Alternative History

The concept of Germany as a distinct region in central Europe can be traced to Roman commander Julius Caesar, who referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania, thus distinguishing it from Gaul (France), which he had conquered. The victory of the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD) prevented annexation by the Roman Empire. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Franks conquered the other West Germanic tribes. When the Frankish Empire was divided among Charlemagne's heirs in 843, the eastern part became East Francia. In 962, Otto I became the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval German state.

In the High Middle Ages, the dukes and princes of the empire gained power at the expense of the emperors. Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church after 1517, as the northern states became Protestant, while the southern states remained Catholic. They clashed in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), which was ruinous to the 20 million civilians. 1648 marked the effective end of the Holy Roman Empire and the beginning of the modern nation-state system, with Germany divided into numerous independent states, such as Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony.

After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), feudalism fell away and liberalism and nationalism clashed with reaction. The 1848 March Revolution failed. The Industrial Revolution modernized the German economy, led to the rapid growth of cities and to the emergence of the Socialist movement in Germany. Prussia, with its capital Berlin, grew in power. German universities became world-class centers for science and the humanities, while music and the arts flourished. Unification was achieved with the formation of the German Empire in 1871 under the leadership of Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The Reichstag, an elected parliament, had only a limited role in the imperial government.

By 1900, Germany's economy matched Britain's, allowing colonial expansion and a naval race. Germany led the Central Powers in the First World War (1914–1918) against France, Great Britain, Russia and (by 1917) the United States. Victorious and occupied vast lands in Europe, Germany was forced its enemies to pay war reparations by through various peace treaties and nearly dominated European affairs. The German Constitution of October 1918 established an unstable parliamentary monarchy to avoid revolution.

In the early 1930s, the worldwide Great Depression hit Germany hard, as unemployment soared and people lost confidence in the government. In 1933, the DNVP under Adolf Hitler came to power and established a totalitarian regime. Political opponents were killed or imprisoned. The Soviet Union's aggressive foreign policy took control of the Caucasus, and its invasion of Eastern Europe initiated the Second World War. After war began with France in 1939, Hitler's blitzkrieg swept nearly all of Western Europe. In 1941, however, the Soviet invasion of Poland and Germany failed, and after the Battle of Berlin, Germany would maintain initiative against the Soviet Union. Following the Axis invasion of Britain, the German army advanced on all fronts until the final push in May 1945.

Under occupation by Germany and its allies, German territories expanded and the German Empire was at its appex. However, by the late 1980s, with the weaknesses of its economic and political structures becoming acute, the German government embarked on major reforms, which led to the fall of the German Empire. In 1989, the German sphere of influence collapsed and the Emperor of Germany abdicated in 1991. Germany was reformed throughout the 1990's into a parliamentary democracy known as the Federal Republic of Germany.

Germanic tribes 750BC-600AD

Expansion of the Germanic tribes 750 BC – AD 1

The ethnogenesis of the Germanic tribes is assumed to have occurred during the Nordic Bronze Age, or at the latest during the Pre-Roman Iron Age. From southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, the tribes began expanding south, east and west in the 1st century BC, coming into contact with the Celtic tribes of Gaul as well as Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe.

Little is known about early Germanic history, except through their recorded interactions with the Roman Empire, etymological research and archaeological finds.

In the first years of the 1st century, Roman legions conducted a long campaign in Germania, the area north of the Upper Danube and east of the Rhine, in an attempt at a further major expansion of the Empire's frontiers, and a shortening of its frontier line. They subdued several Germanic tribes, such as the Cherusci. The tribes became familiar with Roman tactics of warfare while maintaining their tribal identity. Modern Germany, east of the Rhine remained outside the Roman Empire. By 100 AD, the time of Tacitus' Germania, Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of the area of modern Germany; Austria, southern Bavaria and the western Rhineland, however, were Roman provinces. The 3rd century saw the emergence of a number of large West Germanic tribes: Alamanni, Franks, Bavarii, Chatti, Saxons, Frisii, Sicambri, and Thuringii. Around 260, the Germanic peoples broke through the Limes and the Danube frontier into Roman-controlled lands.

Painting of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the great Germanic victory in 9AD

Since the 15th century German historians have celebrated the victory of Arminius, a chieftain of the Cherusci, who in 9 AD defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, as the birth of German history.

Seven large German-speaking tribes, the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Lombards, Saxons and the Franks moved west and took part in the transformation of the peoples of the old Western Roman Empire. The unoccupied part of present Germany was invaded by the Huns at the end of the 4th century and led to the beginning of the Migration Period. Hunnic hegemony of Germany lasted until 469.

The Stem Duchies & Marches

The Stem Duchies (tribal duchies) in Germany was mainly the areas of the old German tribes of the region. These strains were originally the Franks, the Saxons, the Alemanni, the Burgundians, the Thuringians, and the Rugians. In 443 and 458 the Burgundians breached Roman territory, and moved into an area which would have been known as Lower Burgundy. The area they had occupied in Germany, along with the Saxons, was occupied by the Franks. The Rugians which Odoacer destroyed in 487 formed a new confederation of Germans, the Bavarians. All of these strains in Germany were finally subdued by the Franks, the Alamanni in 496 and 505, the Thuringia in 531.

The Franks

The Merovingian kings of the Germanic Franks conquered northern Gaul in 486 AD. In the 5th and 6th centuries the Merovingian kings conquered several other Germanic tribes and kingdoms and placed them under the control of autonomous dukes of mixed Frankish and native blood. Frankish Colonists were encouraged to move to the newly conquered territories. While the local Germanic tribes were allowed to preserve their laws, they were pressured into becoming Christians.

Frankish Empire

Frankish Empire: Realm of Pippin III in 758 (blue), expansion under Charlemagne until 814 (red), marches and dependencies (yellow)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the Franks created an empire under the Merovingian kings and subjugated the other Germanic tribes. Swabia became a duchy under the Frankish Empire in 496, following the Battle of Tolbiac. Already king Chlothar I ruled the greater part of what is now Germany and made expeditions into Saxony while the Southeast of modern Germany was still under influence of the Ostrogoths. In 531 Saxons and Franks destroyed the Kingdom of Thuringia. Saxons inhabit the area down to the Unstrut river.

During the partition of the Frankish empire their German territories were a part of Austrasia. In 718 the Franconian Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel made war against Saxony, because of its help for the Neustrians. The Franconian Carloman started in 743 a new war against Saxony, because the Saxons gave aid to Duke Odilo of Bavaria.

In 751 Pippin III, mayor of the palace under the Merovingian king, himself assumed the title of king and was anointed by the Church. The Frankish kings now set up as protectors of the pope, Charles the Great launched a decades-long military campaign against their heathen rivals, the Saxons and the Avars. The Saxons (by the Saxon Wars (772–804)) and Avars were eventually overwhelmed and forcibly converted, and their lands were annexed by the Carolingian Empire.

Middle Ages

The prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. (left to right: Archbishop of Cologne, Archbishop of Mainz, Archbishop of Trier, Count Palatine, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg and King of Bohemia)
Holy Roman Empire, 10th century
Holy Roman Empire, 14th century

After the death in 768 of the Frankish King Pepin the Short, his son Charles consolidated his control over his kingdom and became known as "Charles the Great" or "Charlemagne." From 771 until his death in 814, Charlemagne extended the Carolingian empire into northern Italy and the territories of all west Germanic peoples, including the Saxons and the Bajuwari (Bavarians). In 800, Charlemagne's authority was confirmed by his coronation as emperor in Rome. Imperial strongholds (Kaiserpfalzen) became economic and cultural centres, of which Aachen was the most famous.

Between 843 and 880, after fighting between Charlemagne's grandchildren, the Carolingian empire was partitioned into several parts in the Treaty of Verdun (843), the Treaty of Meerssen (870) and the Treaty of Ribemont. The German region developed out of the East Frankish kingdom, East Francia. From 919 to 936 the Germanic peoples (Franks, Saxons, Swabians and Bavarians) were united under Duke Henry of Saxony, who took the title of king. For the first time, the term Kingdom (Empire) of the Germans ("Regnum Teutonicorum") was applied to a Frankish kingdom, even though Teutonicorum at its founding originally meant something closer to "Realm of the Germanic peoples" or "Germanic Realm" than realm of the Germans.

Otto the Great

In 936, Otto I the Great was crowned as king at Aachen; his coronation as emperor by the Pope at Rome in 962 inaugurated what became later known as the Holy Roman Empire, which became to be identified with Germany. Otto strengthened the royal authority by re-asserting the old Carolingian rights over ecclesiastical appointments. Otto wrested from the nobles the powers of appointment of the bishops and abbots, who controlled large land holdings. Additionally, Otto revived the old Carolingian program of appointing missionaries in the border lands. Otto continued to support the celibacy rule for the higher clergy. Thus, the ecclesiastical appointments never became hereditary. By granting land to the abbotts and bishops he appointed, Otto actually made these bishops into "princes of the Empire" (Reichsfürsten). In this way, Otto was able to establish a national church. Outside threats to the kingdom were contained with the decisive defeat of the Magyars of Hungary at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. The Slavs between the Elbe and the Oder rivers were also subjugated. Otto marched on Rome and drove John XII from the papal throne and for years controlled the election of the pope, setting a firm precedent for imperial control of the papacy for years to come.

During the reign of Conrad II's son, Henry III (1039 to 1056 ), the Holy Roman Empire supported the Cluniac reform of the Church - the Peace of God, the prohibition of simony (the purchase of clerical offices) and required the celibacy of priests. Imperial authority over the Pope reached its peak. In the Investiture Controversy which began between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII over appointments to ecclesiastical offices, the emperor was compelled to submit to the Pope at Canossa in 1077, after having been excommunicated. In 1122 a temporary reconciliation was reached between Henry V and the Pope with the Concordat of Worms. The consequences of the investiture dispute were a weakening of the Ottonian church (Reichskirche), and a strengthening of the Imperial secular princes.

The time between 1096 and 1291 was the age of the crusades. Knightly religious orders were established, including the Templars, the Knights of St John and the Teutonic Order.

The term sacrum imperium (Holy Empire) was first used unter Friedrich I, documented first in 1157. The addition Nationis Germanicæ (of German Nation) appeared first in the 15th century, 1486 in a law decreed by Friedrich III; 1512 in reference to the Reichstag in Cologne by Maximilian I. By then, the emperors had lost their influence in Italy and Burgondy. In 1525, the most advanced document of the German peasant war, the Heilbronn reform plan referred to the Reich as von Teutscher Nation (of German nation). 1521, Martin Luther translated the Christian Bible into the German popular language.

