August experience

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Troop transport August 1914
German soldiers went to war in 1914 with the cheering sympathy of the population.
The departure of German soldiers from their garrison town
Troop transport by train

The term August experience - in the subsequent literary and historiographical reception often referred to as the spirit of 1914 - describes the nationalistic mood of wide circles of the population of the German Empire in August 1914, the beginning of the First World War, often described as " enthusiastic " or " euphoric " .

Split view of the beginning of the war

As early as the Second Morocco Crisis in 1911, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg was faced with large sections of the Reichstag and the press, who rejected the retreat of the Reich government. Many residents in Germany and the allied Austria-Hungary then enthusiastically received the declarations of war in 1914 . The expected victory over France and England - which was gradually being viewed as Germany's archenemy (“envious, perfidious Albion ”) - was for many Germans a question of national pride . In turn, supporters of the SPD were able to identify with the struggle against the anti-progressive Russian tsarism . Your most important spokesman in this regard was the Reichstag member Ludwig Frank , who died as a war volunteer in the first few weeks.

As in the garrison towns the troops out of their barracks moved away to the front, many places were crowds trellis and cheered the soldiers. The guns were decorated with flowers. Some writers and artists welcomed the outbreak of war. Thomas Mann spoke of war as a “purification” and as an exit from the “rich world of peace”. Nationalist -minded Germans spoke of the “cleansing steel bath of the nation ”. Theologians like Dietrich Vorwerk gave the war a religious consecration. Within the split SPD, the Lensch-Cunow-Haenisch group propagated terms such as “ war socialism ”, “ state socialism ” and “ national socialism ”. Many people in Germany perceived the beginning of the war as an “awakening experience”. The idea of imperialism (“ place in the sun ”) and the years of “saber rattling” under the heads of state had left their mark. Others, including many students, saw the existential experience of struggle as a possible escape from an existence that was perceived as boring and shallow. The enthusiasm for the war was also reflected in the manifesto of 93 of September 1914 and in the declaration of the university professors of the German Reich of October 1914, which had been signed by over 3,000 German university professors, although these declarations were primarily a reaction to the worldwide outrage over the War crimes in Belgium were in the initial stages of the war ( Rape of Belgium ).

In the meantime, it is undisputed in research that enthusiasm for war was not found in the entire population, the historian Sven Oliver Müller even doubts that it captured a majority. Ulrich Herbert sums up the more recent research: "But poetry and cheers were not everywhere; more in the cities than in the country, louder among the bourgeoisie than among workers and farmers, more among the youth than among the elderly." The war in the working-class districts of the large industrial cities is expected more with skepticism and trepidation, according to police reports on the mood in the population. In the country, the beginning of the war caused "an almost general deep depression," according to the historian Sven Oliver Müller. In the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten it was said: "Serious grief has moved in with many of our farming families, because the fathers often have very large families, the sons, horses and wagons are demanded by the military authorities, and the harvest is outside." There was also skepticism among parts of the bourgeoisie: "One trembles before the world war, it is impossible to imagine it destroying everything that was quietly worked out in the years of peace," wrote one entrepreneur, for example.

A secondary school diploma was introduced in the German Reich so that senior primans who were enthusiastic about the war could join the army early . More recent research on regional history in Germany, however, refutes the assumption of general enthusiasm for war in August 1914 and has established a much more differentiated behavior of the population at the outbreak of war. In France, a large part of the population was willing to defend the nation, but only after the German declaration of war. Until then, the public had primarily dealt with domestic political issues; there was no expectation or even enthusiasm for an impending war. Only nationalist politicians and intellectuals had already openly advocated war before the attack, for example to take revenge and regain Alsace and Lorraine .

Explanations for the thesis of enthusiasm for war in certain social classes came from, for example, George L. Mosse : He described the desire to restore an intact masculinity after a phase of so-called decadence , to which, in addition to the supposed predominance of Judaism, the women's movement , the first approaches of a gay movement and artists such the " decadence poets " were counted.

