelm II's colonial superpower fantasies led to a change of course in the foreign policy.

With "protected areas" in East and West Africa, China and the western Pacific, the Empire tried to secure its "place in the sun". However, the German colonial policy soon proved to be an economic and political failure - the "Boxer Rebellion" in China humiliated the German Empire, the bloody suppression of the Herero uprising in German South-West Africa became the first genocide in German history. Shortly after the beginning of World War II, almost all German colonies would fall to the Allies.