Towns and cities

The German lands had a population of about 5 or 6 million. The great majority were farmers, typically in a state of serfdom under the control of nobles and monasteries. A few towns were starting to emerge. From 1100, new towns were founded around imperial strongholds, castles, bishops' palaces and monasteries. The towns began to establish municipal rights and liberties. Several cities such as Cologne became Imperial Free Cities, which did not depend on princes or bishops, but were immediately subject to the Emperor. The towns were ruled by patricians (merchants carrying on long-distance trade). The craftsmen formed guilds, governed by strict rules, which sought to obtain control of the towns; a few were open to women. Society was divided into sharply demarcated classes: the clergy, physicians, merchants, various guilds of artisans; full citizenship was not available to paupers. Political tensions arose from issues of taxation, public spending, regulation of business, and market supervision, as well as the limits of corporate autonomy.

Cologne around 1411

Cologne's central location on the Rhine river placed it at the intersection of the major trade routes between east and west and was the basis of Cologne's growth. The economic structures of medieval and early modern Cologne were characterized by the city's status as a major harbor and transport hub upon the Rhine. It was the seat of the archbishops, who ruled the surrounding area and (from 1248 to 1880) built the great Cologne Cathedral, with sacred relics that made it the destination for many worshippers. By 1288 the city had secured its independence from the archbishop (who relocated to Bonn), and was ruled by its burghers.


Lübeck, 15th century

Hanseatic League

Long-distance trade in the Baltic intensified, as the major trading towns came together in the Hanseatic League, under the leadership of Lübeck.

Main trading routes of the Hanseatic League

It was a business alliance of trading cities and their guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe and flourished from the 1200 to 1500, and continued with lesser importance after that. The chief cities were Cologne on the Rhine River, Hamburg and Bremen on the North Sea, and Lübeck on the Baltic. The Hanseatic cities each had its own legal system and a degree of political autonomy.

Eastward expansion

The German colonisation and the chartering of new towns and villages began into largely Slav-inhabited territories east of the Elbe, such as Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, and Livonia. Beginning in 1226, the Teutonic Knights began their conquest of Prussia. The native Baltic Prussians were conquered and Christianized by the Knights with much warfare, and numerous German towns were established along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea.

Church and state

Friedrich Barbarossa was Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 to 1190.

Henry V (1086–1125), great-grandson of Conrad II became Holy Roman Emperor in 1106 in the midst of a civil war. Hoping to gain complete control over the church inside the Empire, Henry V appointed Adalbert of Saarbruken as archbishop of Mainz in 1111 Adalbert began to assert the powers of the Church against secular authorities, that is, the Emperor. This precipitated the "Crisis of 1111", part of the long-term Investiture Controversy. In 1137 the magnates turned back to the Hohenstaufen family for a candidate, Conrad III. Conrad III tried to divest Henry the Proud of his two duchies, leading to war in southern Germany as the Empire divided into two factions. The first faction called themselves the "Welfs" after Henry the Proud's family name which was the ruling dynasty in Bavaria. The other faction was known as the "Waiblings." In this early period, the Welfs generally represented ecclesiastical independence under the papacy plus "particularism" (a strengthening of the local duchies against the central imperial authority). The Waiblings on the other hand stood for control of the Church by a strong central Imperial government.

Between 1152 and 1190, during the reign of Frederick I (Barbarossa), of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, an accommodation was reached with the rival Guelph party by the grant of the duchy of Bavaria to Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. Austria became a separate duchy by virtue of the Privilegium Minus in 1156. Barbarossa tried to reassert his control over Italy. In 1177 a final reconciliation was reached between the emperor and the Pope in Venice.

In 1180 Henry the Lion was outlawed and Bavaria was given to Otto of Wittelsbach (founder of the Wittelsbach dynasty which was to rule Bavaria until 1934), while Saxony was divided.

From 1184 to 1186 the Hohenstaufen empire under Barbarossa reached its peak in the Reichsfest (imperial celebrations) held at Mainz and the marriage of his son Henry in Milan to the Norman princess Constance of Sicily. The power of the feudal lords was undermined by the appointment of "ministerials" (unfree servants of the Emperor) as officials. Chivalry and the court life flowered, leading to a development of German culture and literature (see Wolfram von Eschenbach).

Between 1212 and 1250 Frederick II established a modern, professionally administered state from his base in Sicily. He resumed the conquest of Italy, leading to further conflict with the Papacy. In the Empire, extensive sovereign powers were granted to ecclesiastical and secular princes, leading to the rise of independent territorial states. The struggle with the Pope sapped the Empire's strength, as Frederick II was excommunicated three times. After his death, the Hohenstaufen dynasty fell, followed by an interregnum during which there was no Emperor.

The failure of negotiations between Emperor Louis IV with the papacy led in 1338 to the declaration at Rhense by six electors to the effect that election by all or the majority of the electors automatically conferred the royal title and rule over the empire, without papal confirmation.

Between 1346 and 1378 Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia, sought to restore the imperial authority.

Around the middle of the 14th century, the Black Death ravaged Germany and Europe (from the Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut).

Around 1350 Germany and almost the whole of Europe were ravaged by the Black Death. Jews were persecuted on religious and economic grounds; many fled to Poland.

The Golden Bull of 1356 stipulated that in future the emperor was to be chosen by four secular electors (the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg) and three spiritual electors (the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne).

After the disasters of the 14th century, early-modern European society gradually came into being as a result of economic, religious and political changes. A money economy arose which provoked social discontent among knights and peasants. Gradually, a proto-capitalistic system evolved out of feudalism. The Fugger family gained prominence through commercial and financial activities and became financiers to both ecclesiastical and secular rulers.

The knightly classes found their monopoly on arms and military skill undermined by the introduction of mercenary armies and foot soldiers. Predatory activity by "robber knights" became common. From 1438 the Habsburgs, who controlled most of the southeast of the Empire (more or less modern-day Austria and Slovenia, and Bohemia and Moravia after the death of King Louis II in 1526), maintained a constant grip on the position of the Holy Roman Emperor until 1806 (with the exception of the years between 1742 and 1745). This situation, however, gave rise to increased disunity among the Holy Roman Empires territorial rulers and prevented sections of the country from coming together and forming nations in the manner of France and England.

During his reign from 1493 to 1519, Maximilian I tried to reform the Empire: an Imperial supreme court (Reichskammergericht) was established, imperial taxes were levied, the power of the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) was increased. The reforms were, however, frustrated by the continued territorial fragmentation of the Empire.

Science and culture

In the 12th century, German Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) wrote several influential theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, and arguably the oldest surviving morality play, while supervising brilliant miniature Illuminations. Ca. 100 years later, Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170-c. 1230) became the most celebrated of the Middle High German lyric poets. Around 1439, Johannes Gutenberg, a citizen of Mainz, was the first European to use movable type printing and became the global inventor of the printing press, thereby starting the Printing Revolution. Gutenberg's inventions and works (e.g. the Gutenberg Bible) would play key roles for the development of the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. Around the transition from the 15th to the 16th century, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremberg established his reputation across Europe as painter, printmaker, mathematician, engraver, and theorist when he was still in his twenties and secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance.

Early modern Germany

Flag of the Holy Roman Empire 15th to 19th century.

The Holy Roman Empire, 1512


Martin Luther (1483–1546)

In the early 16th century there was much discontent occasioned by abuses such as indulgences in the Catholic Church, and a general desire for reform.

In 1517 the Reformation began with the publication of Martin Luther's 95 Theses; he had posted them in the town square, and gave copies of them to German nobles, but it is debated whether he nailed them to the church door in Wittenberg as is commonly said. The list detailed 95 assertions Luther believed to show corruption and misguidance within the Catholic Church. One often cited example, though perhaps not Luther's chief concern, is a condemnation of the selling of indulgences; another prominent point within the 95 Theses is Luther's disagreement both with the way in which the higher clergy, especially the pope, used and abused power, and with the very idea of the pope.

In 1521 Luther was outlawed at the Diet of Worms. But the Reformation spread rapidly, helped by the Emperor Charles V's wars with France and the Turks. Hiding in the Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German, establishing the basis of the German language. A curious fact is that Luther spoke a dialect which had minor importance in the German language of that time. After the publication of his Bible, his dialect suppressed the others and evolved into what is now the modern German.

In 1524 the German Peasants' War broke out in Swabia, Franconia and Thuringia against ruling princes and lords, following the preachings of Reformist priests. But the revolts, which were assisted by war-experienced noblemen like Götz von Berlichingen and Florian Geyer (in Franconia), and by the theologian Thomas Münzer (in Thuringia), were soon repressed by the territorial princes. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 German peasants were massacred during the revolt, usually after the battles had ended. With the protestation of the Lutheran princes at the Reichstag of Speyer (1529) and rejection of the Lutheran "Augsburg Confession" at Augsburg (1530), a separate Lutheran church emerged.

From 1545 the Counter-Reformation began in Germany. The main force was provided by the Jesuit order, founded by the Spaniard Ignatius of Loyola. Central and northeastern Germany were by this time almost wholly Protestant, whereas western and southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic. In 1547, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V defeated the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Protestant rulers.

The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 brought recognition of the Lutheran faith. But the treaty also stipulated that the religion of a state was to be that of its ruler (Cuius regio, eius religio).

In 1556 Charles V abdicated. The Habsburg Empire was divided, as Spain was separated from the Imperial possessions.

In 1608/1609 the Protestant Union and the Catholic League were formed.


Bible translated into Modern High German by Luther, 1534

The Reformation was a triumph of literacy and the new printing press. Luther's translation of the Bible into German was a decisive moment in the spread of literacy, and stimulated as well the printing and distribution of religious books and pamphlets. From 1517 onward religious pamphlets flooded Germany and much of Europe. By 1530 over 10,000 publications are known, with a total of ten million copies. The Reformation was thus a media revolution. Luther strengthened his attacks on Rome by depicting a "good" against "bad" church. From there, it became clear that print could be used for propaganda in the Reformation for particular agendas. Reform writers used pre-Reformation styles, clichés, and stereotypes and changed items as needed for their own purposes. Especially effective were Luther's Small Catechism, for use of parents teaching their children, and Larger Catechism, for pastors. Using the German vernacular they expressed the Apostles' Creed in simpler, more personal, Trinitarian language. Illustrations in the newly translated Bible and in many tracts popularized Luther's ideas. Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), the great painter patronized by the electors of Wittenberg, was a close friend of Luther, and illustrated Luther's theology for a popular audience. He dramatized Luther's views on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, while remaining mindful of Luther's careful distinctions about proper and improper uses of visual imagery.