The military historian Manfried Rauchsteiner regards the enthusiasm for war as an entirely real factor that worked across social classes and political camps. According to Rauchsteiner, the prospect of war in the summer of 1914 became a projection screen for the most diverse political, philosophical and existential desires:

“For the people it was not a matter of course that there was a war, but it didn't seem particularly terrifying to them either; War was a part of human existence and it was extremely exciting. The war seemed like the ideal way out to get away from it all. All sorts of things flowed into it: contradicting things like tiredness about modernity and longing for something new, irrational expectation of salvation, solving the most diverse dilemmas, overcoming stagnation, liberating foreign policy, realizing nationalistic, consolidating state structures, centralism and federalism. [...] In Berlin and St. Petersburg, in Paris and London, as in Vienna, one could have the feeling that the war was seen as redemption. And the intellectual impetus that could be observed across Europe gave rise to that tremendous enthusiasm for war that was to become a phenomenon of this century. The destructibility of all order was seen as a possibility and war as an experiment. In the age of acceleration, war was also understood as something that accelerated. [...] Students, professors, writers, artists, priests, atheists, anarchists, political activists, radicals: everyone wanted to be there when the Pax Europaea came to an end. [...] All of them did not see the terrible thing in the war, but the change, and only very few were able to escape the suggestion and see anything other than the beginning, namely the end of a European century. "

Until July 29, when the Russian partial mobilization became known, there were also actions by opponents of the war. Until then, a total of 288 meetings and marches and around 160 events had taken place in around 160 cities. On July 28, 1914, for example, anti-war demonstrations took place in Berlin's Lustgarten (more than 100,000 participants) as well as in Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek. However, the SPD leadership shied away from using the mass protests as a means of political pressure and opposing the hurray patriots offensively. Anti-war actions were mostly limited to indoor gatherings approved by the police, and the streets were left to the war-loving sections of the bourgeoisie. The radical shift in the SPD leadership and most of the SPD party newspapers a few days later irritated large sections of the workforce, which even after August 1, 1914, showed more resignation and little enthusiasm for the war.

In practically all the states involved in the war, the socialist parties initially joined the ranks of the “defenders of the fatherland” and voted in the parliaments for the war credits . The Second International broke up in the summer of 1914 under this strain. The consensus of the “ truce ” only began to crumble in 1916/17, when the lack of military successes despite high casualties in the ongoing offensives and the deterioration in the food situation, especially in the Central Powers affected by the blockade, destroyed the illusion of a cross-class community of fate . The previous middle class, which suffered from the consequent conversion to a war economy, was also affected by the war-related restrictions . With her, too, the initial hurray finally gave way to perseverance patriotism.

Golo Mann dealt with the phenomenon in 1958 in the chapter Moods of his work German History of the 19th and 20th Centuries . According to this, "jubilation, war rage and war joy" could be felt all over Europe, since everyone believed they were the attacked, but especially in Germany. Here, for many years, the belief in the encirclement of Germany flourished, from which it was necessary to free oneself. It was particularly the news of Russian mobilization that sparked a wave of patriotism. The then rapidly successive declarations of war on Russia and France also gave the impression that the impending encirclement had just been anticipated, so that confidence in victory spread.

Intellectuals who had always stayed away from the crowd now presented themselves as patriots. Max Weber wrote of “this great and wonderful war” and that it was wonderful to see it, but very bitter not to be allowed to go to the front. Rudolf Alexander Schröder wrote: "For you I want to live, for you I want to die, Germany, Germany." Heinrich Lersch wrote in his poem Soldiers' Farewell (1914) the words that were often quoted later: "Germany must live, and if we must die!" " Stefan Zweig described a seductive solidarity among the popular masses, which it was difficult to escape:" As never before did the thousands and hundreds of thousands of people feel what they should have felt better in peace: that they belonged together. "

Research trends

The fact that photos are more likely to be taken in the cities and the press, journalists and poets reported more from the capital cities played a major role in the dominant image of the cheering population. But nowhere in Europe was the enthusiasm for war widespread. "What cannot be denied, however, is the jubilation at least in parts of the population in the major European capitals about the impending war", stated Ian Kershaw .

