THE GERMAN EMPIRE 

(1871 - 1918)


"Wer einen ebenbürtigen Gegner überlebt, wird entdecken, daß ihm etwas fehlt"

-Otto von Bismarck-

The German Empire evolved from the Wars of German Unification (1864 - 1871 ), which were fought under Otto von Bismarck's strategical leadership. The first War of German Unification was fought between Prussia in alliance with Austria against Denmark in 1864. After Denmark had lost the war, Prussia and Austria received the northern states of Schleswig and Holstein. Whereas the new territory was connected to Prussia, Holstein was an enclave for Austria with no significant seaport. The second War of German Unification was fought between Prussia and Austria in 1866 and resulted in Austria's defeat and the formation of the North German Confederation. An outcome that opened the door for a German Empire without Prussia's rival Austria. The third and last War of German Unification was fought against France in 1870. The North German Confederation's victory was possible because of strategic alliances with the southern German states. The last war appealed to a new national unity and resulted in The German Empire's formation on January 1, 1871, when the new constitution was coming into effect. On January 18, 1871, Wilhelm I was proclaimed German emperor in the Hall of Mirrors (Versailles).

Twenty-two individual states and three Free Cities formed the German Empire that was a constitutional state with 40 million citizens. All 25 federal states were represented in the Bundesrat, which created together with the emperor the executive branch that could declare war and peace. The Bundestag and the Chancellor were the other two political entities that governed the German Empire. Otto von Bismarck was the most important and influential Chancellor of all eight officeholders who served under the banner of the empire.

Otto von Bismarck became a Prussian Prime Minister and State Secretary in 1862. Wilhelm I. wanted a military reform in which the Prussian army was strengthened but encountered resistance from liberal forces who used the Prussian constitution to block the reform. Bismarck argued that the state business needed to be continued without a parliament if necessary, using a gap in the Prussian constitution and arranged the desired reform. Bismarck enlarged the military while at the same time pointing out that the military's virtues could serve as enrichment for daily life and society. He argued that Prussias destiny in Germany is not determined by speeches and resolutions but by blood and iron. Whereas the liberal forces reacted reluctant to his Blood and Iron speech in 1862, many supported him after the victory against rival Austria. The North German Confederation served as a precursor for German unity. In 1870, Bismarck achieved a good starting position because of alliances with southern German states and good relations with Russia for his policy stroke against France. The final War of German unification (1870 - 1871) was not started by a German declaration of war but by France. The war was short and the victory of Sedan set the course for Germany's victory. It is noteworthy that Emperor Napoleon III (not to be confused with Bonaparte) was captured along with 100000 French soldiers by German military forces. The German Empire was proclaimed on January 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles (officially January 1 by constitution). Wilhelm II became German emperor and Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of the German Reich and a national hero. The German military was not only celebrated but started to serve as a role model for a German way of life.

CCO: David Liuzzo
CCO: David Liuzzo

Bismarck's domestic policy was characterized by several undertakings to unify the majority of the Reich's citizens. Some groups, namely the Catholics and the socialists, were considered enemies of the Empire. Bismarck demanded that the first group should obey the Emperor only instead of the Pope. The socialists, however, were considered enemies because they influenced labor. The socialist's agenda often stood in stark contrast to Bismarck's goals, namely a state in which the Emperor, the aristocracy, the chancellor, and a selected group from the upper-class should be in charge of political affairs. Bismarck passed a series of laws or social securities (Sozialgesetze) for the working class's profit to prevent the socialist's increasing power. These achievements that had a substantial impact on daily life are still in place in today's Germany. The Sozialgesetze included health and disability insurance for the working force and a pension as well as a dependent's pension. His contentions with Catholics became known as the culture struggle (Kulturkampf) and resulted in the separation of religion and government.

Otto von Bismarck proclaimed that the German Empire was saturated to reassure its neighboring states that the unified Empire posed no threat to others. However, the French just waited for an opportunity to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans and therefore formed alliances. A french attempt offering parts of their territories in Indo-China in return for Alsace-Lorraine failed. Bismarck's goal was to maintain good relations with Russia to block any upcoming conflict with the French.  He was very skeptical towards the acquisition of German colonies because of two reasons. First, settlements cost a lot of money, and second, he did not want to thwart any British plans. On the other hand, private interest groups grew immensely, with other European powers already grabbing new continents.  Overseas territories also offered advantages, such as fresh markets for goods and raw materials. Therefore, Bismarck promised his fellow citizens a German Empire, that is, regarding colonization on the bright side of life.

The industrialization era characterized the German Empire. Tramways stood for mobility and progression. The first cars represented German engineering at its best. On July 3, 1886, the first automobile drove on the roads of Mannheim. It was developed by Carl Benz, who founded already in 1883 a company for gas engines. Mannheim itself transformed into a flourishing business location.

The German Empire was a nation with a strong military and a center of scientific discoveries due to excellent terms and conditions at German universities in an era shaped by industrialization and progress. 21 Nobelists arose from the German Reich. Seven of them received a Nobel Prize in chemistry. Six of them received a Nobel Prize in physics, among them Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (First Nobelists in physics; He detected X-Rays in the Franconian town of Wuerzburg) and Max Planck (quantum theory). Robert Koch was awarded because he discovered tuberculosis germs, and Emil von Behring was awarded because of his vaccinations achievements.

1901 Emil von Behring, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
1902 Emil Fischer, Theodor Mommsen,
1905 Adolf von Baeyer, Robert Koch, Philipp von Lennard
1907 Eduard Buchner
1908 Paul Ehrlich, Rudolf Eucken
1909 Ferdinand Braun, Wilhelm Oswald
1910 Paul Heyse, Albrecht Kossel, Otto Wallach
1911 Wilhelm Wien
1912 Gerhart Hauptmann
1914 Max von Laue
1915 Richard Willstätter
1918 Fritz Haber, Max Planck

Sources / Quellenangabe:

Kitchen, Martin. A History of Modern Germany. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Naumann, Günter. Deutsche Geschichte. Wiesbaden: marixverlag, 2018.