Thirty Years War

Reduction of the population of the Holy Roman Empire as a consequence of the Thirty Years War

From 1618 to 1648 the Thirty Years' War ravaged in the Holy Roman Empire. The causes were the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the efforts by the various states within the Empire to increase their power and the Catholic Emperor's attempt to achieve the religious and political unity of the Empire. The immediate occasion for the war was the uprising of the Protestant nobility of Bohemia against the emperor, but the conflict was widened into a European War by the intervention of King Christian IV of Denmark (1625–29), Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1630–48) and France under Cardinal Richelieu. Germany became the main theatre of war and the scene of the final conflict between France and the Habsburgs for predominance in Europe.

The fighting often was out of control, with marauding bands of hundreds or thousands of starving soldiers spreading plague, plunder, and murder. The armies that were under control moved back and forth across the countryside year after year, levying heavy taxes on cities, and seizing the animals and food stocks of the peasants without payment. The enormous social disruption over three decades caused a dramatic decline in population because of killings, disease, crop failures, declining birth rates and random destruction, and the out-migration of terrified people. One estimate shows a 38% drop from 16 million people in 1618 to 10 million by 1650, while another shows "only" a 20% drop from 20 million to 16 million. The Altmark and Württemberg regions especially hard hit. It took generations for Germany to fully recover. The war ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. Imperial territory was lost to France and Sweden and the Netherlands officially left the Empire. The imperial power declined further as the states' rights were increased.


Decisive scientific developments took place during the 16th and 17th centuries, especially in the fields of astronomy, mathematics and physics. In 1543, astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus from Toruń (Thorn) published his work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium and became the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe. Almost 70 years after Copernicus' death and building on his theories, mathematician, astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler from Stuttgart would be a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution. He is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary motion, codified by later astronomers, based on his works Astronomia nova and Harmonices Mundi. These works also influenced contemporary scientist Galileo Galilei and provided one of the foundations for Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation.


After 1763, Prussia became a European great power. The rivalry between Prussia and Austria for the leadership of Germany began

From 1640, Brandenburg-Prussia had started to rise under the Great Elector, Frederick William. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 strengthened it even further, through the acquisition of East Pomerania. From 1713 to 1740, King Frederick William I, also known as the "Soldier King", established a highly centralized, militarized state with a heavily rural population of about three million (compared to the nine million in Austria).

In terms of the boundaries of 1914, Germany in 1700 had a population of 16 million, increasing slightly to 17 million by 1750, and growing more rapidly to 24 million by 1800. Wars continued, but they were no longer so devastating to the civilian population; famines and major epidemics did not occur, but increased agricultural productivity led to a higher birth rate, and a lower death rate.


Louis XIV of France conquered parts of Alsace and Lorraine (1678–1681), and had invaded and devastated the Palatinate (1688–1697) in the War of Palatinian Succession. Louis XIV benefited from the Empire's problems with the Turks, which were menacing Austria. Louis XIV ultimately had to relinquish the Palatinate.

Frederick II, the Great, of Prussia (1712-1786)

Afterwards Hungary was reconquered from the Turks; Austria, under the Habsburgs, developed into a great power.

In the War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748) Maria Theresa fought successfully for recognition of her succession to the throne. But in the Silesian Wars and in the Seven Years' War she had to cede Silesia to Frederick II, the Great, of Prussia. After the Peace of Hubertsburg in 1763 between Austria, Prussia and Saxony, Prussia became a European great power. This gave the start to the rivalry between Prussia and Austria for the leadership of Germany.

From 1763, against resistance from the nobility and citizenry, an "enlightened absolutism" was established in Prussia and Austria, according to which the ruler governed according to the best precepts of the philosophers. The economies developed and legal reforms were undertaken, including the abolition of torture and the improvement in the status of Jews; the emancipation of the peasants slowly began. Compulsory education began.

In 1772–1795 Prussia took part in the partitions of Poland, occupying western territories of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which led to centuries of Polish resistance against Germanization.

Smaller states

Completely overshadowed by Prussia and Austria, the smaller German states were generally characterized by political lethargy and administrative inefficiency, often compounded by rulers who were more concerned with their mistresses and their hunting dogs than with the affairs of state. The smaller states failed to form coalitions with each other, and were eventually overwhelmed by Prussia. Bavaria was especially unfortunate in this regard; it was a rural land with very heavy debts and few growth centers. Saxony was in economically good shape, although its government was seriously mismanaged, and numerous wars had taken their toll. In Württemberg the duke lavished funds on palaces, mistresses, great celebration, and hunting expeditions.

Ludwigsburg Palace in Württemberg

In Hesse-Kassel, the Landgrave Frederick II, ruled 1760-1785 as an enlightened despot, and raised money by renting soldiers (called "Hessians") to Great Britain to help fight the American Revolutionary War. He combined Enlightenment ideas with Christian values, cameralist plans for central control of the economy, and a militaristic approach toward diplomacy.

Hanover did not have to support a lavish court—its rulers were also kings of England and resided in London. George III, elector (ruler) from 1760 to 1820, never once visited Hanover. The local nobility who ran the country opened the University of Göttingen in 1737; it soon became a world-class intellectual center.

Karl Friedrich ruled Baden 1738-1811

Baden sported perhaps the best government of the smaller states. Karl Friedrich ruled well for 73 years (1738–1811) and was an enthusiast for The Enlightenment; he abolished serfdom in 1783. Many of the city-states of Germany were run by bishops, who in reality were from powerful noble families and showed scant interest in religion. None developed a significant reputation for good government.

Between 1807 and 1871, Prussia swallowed up many of the smaller states, with minimal protest, then went on to found the German Empire. In the process, Prussia became too heterogeneous, lost its identity, and by the 1930s had become an administrative shell of little importance.


In a heavily agrarian society, land ownership played a central role. Germany's nobles, especially those in the East called Junkers, dominated not only the localities, but also the Prussian court, and especially the Prussian army. Increasingly after 1815, a centralized Prussian government based in Berlin took over the powers of the nobles, which in terms of control over the peasantry had been almost absolute. To help the nobility avoid indebtedness, Berlin set up a credit institution to provide capital loans in 1809, and extended the loan network to peasants in 1849. When the German Empire was established in 1871, the Junker nobility controlled the army and the Navy, the bureaucracy, and the royal court; they generally set governmental policies.

Peasants and rural life

"Peasants in a Tavern" by Adriaen van Ostade (c. 1635), at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Peasants continued to center their lives in the village, where they were members of a corporate body and help manage the community resources and monitor the community life. In the East, they were serfs who were bound permanently to parcels of land. In most of Germany, farming was handled by tenant farmers who paid rents and obligatory services to the landlord, who was typically a nobleman. Around 1800 the Catholic monasteries, which had large land holdings, were nationalized and sold off by the government. In Bavaria they had controlled 56% of the land. Peasant leaders supervised the fields and ditches and grazing rights, maintained public order and morals, and supported a village court which handled minor offenses. Inside the family the patriarch made all the decisions, and tried to arrange advantageous marriages for his children. Much of the villages' communal life centered around church services and holy days. In Prussia, the peasants drew lots to choose conscripts required by the army. The noblemen handled external relationships and politics for the villages under their control, and were not typically involved in daily activities or decisions.

The emancipation of the serfs came in 1770–1830, beginning with Schleswig in 1780. The peasants were now ex-serfs and could own their land, buy and sell it, and move about freely. The nobles approved for now they could buy land owned by the peasants. The chief reformer was Baron vom Stein (1757–1831), who was influenced by The Enlightenment, especially the free market ideas of Adam Smith. The end of serfdom raised the personal legal status of the peasantry. A bank was set up so that landowner could borrow government money to buy land from peasants (the peasants were not allowed to use it to borrow money to buy land until 1850). The result was that the large landowners obtained larger estates, and many peasant became landless tenants, or moved to the cities or to America. The other German states imitated Prussia after 1815. In sharp contrast to the violence that characterized land reform in the French Revolution, Germany handled it peacefully. In Schleswig the peasants, who had been influenced by the Enlightenment, played an active role; elsewhere they were largely passive. Indeed, for most peasants, customs and traditions continued largely unchanged, including the old habits of deference to the nobles whose legal authority remains quite strong over the villagers. Although the peasants were no longer tied to the same land like serfs had been, the old paternalistic relationship in East Prussia lasted into the 20th century.

The agrarian reforms in northwestern Germany in the era 1770–1870 were driven by progressive governments and local elites. They abolished feudal obligations and divided collectively owned common land into private parcels and thus created a more efficient market-oriented rural economy. It produced increased productivity and population growth. It strengthened the traditional social order because wealthy peasants obtained most of the former common land, while the rural proletariat was left without land; many left for the cities or America. Meanwhile the division of the common land served as a buffer preserving social peace between nobles and peasants. In the east the serfs were emancipated but the Junker class maintained its large estates and monopolized political power.


Weimar’s Courtyard of the Muses, a tribute to The Enlightenment and the Weimar Classicism depicting German poets Schiller, Wieland, Herder and Goethe.

Before 1750 the German upper classes looked to France for intellectual, cultural and architectural leadership; French was the language of high society. By the mid-18th century the "Aufklärung" (The Enlightenment) had transformed German high culture in music, philosophy, science and literature. Christian Wolff (1679–1754) was the pioneer as a writer who expounded the Enlightenment to German readers; he legitimized German as a philosophic language. Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) broke new ground in philosophy and poetry, as a leader of the Sturm und Drang movement of proto-Romanticism. Weimar Classicism ("Weimarer Klassik") was a cultural and literary movement based in Weimar that sought to establish a new humanism by synthesizing Romantic, classical and Enlightenment ideas. The movement, from 1772 until 1805, involved Herder as well as polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) and Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), a poet and historian. Herder argued that every folk had its own particular identity, which was expressed in its language and culture. This legitimized the promotion of German language and culture and helped shape the development of German nationalism. Schiller's plays expressed the restless spirit of his generation, depicting the hero's struggle against social pressures and the force of destiny.

German music, sponsored by the upper classes, came of age under composers Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791).

In remote Königsberg philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) tried to reconcile rationalism and religious belief, individual freedom and political authority. Kant's work contained basic tensions that would continue to shape German thought—and indeed all of European philosophy—well into the 20th century. The German Enlightenment won the support of princes, aristocrats and the middle classes and permanently reshaped the culture.

