Head of Deutsche Bank’s Historical Institute Dr Martin L. Müller tells the story of an important section of the Bank’s archive, of inestimable importance for scholars of the Ottoman Empire and successor states

Among the most important record groups within the archive of Deutsche Bank’s Historical Institute are the files of the so-called Orient Office (Orientbüro). These records document the bank’s activities in the Ottoman Empire from the end of the 1880s until its liquidation in the years after the First World War. The focus of these activities was the financing, construction and operation of the region’s three most important railways: the Oriental Railways in the European part of the empire, the Anatolian Railway from Istanbul to Konya and the Baghdad Railway from Konya to Baghdad.

With the end of the First World War, almost all of Deutsche Bank’s investments in the Ottoman Empire were lost, notably those in the newly-created states of Iraq and Syria.

The files of the Orient Office played an important part in negotiations with these successor states in the 1920s and 1930s. At the end of the Second World War, the files were stored in a warehouse in Berlin’s Wilhelmstraße, only a few minutes’ walk from the Bank’s headquarters in the Mauerstraße. Whereas Mauerstraße was within the Soviet sector of the divided city from 1945, Wilhelmstraße was inside the American sector, and hence remained accessible.

In 1961 Deutsche Bank founded its Historical Archive in Frankfurt. Between January 1962 and October 1963 the archive’s first director, Fritz Seidenzahl, organized the files’ relocation from Berlin. The Orient Office files were transported by air in more than 2,000 packages. Once in Frankfurt, their contents were evaluated. Sadly, many were destroyed as unimportant, including all personnel files of the Anatolian Railway Company.[1]

Filiale Frankfurt, Roßmarkt 18

Around 1,750 volumes of the circa 2,500 retrieved from Berlin nonetheless survive, and offer unique insights into the Anatolian and Baghdad Railways. During World War One the former’s shareholdings were safely transferred to a holding company, the Bank for Oriental Railways in Zurich. After Turkey’s victory in the Greco-Turkish War and the start of negotiations in Lausanne, the new Turkish Republic declared its intention to take control of the lines. In 1928, the Bank for Oriental Railways sold its remaining interests within Anatolia to the Turkish government.[2]

Closely related to railway construction are numerous files on Turkish bonds, the Dette Publique Ottomane, and debt regulations after the First World War. Alongside railways and imperial bonds the files also illuminate a raft of other investments in infrastructure, agricultural and energy: the German-Levantine Cotton Company, the Company for the Irrigation of the Konya Plain, the Haidar-Pasha Port Company and port facilities in Alexandretta, Jaffa, Haifa and other places, the Turkish Petroleum Company and the European Petroleum Union. The complex diplomatic and political dimensions of this business activity can be explored in correspondence exchanged with the Foreign Office in Berlin between 1896 and 1914. This series is a particularly valuable resource for the Balkan Wars and First World War.[3] The files contain important material on the Armenian genocide.[4]

Since the late 1990s a number of political, economic and cultural historians from Germany and abroad have taken advantage of the opportunity to consult Orient Office files, research which has produced numerous publications and even exhibitions. The sheer size of the record group means that its potential is far from exhausted, and academic researchers are welcome, by prior appointment, to explore further.


[1] Martin L. Müller, ‘50 Jahre Historisches Institut der Deutschen Bank’, in: Archiv und Wirtschaft. Zeitschrift für das Archivwesen der Wirtschaft, 2011, 4, pp. 160-

[2] Manfred Pohl, Von Stambul nach Bagdad. Die Geschichte einer berühmten Eisenbahn, Piper Verlag. 1999, p.97.

[3] Peter Hertner, ‘The Balkan Railways, International Capital and Banking from the End of the Nineteenth Century’, in: Gerald D. Feldman / Peter Hertner (eds.), Finance and Modernization, Ashgate. 2008, pp. 125-53.

[4] Hilmar Kaiser, ‘The Baghdad Railway and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1916’ in: Richard G. Hovannissian (ed.), Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian, Wayne State University Press. 1999. pp. 67-112.

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