German history in South Africa
Did you know?
German missionaries imported cherries to South Africa and helped to establish the Free State cherry industry.
Ah, the joys of Oktoberfest! The tasty Bavarian wonders of bratwurst and eisbein, the clink of massive steins of beer, the oompah bands, the lederhosen and the sauerkraut. Above all, the gemutlichkeit. Good vibes. Pretzel, anyone?
No, we are not in Munich, where this wonderful festival began in 1810, we are in the heart of Cape Town, at a German celebration in the V&A Waterfront. Or we could be at a drinking hole in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, a province where villages named Hamburg, Berlin, Stutterheim and Braunschweig dot the landscape.
Of course, Oktoberfests are celebrated by Germans (and other party animals) all over the world. But somehow, here in South Africa, an Oktoberfest is all the more fun because it also heralds the arrival of summertime.
The German diaspora is alive and kicking in South Africa, in the form of social clubs, German schools and festivals. Also, the presence – in the Eastern Cape – of automotive giants Volkswagen and Daimler AG (makers of the Mercedes range) has brought significant upliftment to the region.
The German history in South Africa really began with the arrival of the British-German Legion. They came with their wives, many of them quickly acquired in Britain, and were ensconced in South Africa by 1857. But they were soldiers, not farmers, and soon most of them headed out for other campaigns abroad.
A year later, five ships full of real German farmers and their families arrived and it was this community that has left an enduring mark on the Eastern Cape. Similar German settlements took place in what was then Natal and even the Transvaal, where a village called Kroondal still speaks predominantly German.
Johannesburg has a strong German presence, and its International German School, founded in 1890, is one of the oldest schools in the country. The South African chapter of the Goethe Institut provides information on Germany’s cultural, social and political life. It also focuses on local development, promotes the German language and encourages information changes with German organisations.
Modern Germany remains one of South Africa’s strongest trading partners and the numbers of German tourists coming to South Africa is second only to the United Kingdom. Prost!
Travel tips & Planning info
How to get here
Driving west from East London, you will find the towns of Berlin, Braunschweig, Stutterheim and Dohne - all of German origin. Down the coast from East London is the seaside village of Hamburg.
In KwaZulu-Natal, you drive north of Pietermaritzburg to see traces of German settlement in places like Wartburg and New Hanover.
Hire a car from East London or Pietermaritzburg, get a good map and head off.
Length of stay
A full week for the Eastern Cape leg; three days or more for the KwaZulu-Natal section of the trip.
The German Country Club in Johannesburg, the Goethe Institut in Johannesburg and the Expats in Cape Town website will provide you with information about activities taking place with the German community of South Africa.