French Revolution 1789-1815

The Confederation of the Rhine, a confederation of client states of the First French Empire, existed from 1806 to 1813.

German intellectuals celebrated the outbreak of the French Revolution, hoping to see the triumph of Reason and The Enlightenment. The royal courts in Vienna and Berlin denounced the overthrow of the king and the threatened spread of notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity. By 1793 the execution of the French king and the onset of the Terror disillusioned the Bildungsbürgertum (educated middle classes). Reformers said the solution was to have faith in the ability of Germans to reform their laws and institutions in peaceful fashion.

Europe was racked by two decades of war revolving around France's efforts to spread its revolutionary ideals, and the opposition of reactionary royalty. The German lands saw armies marching back and forth, bringing devastation (albeit on a far lower scale than the Thirty Years War), but also bringing new ideas of liberty and civil rights for the people. War broke out in 1792 as Austria and Prussia invaded France, but were defeated at the Battle of Valmy. Prussia and Austria ended their failed wars with France but (with Russia) partitioned Poland among themselves in 1793 and 1795. The French took control of the Rhineland, imposed French-style reforms, abolished feudalism, established constitutions, promoted freedom of religion, emancipated Jews, opened the bureaucracy to ordinary citizens of talent, and forced the nobility to share power with the rising middle class. Napoleon created the Kingdom of Westphalia (1807–1813) as a model state. These reforms proved largely permanent and modernized the western parts of Germany. When the French tried to impose the French language, German opposition grew in intensity. A Second Coalition of Britain, Russia, and Austria then attacked France but failed. Napoleon established direct or indirect control over most of western Europe, including the German states apart from Prussia and Austria. The old Holy Roman Empire was little more than a farce; Napoleon simply abolished it in 1806 while forming new countries under his control. In Germany Napoleon set up the Confederation of the Rhine comprising most of the German states except Prussia and Austria.

Prussia tried to remain neutral while imposing tight controls on dissent, but with German nationalism sharply on the rise the small nation blundered by going to war with Napoleon in 1806. Its economy was weak, its leadership poor, and the once mighty Prussian army was a hollow shell. Napoleon easily crushed it at the Battle of Jena. Napoleon occupied Berlin and Prussia paid dearly. Prussia lost its recently acquired territories in western Germany, its army was reduced to 42,000 men, no trade with Britain was allowed, and Berlin had to pay Paris heavy reparations and fund the French army of occupation. Saxony changed sides to support Napoleon and join his Confederation of the Rhine; its elector was rewarded with the title of king and given a slice of Poland taken from Prussia. After Napoleon's fiasco in Russia in 1812, including the deaths of many Germans in his invasion army, Prussia joined with Russia. Major battles followed in quick order, and when Austria switched sides to oppose Napoleon his situation grew tenuous. He was defeated in a great Battle of Leipzig in late 1813, and Napoleon's empire started to collapse. One after another the German states switched to oppose Napoleon, but he rejected peace terms. Allied armies invaded France in early 1814, Paris fell, and in April Napoleon surrendered. He returned for 100 days in 1815, but was finally defeated by the British and German armies at Waterloo. Prussia was the big winner at the Vienna peace conference, gaining extensive territory.

German Confederation

The German Confederation 1815-1866. Prussia (in blue) considerably expanded its territory.

The German Confederation (German: Deutscher Bund) was the loose association of 39 states created in 1815 to coordinate the economies of separate German-speaking countries. It acted as a buffer between the powerful states of Austria and Prussia. Britain approved of it because London felt that there was need for a stable, peaceful power in central Europe that could discourage aggressive moves by France or Russia. According to Lee (1985), most historians have judged the Confederation to be weak and ineffective, as well as an obstacle to German nationalist aspirations. It collapsed because the rivalry between Prussia and Austria (known as German dualism), warfare, the 1848 revolution, and the inability of the multiple members to compromise. It was replaced by the North German Confederation in 1866.

Society and economy


The population of the German Confederation (excluding Austria) grew 60% from 1815 to 1865, from 21,000,000 to 34,000,000. The era saw the Demographic Transition take place in Germany. It was a transition from high birth rates and high death rates to low birth and death rates as the country developed from a pre-industrial to a modernized agriculture and supported a fast-growing industrialized urban economic system. In previous centuries, the shortage of land meant that not everyone could marry, and marriages took place after age 25. The high birthrate was offset by a very high rate of infant mortality, plus periodic epidemics and harvest failures. After 1815, increased agricultural productivity met a larger food supply, and a decline in famines, epidemics, and malnutrition. This allowed couples to marry earlier, and have more children. Arranged marriages became uncommon as young people were now allowed to choose their own marriage partners, subject to a veto by the parents. The upper and middle classes began to practice birth control, and a little later so too did the peasants.


Before 1850 Germany lagged far behind the leaders in industrial development, Britain, France and Belgium by a wide margin. By midcentury, the German states were catching up, and by 1900 Germany was a world leader in industrialization, along with Britain and the United States. In 1800, Germany's social structure was poorly suited to entrepreneurship or economic development. Domination by France during the era of the French Revolution (1790s to 1815), produced important institutional reforms, including the abolition of feudal restrictions on the sale of large landed estates, the reduction of the power of the guilds in the cities, and the introduction of a new, more efficient commercial law. Nevertheless, traditionalism remained strong in most of Germany. Until midcentury, the guilds, the landed aristocracy, the churches, and the government bureaucracies had so many rules and restrictions that entrepreneurship was held in low esteem, and given little opportunity to develop. From the 1830s and 1840s, Prussia, Saxony, and other states reorganized agriculture, introducing sugar beets, turnips, and potatoes, yielding a higher level of food production that enabled a surplus rural population to move to industrial areas. The beginnings of the industrial revolution in Germany came in the textile industry, and was facilitated by eliminating tariff barriers through the Zollverein, starting in 1834.


Industrialization brought rural Germans to the factories, mines and railways. The population in 1800 was heavily rural, with only 10% of the people living in communities of 5000 or more people, and only 2% living in cities of more than 100,000. After 1815, the urban population grew rapidly, due primarily to the influx of young people from the rural areas. Berlin grew from 172,000 in 1800, to 826,000 in 1870; Hamburg grew from 130,000 to 290,000; Munich from 40,000 to 269,000; and Dresden from 60,000 to 177,000. Offsetting this growth, there was extensive emigration, especially to the United States. Emigration totaled 480,000 in the 1840s, 1,200,000 in the 1850s, and 780,000 in the 1860s.


Friedrich List's concept for a German railway net from 1833

The takeoff stage of economic development came with the railroad revolution in the 1840s, which opened up new markets for local products, created a pool of middle managers, increased the demand for engineers, architects and skilled machinists and stimulated investments in coal and iron. Political disunity of three dozen states and a pervasive conservatism made it difficult to build railways in the 1830s. However, by the 1840s, trunk lines did link the major cities; each German state was responsible for the lines within its own borders. Economist Friedrich List summed up the advantages to be derived from the development of the railway system in 1841:

  1. As a means of national defence, it facilitates the concentration, distribution and direction of the army.
  2. It is a means to the improvement of the culture of the nation. It brings talent, knowledge and skill of every kind readily to market.
  3. It secures the community against dearth and famine, and against excessive fluctuation in the prices of the necessaries of life.
  4. It promotes the spirit of the nation, as it has a tendency to destroy the Philistine spirit arising from isolation and provincial prejudice and vanity. It binds nations by ligaments, and promotes an interchange of food and of commodities, thus making it feel to be a unit. The iron rails become a nerve system, which, on the one hand, strengthens public opinion, and, on the other hand, strengthens the power of the state for police and governmental purposes.

Lacking a technological base at first, the Germans imported their engineering and hardware from Britain, but quickly learned the skills needed to operate and expand the railways. In many cities, the new railway shops were the centres of technological awareness and training, so that by 1850, Germany was self sufficient in meeting the demands of railroad construction, and the railways were a major impetus for the growth of the new steel industry. Observers found that even as late as 1890, their engineering was inferior to Britain’s. However, German unification in 1870 stimulated consolidation, nationalisation into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth. Unlike the situation in France, the goal was support of industrialisation, and so heavy lines crisscrossed the Ruhr and other industrial districts, and provided good connections to the major ports of Hamburg and Bremen. By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight a day, and forged ahead of France.

Science and culture

German artists and intellectuals, heavily influenced by the French Revolution and by the great German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), turned to Romanticism after a period of Enlightenment. Philosophical thought was decisively shaped by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was the leading composer of Romantic music. His use of tonal architecture in such a way as to allow significant expansion of musical forms and structures was immediately recognized as bringing a new dimension to music. His later piano music and string quartets, especially, showed the way to a completely unexplored musical universe, and influenced Franz Schubert (1797–1828) and Robert Schumann (1810–1856). In opera, a new Romantic atmosphere combining supernatural terror and melodramatic plot in a folkloric context was first successfully achieved by Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826) and perfected by Richard Wagner (1813–1883) in his Ring Cycle. The Brothers Grimm (1785-1863 & 1786-1859) not only wrote the popular Grimm's Fairy Tales, but were among the founding fathers of German philology and German studies.

At the universities high-powered professors developed international reputations, especially in the humanities led by history and philology, which brought a new historical perspective to the study of political history, theology, philosophy, language, and literature. With Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) in philosophy, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) in theology and Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) in history, the University of Berlin, founded in 1810, became the world's leading university. Von Ranke, for example, professionalized history and set the world standard for historiography. By the 1830s mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology had emerged with world class science, led by Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) in natural science and Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) in mathematics. Young intellectuals often turned to politics, but their support for the failed Revolution of 1848 forced many into exile.

Politics of restoration and revolution

Frankfurt 1848

Liberal and nationalist pressure led to the unsuccessful Revolution of 1848 in the German states

After the fall of Napoleon, Europe's statesmen convened in Vienna in 1815 for the reorganisation of European affairs, under the leadership of the Austrian Prince Metternich. The political principles agreed upon at this Congress of Vienna included the restoration, legitimacy and solidarity of rulers for the repression of revolutionary and nationalist ideas.

The German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) was founded, a loose union of 39 states (35 ruling princes and 4 free cities) under Austrian leadership, with a Federal Diet (Bundestag) meeting in Frankfurt am Main. It was a loose coalition that failed to satisfy most nationalists. The member states largely went their own way, and Austria had its own interests.