On the other hand, a research direction that says that the August experience did not take place hardly plays a role. The extent to which the emotional awakening was also a cultural staging that shaped the discourse on the events of July and August 1914 until around the 1970s seems to be of interest to some. As a result, the image of general enthusiasm for the war was supported not least by the Social Democrats' arguments to justify the decision of their parliamentary group on August 4, 1914 and the truce policy .

Some theses about the events of August 1914 were based on statements by SPD politicians from the period after 1918, who were under great pressure to justify themselves , or on sources from the bourgeoisie, the majority of whom were actually characterized by enthusiasm for the war. As early as 1974, Bernt Engelmann referred to the mass rallies and gatherings against the war that social democracy brought to the streets days before the actual "outbreak" of the war (see July crisis ) in his book Wir Subjects. A German anti-history book admitted, however, afterwards: “The whole people, not excluding most of the Social Democrats, was already gripped by unparalleled war hysteria. Everyone acted as if the German Reich had been attacked from behind by vicious enemies, through no fault of their own and out of the blue. "

Steffen Bruendel , among others, contradicted the thesis of enthusiasm for war as a constructed legend . A construction would not have been possible without real moods. Herbert Rosinski emphasized that no eyewitness would ever forget the outbreak of war in August 1914: “That was not a work of propaganda.” The crisis developed far too quickly to allow time for psychological preparation. Peter Hoeres spoke out against "overcorrection of the 'August experience'". A “whole spectrum of behavior between the poles fear and enthusiasm” can be stated.

