More than 300 years ago, the “Great Elector” Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg’s colonial ambitions took him to the coast of today’s Ghana, mostly in order to speed up economic growth in his country, which had been devastated by the 30 Years’ War (1618–1648). He had experience with the trade policy of the Netherlands and was aware of the “Africa Policy” of his uncle Jacob, Duke of Kurland, who held a colony at the mouth of river Gambia.

In September, 1680, two Brandenburg ships set sail southward to the Gulf of Guinea and arrived in Africa on December 27, 1682. Led by Major Otto von der Groeben, they had a mandate for the construction of a fortress and von der Groeben was given permission from some African Chiefs to construct a coastal fort near the African village of Poqueso on the Manfro Mountain (Photo). Here, on January 1, 1683, the Brandenburgers hoisted their national flag on their new property. Otto von der Groeben reported: “The following day, on the January 1st, 1683, accompanied by the sound of drums, Captain Voss carried the flag of the great Brandenburg Electorate from the ship; it was received by all armed soldiers and hoisted on a high flag pole while five powerful shots were fired which in turn were reciprocated from each ship by five shots and which I again answered with three. And because His Electorship’s name is considered ‘great’ by the whole world, I named the mountain Großfriedrichsburg.”

The entire colonial possession in the territory of present day Ghana stretched some 50 km from the fortress in both directions along the coast and close to the coast towards Takoradi, were some additional smaller forts which are all in ruins today.

Although previously, the Elector had chartered ships from shipping companies, he now started to commission ships that were the property of the Electorate in order to make more explorations on Africa’s coast and therefore the size of the domestic fleet had to be increased. It was soon deemed unprofitable, however. The German miners who had been recruited to search of gold died because of disease and illness, and it was difficult finding gold. After the Great Elector’s death, his successor had no interest in keeping colonial possessions in Africa, and in 1717, Friedrich Wilhelm I (the Soldier King) sold the colony to the Dutch-West Indian Company. However, when the Netherlands’ forces tried to take possession of their newly acquired property, they met unexpected resistance from a local African leader.

Sometimes called the “Black Prussian,” his name was Jon Konny (in Dutch, Jan Conny). Konny was in the service of the Brandenburg-African Companie and was one of the three or four major traders who commanded private armies in the large area. His own army was said to include up to 20,000 men, which included warriors of the Ashanti and Wassaw, and they had controlled the region around the German fortress from 1706, using rifles and guns reportedly plundered from a Prussian ship.

Despite conflicts between them, Konny remained active as agent, broker and intermediary for Brandenburg and the local population as well as the local British and Dutch agents. Konny, as a national wholesaler, promoted a significant part of the regional trade, including the slave trade, with Europeans on the coast and is one of the elements that made the slave trade rich and powerful. When the last Prussian commander left Großfriedrichsburg, Conny refused to allow the Dutch to take possession. In 1724, after seven years of control of the fort, he finally gave up and withdrew.

The sales contract of Großfriedrichsburg contained the proviso that “twelve negro boys” were to be provided to Brandenburg, “six of whom were to be adorned with golden chains.” Some of these first African residents in Berlin and Brandenburg served in the Prussian army; and some were used as Court moors. It would be another 160 years before Germany again occupied territory in Africa.