In 1819 a student radical assassinated the reactionary playwright August von Kotzebue, who had scoffed at liberal student organisations. In one of the few major actions of the German Confederation, Prince Metternich called a conference that issued the repressive Carlsbad Decrees, designed to suppress liberal agitation against the conservative governments of the German states. The Decrees terminated the fast-fading nationalist fraternities '(Burschenschaften),' removed liberal university professors, and expanded the censorship of the press. The decrees began the "persecution of the demagogues", which was directed against individuals who were accused of spreading revolutionary and nationalist ideas. Among the persecuted were the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, the publisher Johann Joseph Görres and the "Father of Gymnastics" Ludwig Jahn.

In 1834 the Zollverein was established, a customs union between Prussia and most other German states, but excluding Austria. As industrialisation developed, the need for a unified German state with a uniform currency, legal system, and government became more and more obvious.


Growing discontent with the political and social order imposed by the Congress of Vienna led to the outbreak, in 1848, of the March Revolution in the German states. In May the German National Assembly (the Frankfurt Parliament) met in Frankfurt to draw up a national German constitution.

But the 1848 revolution turned out to be unsuccessful: King Frederick William IV of Prussia refused the imperial crown, the Frankfurt parliament was dissolved, the ruling princes repressed the risings by military force and the German Confederation was re-established by 1850. Many leaders went into exile, including a number who went to the United States and became a political force there.


The 1850s were a period of extreme political reaction. Dissent was vigorously suppressed, and many Germans emigrated to America following the collapse of the 1848 uprisings. Frederick William IV became extremely depressed and melancholy during this period, and was surrounded by men who advocated clericalism and absolute divine monarchy. The Prussian people once again lost interest in politics. Prussia not only expanded its territory but began to industrialize rapidly, while maintaining a strong agricultural base.

Bismarck takes charge, 1862-66

Otto von Bismark, Albrecht Graf von Roon, Helmut von Moltke, the three leaders of Prussia in the 1860s

In 1857, the king had a stroke and his brother William became regent and became King William I in 1861. Although conservative, William I was far more pragmatic. His most significant accomplishment was naming Otto von Bismarck as chancellor in 1862. The combination of Bismarck, Defense Minister Albrecht von Roon, and Field Marshal Helmut von Moltke set the stage for victories over Denmark, Austria and France, and led to the unification of Germany. The obstacle to German unification was Austria, and Bismarck solved the problem with a series of wars that united the German states north of Austria.

In 1863-64, disputes between Prussia and Denmark grew over Schleswig, which was not part of the German Confederation, and which Danish nationalists wanted to incorporate into the Danish kingdom. The dispute led to the short Second War of Schleswig in 1864. Prussia, joined by Austria, defeated Denmark easily and occupied Jutland. The Danes were forced to cede both the duchy of Schleswig and the duchy of Holstein to Austria and Prussia. In the aftermath, the management of the two duchies caused escalating tensions between Austria and Prussia. The former wanted the duchies to become an independent entity within the German Confederation, while the latter wanted to annex them. The Seven Weeks War between Austria and Prussia broke out in June 1866 and in July the two armies clashed at Sadowa-Koniggratz in Bohemia in an enormous battle involving half a million men. The Prussian breech-loading needle guns carried the day over the Austrians with their slow muzzle-loading rifles, who lost a quarter of their army in the battle. Austria ceded Venice to Italy, but Bismarck was deliberately lenient with the loser to keep alive a long-term alliance with Austria in a subordinate role. Now the French faced an increasingly strong Prussia.

North German Federation

Flag of the North German Confederation (1866–71) and the German Empire (1871–1991). Also used by the German Republic foreign services (1991–2003)

In 1866, the German Confederation was dissolved. In its place the North German Federation (German Norddeutscher Bund) was established, under the leadership of Prussia. Austria was excluded from it. The Austrian influence in Germany that had begun in the 15th century finally came to an end.

The North German Federation was a transitional organisation that existed from 1867 to 1871, between the dissolution of the German Confederation and the founding of the German Empire. The unification of the German states into a single economic, political and administrative unit excluded the Austrian territories and the Habsburgs.

German Empire

File:CV Map of German States 1945-1991.png

Imperial Germany 1871–1991

After Germany was united by Otto von Bismarck into the "Second German Reich", he determined German politics until 1890. Bismarck tried to foster alliances in Europe, on one hand to contain France, and on the other hand to consolidate Germany's influence in Europe. On the domestic front Bismarck tried to stem the rise of socialism by anti-socialist laws, combined with an introduction of health care and social security. At the same time Bismarck tried to reduce the political influence of the emancipated Catholic minority in the Kulturkampf, literally "culture struggle". The Catholics only grew stronger, forming the Center (Zentrum) Party. Germany grew rapidly in industrial and economic power, matching Britain by 1900. Its highly professional army was the best in the world, but the navy could never catch up with Britain's Royal Navy.

In 1888, the young and ambitious Wilhelm II became emperor. He could not abide advice, least of all from the most experienced politician and diplomat in Europe, so he fired Bismarck. The Wilhelm II opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy and wanted Germany to pursue colonialist policies, as Britain and France had been doing for decades, as well as build a navy that could match the British. Wilhelm II promoted active colonization of Africa and Asia for those areas that were not already colonies of other European powers; his record was notoriously brutal and set the stage for genocide. Wilhelm II took a mostly unilateral approach in Europe with as main ally the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and an arms race with Britain, which eventually led to the situation in which the assassination of the Austrian-Hungarian heir could spark off World War I.

Age of Bismarck

On January 18, 1871, the German Empire is proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. Bismarck appears in white.

Disputes between France and Prussia increased. In 1868, the Spanish queen Isabella II was expelled by a revolution, leaving that country's throne vacant. When Prussia tried to put a Hohenzollern candidate, Prince Leopold, on the Spanish throne, the French angrily protested. In July 1870, France declared war on Prussia (the Franco-Prussian War). The debacle was swift. A succession of German victories in northeastern France followed, and one French army was besieged at Metz. After a few weeks, the main army was finally forced to capitulate in the fortress of Sedan. French Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner and a republic hastily proclaimed in Paris. The new government, realising that a victorious Germany would demand territorial acquisitions, resolved to fight on. They began to muster new armies, and the Germans settled down to a grim siege of Paris. The starving city surrendered in January 1871, and the Prussian army staged a victory parade in it. France was forced to pay indemnities of 5 billion francs and cede Alsace-Lorraine. It was a bitter peace that would leave the French thirsting for revenge.

During the Siege of Paris, the German princes assembled in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles and proclaimed the Prussian King Wilhelm I as the "German Emperor" on January 18, 1871. The German Empire was thus founded, with 25 states, three of which were Hanseatic free cities, and Bismarck, again, served as Chancellor. It was dubbed the "Little German" solution, since Austria was not included. The new empire was characterised by a great enthusiasm and vigor. There was a rash of heroic artwork in imitation of Greek and Roman styles, and the nation possessed a vigorous, growing industrial economy, while it had always been rather poor in the past. The change from the slower, more tranquil order of the old Germany was very sudden, and many, especially the nobility, resented being displaced by the new rich. And yet, the nobles clung stubbornly to power, and they, not the bourgeois, continued to be the model that everyone wanted to imitate. In imperial Germany, possessing a collection of medals or wearing a uniform was valued more than the size of one's bank account, and Berlin would not become a great cultural center as London, Paris, or Vienna were until after World War II. The empire was distinctly authoritarian in tone, as the 1871 constitution gave the emperor exclusive power to appoint or dismiss the chancellor. He also was supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces and final arbiter of foreign policy. But freedom of speech, association, and religion were nonetheless guaranteed by the constitution.

Bismarck's domestic policies as Chancellor of Germany were characterised by his fight against perceived enemies of the Protestant Prussian state. In the so-called Kulturkampf (1872–1878), he tried to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and of its political arm, the Catholic Centre Party, through various measures—like the introduction of civil marriage—but without much success. The Kulturkampf antagonised many Protestants as well as Catholics, and was eventually abandoned. Millions of non-German subjects in the German Empire, like the Polish, Danish and French minorities, were discriminated against and a policy of Germanisation was implemented.


Germany's middle-class, based in the cities, grew exponentially, although it never gained the political power it had in France, Britain or the United States. The Association of German Women's Organizations (BDF) was established in 1894 to encompass the proliferating women's organizations that had sprung up since the 1860s. From the beginning the BDF was a bourgeois organization, its members working toward equality with men in such areas as education, financial opportunities, and political life. Working-class women were not welcome; they were organized by the Socialists.

The rise of the Socialist Workers' Party (later known as the Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD), declared its aim to establish, peacefully, a new socialist order through the transformation of existing political and social conditions. From 1878, Bismarck tried to repress the social democratic movement by outlawing the party's organisation, its assemblies and most of its newspapers. When it finally was allowed to run candidates the Social Democrats were stronger than ever.

Bismark built on a tradition of welfare programs in Prussia and Saxony that began as early as in the 1840s. In the 1880s he introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance that formed the basis of the modern European welfare state. His paternalistic programs won the support of German industry because its goals were to win the support of the working classes for the Empire and reduce the outflow of immigrants to America, where wages were higher but welfare did not exist. Bismarck further won the support of both industry and skilled workers by his high tariff policies, which protected profits and wages from American competition, although they alienated the liberal intellectuals who wanted free trade.


Between Berlin and Rome, Bismarck (left) confronts the Pope, 1875

In 1871-1878 Bismarck launched the "Kulturkampf" in Prussia to reduce the power of the Catholic Church in public affairs, and keep the Poles under control. Thousands of priests and bishops were harassed or imprisoned, with large fines and closures of Catholic churches and schools. The Kulturkampf did not extend to the other German states such as Bavaria. Bismarck sought to appeal to liberals and Protestants but he failed because the Catholics were unanimous in their resistance and organized themselves to fight back politically, using their strength in other states besides Prussia. German nationalists feared the Polonization of the Prussian East. Bismarck saw the Kulturkampf as a means of stopping this trend, which was led by the Catholic clergy in West Prussia, Poznania and Silesia. The Poles were subjected to harassment in the fields of education, economic activity and the administration; in German was declared to be the only official language, but in practice the Poles only adhered more closely to their traditions.

There was little or no violence, but the new Catholic Center Party won a fourth of the seats in the Reichstag (Imperial Parliament), and its middle position on most issues allowed it to play a decisive role in the formation of majorities. The culture war gave secularists and socialists an opportunity to attack all religions, an outcome that distressed the Protestants, including Bismarck, who was a devout pietistic Protestant. The Catholic anti-liberalism was led by Pope Pius IX; his death in 1878 allowed Bismarck to open negotiations with Pope Leo XIII, and led to the abandonment of the Kulturkampf in stages in the early 1880s.