See also


  • Steffen Bruendel : Volksgemeinschaft or Volksstaat. The "Ideas of 1914" and the reorganization of Germany in the First World War. Akademie-Verlag 2003, ISBN 3-05-003745-8 (also: Bielefeld, University, dissertation, 2001).
  • Christian Geinitz: Fear of War and Readiness to Fight. The August experience in Freiburg. A study at the beginning of the war in 1914 (= writings of the library for contemporary history . NF 7). Klartext, Essen 1998, ISBN 3-88474-593-X (Also: Freiburg (Breisgau), University, dissertation, 1996).
  • Maximilian Konrad: The European War Enthusiasm of 1914. In: Maximilian Lakitsch, Susanne Reitmair-Juárez, Katja Seidel (eds.): Bellicose Entanglements 1914. The Great War as a Global War. Lit, Vienna 2015, ISBN 3643906552 , pp. 15–42.
  • Wolfgang Kruse: War and National Integration. A reinterpretation of the social democratic Treaty of 1914/15. Klartext, Essen 1993, ISBN 3-88474-087-3 .
  • Wolfgang Kruse (ed.): A world of enemies. The Great War 1914–1918 (= Fischer. 13571). Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-596-13571-0 .
  • Wolfgang Kruse: The enthusiasm for war in the German Reich. In: Marcel van der Linden , Gottfried Mergner (ed.): Enthusiasm for war and mental war preparation. Interdisciplinary studies (= contributions to political science. 61). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-428-07130-1 , pp. 73-87.
  • Golo Mann : German history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Gutenberg Book Guild, Frankfurt am Main 1958.
  • Thomas Raithel: The “miracle” of inner unity. Studies of the German and French public at the beginning of the First World War (= Paris historical studies. 45). Bouvier, Bonn 1996, ISBN 3-416-02624-1 .
  • Michael Stöcker: “August experience 1914” in Darmstadt. Legend and reality. Roether, Darmstadt 1994, ISBN 3-7929-0213-3 , (at the same time: Darmstadt, Technische Hochschule, diploma thesis, 1993; online review by Volker Ullrich in Die Zeit , July 29, 1994).
  • Jeffrey Verhey: The "Spirit of 1914" and the invention of the national community. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-930908-58-1 ( online review for H-Soz-u-Kult by Martin Baumeister, historical seminar, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich ).
  • Benjamin Ziemann : Front and Home. Rural experiences of war in southern Bavaria 1914–1923 (= publications by the Institute for Research into the European Labor Movement. Series A: Representations. 8). Klartext, Essen 1997, ISBN 3-88474-547-6 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Sven Oliver Müller: The nation as a weapon and concept. Nationalism in Germany and Great Britain in the First World War. Göttingen 2011, p. 66.
  2. ^ Ulrich Herbert: History of Germany in the 20th Century. Munich 2014, p. 122.
  3. ^ Ulrich Herbert: History of Germany in the 20th Century. Munich 2014, p. 122.
  4. Sven Oliver Müller: The nation as a weapon and concept. Nationalism in Germany and Great Britain in the First World War. Göttingen 2011, p. 65.
  5. Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten, August 4, 1914.
  6. Quoted in: Carola Groppe: In the German Empire. An educational history of the bourgeoisie 1871-1918. Cologne u. a .: Böhlau 2018, p. 445.
  7. Geinitz as an example: fear of war and readiness to fight. 1998; Volker Ullrich: From the August experience to the November revolution. Contributions to the social history of Hamburg and Northern Germany in the First World War 1914–1918. Donat, Bremen 1999, ISBN 3-931737-74-8 .
  8. See also Thomas Rohkrämer: August 1914 - War mentality and its requirements. In: Wolfgang Michalka (Ed.): The First World War. Effect, perception, analysis (= Piper. 1927). Piper, Munich a. a. 1994, ISBN 3-492-11927-1 , pp. 759-777.
  9. Manfried Rauchsteiner : 17,000,000 dead later everything was different. In: The press . Spectrum , June 13, 2014, p. 1 f.
  10. ^ Gerhard Hirschfeld , Gerd Krumeich : Germany in the First World War. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-10-029411-1 , p. 51 ff .; Volker Ullrich: From the August experience to the November revolution. Contributions to the social history of Hamburg and Northern Germany in the First World War 1914–1918. Donat, Bremen 1999, ISBN 3-931737-74-8 , p. 12 ff.
  11. Cf. Jörn Leonhard : The Pandora's Box. History of the First World War. CH Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 3-406-66191-2 , pp. 110-115.
  12. Cf. Jörn Leonhard: The Pandora's Box. History of the First World War. CH Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 3-406-66191-2 , pp. 490-524, especially on Germany pp. 514-524, and pp. 769-774.
  13. ^ Golo Mann: German history of the 19th and 20th centuries. 1958, p. 591.
  14. Stefan Zweig: The world of yesterday . Bermann-Fischer Verlag, Stockholm 1944, (online in the Gutenberg project ).
  15. Ian Kershaw: Fall into Hell. Europe 1914 to 1949. Munich 2016, 2nd edition, p. 65.
  16. short summary in: Frank Oliver Sobich: "Black Beasts, Red Danger". Racism and anti-socialism in the German Empire (= Campus Research. 909). Campus, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 2006, ISBN 3-593-38189-3 , p. 384, (also: Bremen, Universität, Dissertation, 2006).
  17. see Kruse: War and national integration. 1993, p. 54.
  18. Bernt Engelmann : We subjects. A German Anti-History Book, 1974, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag 1977, p. 321.
  19. ^ Bruendel: Volksgemeinschaft or Volksstaat. 2003, p. 70.
  20. ^ Herbert Rosinski : The German Army. An analysis , 1966, Econ Verlag, Düsseldorf, Vienna 1970, p. 133.
  21. Peter Hoeres : War of the Philosophers. German and British philosophy in the First World War. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2004, ISBN 3-506-71731-6 , p. 115 f.