The German Colonial Empire was an overseas domain 1884-1914 formed as part of the German Empire. Short-lived colonial efforts by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but Imperial Germany's colonial efforts began in 1884. Germany's colonies were occupied by its enemies in the first weeks of World War I and the colonial empire officially ended with the effective date of the Treaty of Versailles on 10 January 1920 after its defeat in the war.
Until their 1871 unification, the German states had not concentrated on the development of a navy, and this essentially had precluded German participation in earlier imperialist scrambles for remote colonial territory - the so-called "place in the sun". Germany seemed destined to play catch-up. The German states prior to 1870 had retained separate political structures and goals, and German foreign-policy up to and including the age of Otto von Bismarck concentrated on resolving the "German question" in Europe and securing German interests on the continent.
On the other hand, Germans had traditions of foreign sea-borne trade dating back to the Hanseatic League; a tradition existed of German emigration (eastward in the direction of Russia and Transylvania and westward to the Americas); and North German merchants and missionaries showed interest in overseas engagements. Above all the Hanseatic republics of Hamburg and Bremen sent traders across the globe. These trading houses conducted themselves as successful Privatkolonisatoren [independent colonizers] and concluded treaties and land purchases in Africa and the Pacific with chiefs or other tribal leaders. These early agreements with local entities, however, later formed the basis for annexation treaties, diplomatic support and military protection by the German Empire.