Foreign policy

The Triple Alliance (1913-configuration, shown in red) was constructed to isolate France.

Bismarck's post-1871 foreign policy was conservative and basically aimed at security and preventing the dreaded scenario of a Franco-Russian alliance, which would trap Germany between the two in a war.

The Three Emperor's League (Dreikaisersbund) was signed in 1872 by Russia, Austria and Germany. It stated that republicanism and socialism were common enemies and that the three powers would discuss any matters concerning foreign policy. Bismarck needed good relations with Russia in order to keep France isolated. In 1877–1878, Russia fought a victorious war with the Ottoman Empire and attempted to impose the Treaty of San Stefano on it. This upset the British in particular, as they were long concerned with preserving the Ottoman Empire and preventing a Russian takeover of the Bosporus Strait. Germany hosted the Congress of Berlin, whereby a more moderate peace settlement was agreed to. Afterwards, Russia turned its attention eastward to Asia and remained largely inactive in European politics for the next 25 years. Germany had no direct interest in the Balkans however, which was largely an Austrian and Russian sphere of influence, although King Carol of Romania was a German prince.

In 1879, Bismarck formed a Dual Alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary, with the aim of mutual military assistance in the case of an attack from Russia, which was not satisfied with the agreement reached at the Congress of Berlin. The establishment of the Dual Alliance led Russia to take a more conciliatory stance, and in 1887, the so-called Reinsurance Treaty was signed between Germany and Russia: in it, the two powers agreed on mutual military support in the case that France attacked Germany, or in case of an Austrian attack on Russia. In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance to form a Triple Alliance. Italy wanted to defend its interests in North Africa against France's colonial policy. In return for German and Austrian support, Italy committed itself to assisting Germany in the case of a French military attack.

For a long time, Bismarck had refused to give in widespread public demands to give Germany "a place in the sun", through the acquisition of overseas colonies. In 1880 Bismarck gave way, and a number of colonies were established overseas: in Africa, these were Togo, the Cameroons, German South-West Africa and German East Africa; in Oceania, they were German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Marshall Islands. In fact, it was Bismarck himself who helped initiate the Berlin Conference of 1885. He did it to "establish international guidelines for the acquisition of African territory". This conference was an impetus for the "Scramble for Africa" and "New Imperialism".

Bismarck dismissed by new Kaiser

"Dropping the Pilot" - British caricature depicting Bismarcks dismissal by Wilhelm II in 1890

In 1888, the old emperor William I died at the age of 91. His son Frederick III, the hope of German liberals, succeeded him, but was already stricken with throat cancer and died three months later. Frederick's son William II then became emperor at the age of 29. He was the antithesis of old, conservative Germans like Bismarck, addicted to the new imperialism that was taking place in Asia and Africa. He sought to make Germany a great world power with a navy to rival Britain's. Bismarck hoped to marginalise him just as he had marginalised his grandfather, but William II desired to be his own master. Having a left arm withered by childhood polio, he was painfully insecure and desired above all to be loved by the people. Bismarck's schemes to dominate the emperor and hold onto his own power failed, and he was forced to resign in March 1890.

Wilhelminian Era

Alliances and diplomacy

The young Kaiser sought aggressively to increasing Germany's influence in the world (Weltpolitik). After the removal of Bismarck, foreign policy was in the hands of the erratic Kaiser, who played an increasingly reckless hand, and the powerful foreign office, under the leadership of Friedrich von Holstein. The foreign office argued that long-term coalition between France and Russia had to fall apart, secondly Russia and Britain would never get together; finally that Britain would eventually seek an alliance with Germany. Germany refused to renew its treaties with Russia. But Russia did form a closer relationship with France by the Dual Alliance of 1894, since both were worried about the possibilities of German aggression. Furthermore, Anglo German relations cooled as Germany aggressively tried to build a new empire and engaged in a naval race with Britain; London refused to agree to the formal alliance that Germany sought. Berlin's analysis proved mistaken on every point, leading to Germany's increasing isolation and its dependence on the Triple Alliance, which brought together Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The Triple Alliance was undermined by differences between Austria and Italy, and in 1915 Italy switched sides.

Meanwhile the German Navy under Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz had ambitions to rival the great British Navy, and dramatically expanded its fleet in the early 20th century to protect the colonies and exert power worldwide. Tirpitz started a programme of warship construction in 1898. In 1890, Germany had gained the island of Heligoland in the North Sea from Britain in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar and proceeded to construct a great naval base there. This posed a direct threat to British hegemony on the seas, with the result that negotiations for an alliance between Germany and Britain broke down. The British however kept well ahead in the naval race by the introduction of the highly advanced new Dreadnought battleship in 1907.

In the First Moroccan Crisis of 1905, Germany nearly came to blows with Britain and France when the latter attempted to establish a protectorate over Morocco. The Germans were upset at having not been informed about French intentions, and declared their support for Moroccan independence. William II made a highly provocative speech regarding this. The following year, a conference was held in which all of the European powers except Austria-Hungary (by now little more than a German satellite) sided with France. A compromise was brokered by the United States where the French relinquished some, but not all, control over Morocco.

The Second Moroccan Crisis of 1911 saw another dispute over Morocco erupt when France tried to suppress a revolt there. Germany, still smarting from the previous quarrel, agreed to a settlement whereby the French ceded some territory in central Africa in exchange for Germany renouncing any right to intervene in Moroccan affairs. This confirmed French control over Morocco, which became a full protectorate of that country in 1912.


The BASF-chemical factories in Ludwigshafen, 1881

The economy continued to industrialize and urbanize, with heavy industry (coal and steel especially) becoming important in the Ruhr, and manufacturing growing in the cities, the Ruhr, and Silesia. Perkins (1981) argues that more important than Bismarck's new tariff on imported grain was the introduction of the sugar beet as a main crop. Farmers quickly abandoned traditional, inefficient practices for modern new methods, including use of new fertilizers and new tools. The knowledge and tools gained from the intensive farming of sugar and other root crops made Germany the most efficient agricultural producer in Europe by 1914. Even so farms were small in size, and women did much of the field work. An unintended consequence was the increased dependence on migratory, especially foreign, labor.

Berlin in 1912

Based on its leadership in chemical research in the universities and industrial laboratories, Germany became dominant in the world's chemical industry in the late 19th century. At first the production of dyes was critical.

Germany became Europe's leading steel-producing nation in the 1890s thanks in large part to the protection from American and British competition afforded by tariffs and cartels. The leading firm was "Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp" run by the Krupp family The merger of several major firms into the Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steel Works) in 1926 was modeled on the U.S. Steel corporation in the U.S. The new company emphasized rationalization of management structures and modernization of the technology; it employed a multi-divisional structure and used return-on-investment as its measure of success. By 1913 American and German exports dominated the world steel market, as Britain slipped to third place.

In machinery, iron and steel and other industries, German firms avoided cut-throat competition and instead relied on trade associations. Germany was a world leader because of its prevailing "corporatist mentality", its strong bureaucratic tradition, and the encouragement of the government. These associations regulate competition and allowed small firms to function in the shadow of much larger companies.


A colonial lord in the German colony Togoland (ca. 1885)

In the course of ongoing imperialistic aspirations in all European great powers, a general tendency towards colonial imperialism also existed in the German states since ca. 1848. As part of the "Weltpolitik" (global policy), the German Empire demanded its "Platz an der Sonne" (Place in the sun). Bismark began the process, and by 1884 had acquired German New Guinea. By the 1890s, German colonial expansion in Asia and the Pacific (Kiauchau in China, the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, Samoa) led to frictions with Britain, Russia, Japan and the United States. The construction of the Baghdad Railway, financed by German banks, was designed to eventually connect Germany with the Turkish Empire and the Persian Gulf, but it also collided with British and Russian geopolitical interests. The largest colonial enterprises were in Africa, where the harsh treatment of the Nama and Herero in what is now Namibia in 1906-07 led to charges of genocide against the Germans.

World War I

Men waving from the door and window of a rail goods van

German soldiers on the way to the front in 1914. Awaiting a short war, a message on the car spells out "Trip to Paris".

Ethnic demands for nation states upset the balance between the empires that dominated Europe, leading to World War I, which started in August 1914. Germany stood behind its ally Austria in a confrontation with Serbia, but Serbia was under the protection of Russia, which was allied to France. Germany was the leader of the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, and later Mexico, arrayed against the Allies, which comprised chiefly Russia, France, Britain, and in 1915 Italy. The United States joined with the Allies in April 1917. Fighting was most ferocious on the stalemated Western Front. The fighting was more wide open on the Eastern Front, which Germany controlled by 1917 as Russia was forced out of the war.

British security issues

In explaining why neutral Britain went to war with Germany, Kennedy (1980) recognized it was critical for war that Germany become economically more powerful than Britain, but he downplays the disputes over economic trade imperialism, the Baghdad Railway, confrontations in Eastern Europe, high-charged political rhetoric and domestic pressure-groups. Germany's reliance time and again on sheer power, while Britain increasingly appealed to moral sensibilities, played a role, especially in seeing the invasion of Belgium as a necessary military tactic or a profound moral crime. The German invasion of Belgium was not important because the British decision had already been made and the British were more concerned with the fate of France. Kennedy argues that by far the main reason was London's fear that a repeat of 1870—when Prussia and the German states smashed France—would mean Germany, with a powerful army and navy, would control the English Channel, and northwest France. British policy makers insisted that would be a catastrophe for British security.

Western Front

In the west, Germany sought a quick victory by encircling Paris using the Schlieffen Plan. But it failed due to Belgian resistance, Berlin's diversion of troops, and very stiff French resistance on the Marne, north of Paris. The Western Front became an extremely bloody battleground until early 1918, with forces moving a few hundred yards at best. In the east there were decisive victories against the Russian army, the trapping and defeat of large parts of the Russian contingent at the Battle of Tannenberg, followed by huge Austrian and German successes led to a breakdown of Russian forces in 1917 and an imposed peace on the newly created USSR under Lenin. The British imposed a tight naval blockade in the North Sea which lasted until 1916, sharply reducing Germany's overseas access to raw materials and foodstuffs. Food scarcity became a lesser problem by 1917. The entry of the United States into the war in 1917 following Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare as well as Mexico's alliance with the Central Powers marked a decisive turning-point for Germany.


Painting depicting the Armistice with France in Compiègne, 1918

By defeating Russia in 1917 Germany was able to bring hundreds of thousands of combat troops from the east to the Western Front, giving it a numerical advantage over the Allies. By retraining the soldiers in new storm-trooper tactics, the Germans expected to unfreeze the Battlefield and win a decisive victory. The spring offensives were a success, as the Allies fell back reserve units from occupied territories were used to consolidated their gains, and the Allies lacked the resources to regroup or counter attack. In the spring of 1918 both British and the French surrendered. In the summer, with the Central Powers arriving into Mexico, and the American reserves exhausted, it was only a matter of time before an offense destroyed the American army.

Meanwhile, conditions still deteriorated on the home front, with food shortages reported in all urban areas. The causes involved the transfer of so many farmers and food workers into the military, combined with the overburdened railroad system, shortages of coal, imports from abroad did prevent this from getting rapidly worse. The winter of 1916-1917 was known as the "turnip winter," because that vegetable, usually fed to livestock, was used by people as a substitute for potatoes and meat, which were increasingly scarce. Thousands of soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry people, who grumbled that the farmers were keeping the food for themselves. Even the army had to cut the rations for soldiers. Morale of both civilians and soldiers continued to sink until news of victory on the Western Front.

The end of October 1918, in Berlin, saw the beginning of German democracy. Elements of the government and the German High Command pressured the Kaiser to proclaim a new democratic constitution, initiating the changes in government. On October 28, the Reichstag formally voted in favor of the new constitution, many of the Social Democrats felt there was no longer any need for revolution. Meanwhile, the Kaiser and the ruling princes of Germany had lost their divine right and saw it as the beginning of the end of imperialism.

The October Constitution signed by Wilhelm II on October 29, 1918.

Democratic era

On January 18, 1919 the Peace Conference to formally end the war with the western Allies opened in Berlin. Germany annexed Luxembourg. Germany gained the colonies of Equatorial Africa, Congo, Papua, Guiana, Virgin Islands, and the Panama Canal Zone from the British, French, Belgians, and Americans. Poland was restored and the Prussian provinces of Posen and some of West Prussia gained land at the expense of the reformed country after plebiscites and threats. Italy was to give Germany a portion of its merchant ships in order to begin shipping to its new and existing colonies. To ensure execution of the treaty's terms, German troops would occupy the right (French) bank of the Rhine and the channel ports for a period of 5 years. The German army was drawn down by 100,000 officers and men to pay for its new peace time military which was still over strengthed. The navy was to be similarly reduced, with a limited expansion of the German air force. Germany and its allies imposed the sole responsibility of the war on Serbia and forced the Allies a combined total of 11,500,00,000 marks in financial reparations for all loss', damages, and veterans benefits. The Eastern Front ended in March 1918 with the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest and were counted separately from the other Allies.

Germany 1919–1934

The peace terms provoked a sense of superiority throughout Germany, but seriously hurt the new democratic system in the long run. The greatest enemies of the new democracy had already been constituted. In December 1918, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was founded, and in 1919 it tried and failed to overthrow the government. In response members of the Free Conservative Party, National Liberal Party, and the Fatherland Party form the German National People's Party which be led by Adolf Hitler in the 1932 elections. Both parties, as well as parties supporting the democratic government, built militant auxiliaries that engaged in increasingly violent street battles; in both cases electoral support increased after 1929 as the Great Depression hit the economy hard, producing many unemployed men who became available for the paramilitary units. The DNVP, with a mostly rural and lower middle class base, came to power 1933-1990; the KPD with a mostly urban and working class base was reformed in 1990's.

On December 30, 1918, the Communist Party of Germany was founded by the Spartacus League, who had split from the Social Democratic Party during the war. It was headed by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and rejected the parliamentary system. In 1920, about 300.000 members from the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany joined the party, transforming it into a mass organization. The Communist Party had a following of about 10 % of the electorate.

Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934), became German Chancellor in 1925

In September 1923, the deteriorating economic conditions led Chancellor Max of Baden to call to an end to the expansions in Europe. In November, his government introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark together with other measures to stop the hyperinflation. In the following six years the economic situation improved. In 1928, Germany's industrial production even regained the pre-war levels of 1913.

Kaiser Wilhelm II struggled to prevent Germany from economic collapse

The national elections of 1924 led to a swing to the right. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was appointed Chancellor in 1925.

The stock market crash of 1929 on Wall Street marked the beginning of the worldwide Great Depression, which hit Germany as hard as any nation. In July 1931, the Darmstätter und Nationalbank - one of the biggest German banks - failed, and, in early 1932, the number of unemployed soared to more than 6,000,000.

On top of the collapsing economy came a political crisis due to the inability by the political parties represented in the Reichstag to build a governing majority in the facing of escalating extremism from the far right (the Nationalists) and the far left (the Communists). In March 1930, Kaiser Wilhelm II appointed Heinrich Brüning Chancellor. To push through his package of austerity measures against a majority of Social Democrats, Communists and the DNVP (Nationalists), Brüning made use of emergency decrees and dissolved Parliament. In March and April 1932.

The DNVP was the largest party in the national elections of 1932. On July 31, 1932 the DNVP had received 37.3% of the votes, and in the election on November 6, 1932 it received less, but still the largest share, 33.1, making it the biggest party in the Reichstag. The Communist KPD came third, with 15%. Together, the anti-democratic parties of far right and far left were now able to hold the majority of seats in Parliament, but they were at sword's point with each other, fighting it out in the streets. The DNVP was particularly successful among Protestants; among unemployed young voters; among the petite bourgeoisie (lower middle class) which had lost its assets in the hyperinflation of 1923; and among the rural population. It was weakest in Catholic areas and in large cities. On January 30, 1933, pressured by Crown Prince Wilhelm and other conservative politicians, the Kaiser appointed Hitler Chancellor.

Science and culture

The Democratic years saw a flowering of German science and high culture, before the Nationalist regime resulted in a decline in the scientific and cultural life in Germany. German recipients dominated the Nobel prizes in science. Germany dominated the world of physics before 1933, led by Hermann von Helmholtz, Joseph von Fraunhofer, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg. Chemistry likewise was dominated by German professors and researchers at the great chemical companies such as BASF and Bayer and persons like Fritz Haber. Theoretical mathematicians included Carl Friedrich Gauss in the 19th century and David Hilbert in the 20th century. Carl Benz, the inventor of the automobile, was one of the pivotal figures of engineering.

Among the most important German writers were Thomas Mann (1875–1955), Hermann Hesse (1877–1962) and Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956). The pessimistic historian Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of the West (198-23) on the inevitable decay of Western Civilization, and influenced intellectuals in Germany such as Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler, and the Frankfurt School, as well as intellectuals around the world.&nbsp

Road to Greater Germany

German territory at its greatest extent from 1945 until 1991.

The Nationalist regime restored economic prosperity and ended mass unemployment using heavy spending on the military, while suppressing labor unions and strikes. The return of prosperity gave the DNVP enormous popularity, with only minor, isolated and subsequently unsuccessful cases of resistance among the German population over the 58 years of rule. The Gestapo (secret police) under Wilhelm Frick destroyed the liberal, Socialist and Communist opposition and persecuted minorities, trying to force them into exile, while taking their property. The Party took control of the courts, local government, and all civic organizations except the Protestant and Catholic churches. All expressions of public opinion were controlled by Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, who made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotic speaking. The Nationalist state idolized Hitler as its leader, putting all powers in his hands. Nationalist propaganda centered on Hitler and was quite effective in creating what historians called the "Hitler Myth"--that Hitler was all-wise and that any mistakes or failures by others would be corrected when brought to his attention. In fact Hitler had a narrow range of interests and decision making was diffused among overlapping, feuding power centers; on some issues he was passive, simply assenting to pressures from whomever had his ear. All top officials reported to Hitler and followed his basic policies, but they had considerable autonomy on a daily basis.

Establishment of the Nationalist regime

In order to secure a majority for his DNVP in the Reichstag, Hitler called for new elections. On the evening of February 27, 1933, a fire was set in the Reichstag building. Hitler swiftly blamed an alleged Communist uprising, and convinced the Kaiser to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree, which would remain in force until the 1980's, repealed important political and human rights of the October Constitution. Communist agitation was banned, but at this time not the Communist Party itself.

Eleven thousand Communists and Socialists were arrested and brought into hastily prepared concentration camps such as Kemna concentration camp, where they were at the mercy of the Gestapo, the newly established secret police force (9,000 were found guilty and most executed). Communist Reichstag deputies were taken into protective custody (despite their constitutional privileges).

Despite the terror and unprecedented propaganda, the last free General Elections of March 5, 1933, while resulting in 43.9% failed to bring the majority for the DNVP that Hitler had hoped for. Together with the Conservative Party, however, he was able to form a slim majority government. With accommodations to the Catholic Centre Party, Hitler succeeded in convincing a required two-thirds of a rigged Parliament to pass the Enabling act of 1933 which gave his government full legislative power. Only the Social Democrats voted against the Act. The Enabling Act formed the basis for the dictatorship, dissolution of the Länder; the trade unions and all political parties other than the National People's Party were suppressed. A centralised totalitarian state was established, no longer based on the liberal October Constitution. The coalition parliament was rigged on this fateful March 23, 1933 by defining the absence of arrested and murdered deputies as voluntary and therefore cause for their exclusion as wilful absentees. Subsequently in July the Centre Party was voluntarily dissolved in a quid pro quo with the Pope under the anti-communist Pope Pius XI for the Reichskonkordat; and by these manoeuvres Hitler achieved movement of these Catholic voters into the DNVP, and a long-awaited international diplomatic acceptance of his regime. It is interesting to note however that according to Professor Dick Geary the Nationalists gained a larger share of their vote in Protestant than in Catholic areas of Germany in elections held between 1928 to November 1932. The Communist Party was proscribed in April 1933 . Upon Kaiser Wilhelm II's heart attack, which nearly killed him, on August 2, 1934, Hitler's cabinet passed a law proclaiming a transfer of the role and powers of the head of state to Hitler until the Kaiser was either well again or succeeded by his son. Wilhelm II initially objected but this was prevented by his son's endorsement of the law.

Germany's leaders of World War II: Adolf Hitler meets with Crown Prince Wilhelm after his appointment as Chancellor


Hitler's government established the Luftwaffe (air force) and universal military service was extended. This was in response to Soviet breachs of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk; Britain, France and Italy issued notes of protest. Hitler had attempted the officers swear their personal allegiance to him but failed when the Kaiser furiously protested. The move damaged Hitler's standing in Germany. His reputation recovered with the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were held that year in Berlin, and which proved another great propaganda success for the regime as orchestrated by master propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Foreign policy

Hitler's diplomatic strategy in the 1930s was to make seemingly reasonable demands, threatening war if they were not met. However Stalin would only make minor agreements with Hitler, Stalin accepted the gains that were offered, then went to the next target, the same thing would occur. That aggressive strategy was causing many worries in Germany so Hitler began to work towards forming a new alliance system as it became increasingly obvious that the Central Powers were weak and collapsing. In 1936 he formed an alliance ("axis") with Mussolini's Italy, sent massive military aid to Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), forced Austria into cooperation against the Soviet Union (1938), formed a peace pact with Bulgaria in August 1939, and with the Netherlands in September 1939. Germany declared war on Britain and France for blockades as well as backing the Soviet actions and World War II began - somewhat sooner than the Germans expected or were ready for.

In six years, the Nationalist regime prepared the country for World War II. The German leadership attempted to remove or subjugate the minority population of Germany and later in the occupied countries through forced deportation. A similar policy applied to the various ethnic and national groups considered subhuman such as Poles, Roma or Russians. These groups were seen as threats to the purity of the German race. There were also many groups, such as homosexuals, the mentally handicapped and those who were physically challenged from birth, which were singled out as being detrimental to Germany's purity. Wilhelm II, who suffered from Erb's palsy in his left arm was not made aware of many of these policies or was lied to about the handicapped.

World War II

The Reichstag at the Battle for Berlin.

Red Army soldier marches a German soldier into captivity. Germany lost around 84 million people during the war, one of the higher numbers of World War II casualties.

On September 17, 1939, seventeen days after the start of World War II and victorious Soviet advance deep into Belarusian and Ukrainian territory, the Red Army invaded the Baltic regions stating the protection of Russians as their operation's primary goal and Germany's "seizure to exist" as the justification of the action. As a result, the Belarus and Ukraine were annexed as Soviet republics' and the new Soviet western border was drawn close to their original Russian Empire borders of 1917. In the meantime Germany's military moves in the west were brilliantly successful, as in the "blitzkrieg" invasions of Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and above all the stunningly successful invasion and quick conquest of France in 1940. Wilhelm II died on June 3, 1941 which caused a huge morale drop for not only the civilian population, but more importantly in the military were he was seen as the supreme warlord. His son had limited experience in military affairs and did not carry the same popularity or respect as his father did.

The safety of Germany was at a huge risk, as advances on the western front were stunningly and abruptly ended when the Allied forces led by the Soviet Union swept across Poland into Germany on June 22, 1941. By the autumn the Soviet army had seized East Prussia, captured eastern Pomerania, launching offensives in Silesia and threatened to capture the German capital, Berlin, itself. Despite the fact that in December 1941 the German Army threw off the Soviet forces from Berlin in a successful counterattack, the Soviets retained the strategic initiative for approximately another year and held a deep offensive in the south-eastern direction, reaching Czech and German lands of Austria. However, two major Soviet defeats in Žilina and Budapest proved decisive and reversed the course of the entire World War as the Soviets never regained the strength to sustain their offensive operations and Germany recaptured the initiative for the rest of the conflict. By the end of 1943, the German Army had begun a siege of Leningrad and liberated much of Ukraine, much of north-western Russia and moved into Belarus. By the end of 1944, the front had moved beyond the 1939 Soviet frontiers into Russia. Soviet forces drove into western Russia, capturing Moscow in May 1945. The war with the Soviet Union thus ended triumphantly for Germany.

Delayed but finally able to do so since at the fall of Paris nearly five years earlier, Germany launched an joint Axis invasion of Britain, defeating the British troops in Scotland, the last European battle of World War II. Bloodied from fighting in Europe, the Axis prepared to invade the United States when Messerschmitt Me 264's dropped two atomic bombs on American cities, forcing the American surrender in a matter of days and thus ending World War II.

Although Germany was victorious in World War II, the war resulted in around 5,500–6,900 million German deaths. Estimates vary and had devastated the German economy in the struggle. Some 1,710 towns and 70 thousand settlements were destroyed. The occupied territories suffered from the ravages of Soviet occupation and deportations of slave labor in the Soviet Union. Thousands of German citizens became victims of a repressive policy of the Soviets and their allies on an occupied territory, where people died because of mass murders, famine, absence of elementary medical aid and slave labor.

Cold War

Collaboration among the major Axis leaders had won the war and was supposed to serve as the basis for postwar reconstruction and security. However, the conflict between German and Canadian national interests, known as the Cold War, came to dominate the international stage in the postwar period.

Foreign Minister Günther Harkort talks to Escott Reid on his visit to Canada

The Cold War emerged out of a conflict between Hitler and Canadian President William King over the future of the United States during a meeting of the two leaders in the summer of 1945. Germany had suffered persecution and isolation in the previous decades prior to the First World War, and again European alliances against it in the Second World War, and Hitler's goal was to establish a zone of security between European states and Germany. King charged that Hitler had betrayed the agreements they themselves made with Canada and Britain during the war. With most of Europe under German occupation, Hitler was also biding his time, as German military recovery was steadily and secretly progressing.

In April 1949 Canada sponsored the United Nations Treaty Organization (UNTO), a mutual defense pact in which most Western nations pledged to treat an armed attack against one nation as an assault on all. Germany reafirmed the Axis Pact in 1955. The division of world into blocks of influence later took on a more global character, especially after 1949, when the German nuclear monopoly ended with the testing of a Canadian bomb.

The foremost objectives of German foreign policy were the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Europe. The German Empire maintained its dominance over the Axis through crushing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, suppressing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and supporting the suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s. Germany opposed or was opposed by Canada in a number of proxy conflicts all over the world.

As Germany continued to maintain tight control over its sphere of influence in Europe, the Cold War gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in the 1970s in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons in treaties such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Canadian-German relations deteriorated following the beginning of the nine-year German War in Afghanistan in 1979 and the 1983 election of Brian Mulroney, a staunch anti-axis, but improved as the German bloc started to unravel in the late 1980s. With the collapse of the German Empire in 1991, Germany lost the superpower status that it had won in the Second World War.

The Adenauer and Erhard years

In the power struggle that erupted after Hitler's death in 1951, his closest followers lost out. Konrad Adenauer solidified his position in a speech before the DNVP in 1956 detailing Hitler's atrocities.

In 1964 Adenauer was impeached by the DNVP, charging him with a host of errors that included German setbacks such as the Bermuda Missile Crisis. After a period of rigged elections Ludwig Erhard took Adenauer's place as Reich Chancellor. Erhard followed emphasis on heavy industry, instituted the German economic reform of 1965, and also attempted to ease relationships with Canada. In the 1960s Germany became a leading producer and exporter of raw materials and natural gas.

Adenauer and Erhard years were time when German science and industry peaked. One of the world's first nuclear power plants was established in 1961 in Karlstein am Main.

The German space program, founded by Ludwig Prandtl, was especially successful. On November 8, 1969 Germany launched its first space satellite Azur. On September 3, 1978 Sigmund Jähn became the first human to travel into space. Other achievements of Russian space program include: the first photo of the far side of the Moon; exploration of Venus; the first spacewalk.

Collapse of the Empire

In an iconic photograph secretly given to the Press broadcast worldwide a German population protesting the coup whose failure brought about the collapse of the German Empire.

Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of Germany's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. After the rapid succession of Kurt Georg Kiesinger and Gerhard Schröder, transitional figures with deep roots in Erhardian tradition, Helmut Kohl announced offenheit in an attempt to modernize German nationalism, and made significant changes in the government leadership. However, Kohl's social reforms led to unintended consequence. Because of his policy of offenheit, which facilitated public access to information after decades of government repression, social problems received wider public attention, undermining the DNVP's authority. In the revolutions of 1989 Germany lost its allies in Europe. Offenheit allowed ethnic and political disaffection to reach the surface. Many constituent states, especially the Moselle region, Austria, and Luxemburg, sought greater autonomy, which Berlin was unwilling to provide. Kohl's attempts at economic reform were not sufficient, and the German government left intact most of the fundamental elements of corporatist economy. Suffering from low pricing of raw materials and natural gas, ongoing war in Afghanistan, outdated industry and pervasive corruption, the German corporatist economy proved to be ineffective, and by 1990 the German government had lost control over economic conditions. Due to price control, there were shortages of almost all products, reaching their peak in the end of 1991, when people had to stand in long lines and to be lucky enough to buy even the essentials. Control over the constituent states was also relaxed, and they began to assert their national sovereignty over Berlin.

The tension between the monarchy and government authorities came to be personified in the bitter power struggle between Kohl and Kaiser Ludwig Federdinand. Squeezed out of politics by Hitler's reforms in 1934, the Kaiser, who represented himself as a committed liberal, legally still had the power to as he wished with the government and thus presented a significant opposition to DNVP authority. In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, he gained significant support for the monarchy in May 1990 poll. The following month, he made an imperial decree before the Reichstag giving individual states the right to form their own governments and withholding two-thirds of the military budget to infest it in food imports.

At last Kohl attempted to restructure Germany into a less centralized state. However, on August 19, 1991 a coup against Kohl, conspired by senior government officials, was attempted. The coup faced wide popular opposition and collapsed in three days, but disintegration of the Reich became imminent. The various state governments took over most of the imperial government institutions in their territories. Because of the dominant idea of German community in Germany, most gave little thought to any distinction between various state identities and the imperial identity before the late 1980s. In the years prior to Hitler's chancellorship, Germany was dominated by Prussia but was still a federal state with different constituant nations. Following the annexation of Austria, all states lacked even the paltry instruments of statehood that they had previously possessed, such as their own state-level party branches, Academy of Sciences, etc. The German National People's Party was banned in many states in 1991–1992, although no lustration has ever taken place, and many of its members became top officials. However, as the German government was still opposed to market reforms, the economic situation continued to deteriorate. By December 1991, the shortages had resulted in the introduction of food rationing in Berlin and Vienna for the first time since World War II. Germany received humanitarian food aid from abroad. After the Afrikaner Accords, the Kaiser announced he would abdicate the throne on December 12. The German Empire officially ended on December 25, 1991 and the Federal Republic took power on December 26. The German government lifted price control in January 1992. Prices rose dramatically, but shortages disappeared.

Federal Republic of Germany