German Customs Union

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The German Customs Union 1834–1919
blue = at the time it was founded
green = extensions until 1866
yellow = extensions after 1866
red = borders of the German Confederation 1828
pink = relevant changes after 1834

The German Customs Union was an association of states of the German Confederation for the field of customs and trade policy. The Zollverein came into force on January 1, 1834 through the Customs Union Treaty signed on March 22, 1833.

In 1870, the territory of the German Customs Union was the third largest industrial power in the world after Great Britain and the United States.

The Prussian- dominated Zollverein replaced the Prussian-Hessian Zollverein , the Central German Trade Association and the South German Zollverein . In addition to Prussia, the German Customs Union initially included the Grand Duchy of Hesse , Electorate Hesse , Bavaria , Württemberg , Saxony and the individual states of Thuringia . Baden , Nassau and Frankfurt joined the Zollverein by 1836 . In 1842 the customs area expanded to include Luxembourg , Braunschweig and Lippe , followed by Hanover and Oldenburg in 1854 . Thus, the Zollverein covered around 425,000 km² before the North German Confederation was founded .

The aim of the Zollverein was to create an economic internal market and to standardize the fiscal and economic framework. Politically, the German Customs Union strengthened Prussia's supremacy and promoted the emergence of the small German solution . After the establishment of the German Empire , the tasks of the association were transferred to the Reich. Although not part of the German Reich, Luxembourg was part of the German customs territory through the customs union agreements until the end of 1918.


Prehistory and background

Friedrich List . Oil painting by Caroline Hövemeyer, 1839 (Heimatmuseum Reutlingen).

Around 1790 there were 1,800 customs borders in Germany. Within the Prussian states alone, there were over 67 local customs tariffs with as many customs borders at the beginning of the 19th century. During a transport from Königsberg to Cologne, for example, the goods were checked around eighty times.

In the course of modernization during and after the Napoleonic era, the German states, especially the Confederation of the Rhine , created uniform duty-free domestic markets within their national territory after 1800. In Bavaria, customs legislation between 1799 and 1808 led to the creation of a unified economic area that was at times considered to be the freest in Europe. The Kingdom of Württemberg followed in 1810, and a year later a uniform internal market was also established in the Grand Duchy of Baden . In addition to the social and economic integration of the national territories, which were considerably enlarged by the Napoleonic reforms, the focus was less on a future-oriented economic policy than above all on increasing state revenues. In the absence of income tax , excise taxes and duties were the main sources of income for states. This had to be secured and, if possible, expanded. Even at this time there were a few voices calling for the abolition of internal tariffs and a common German external tariff, for example from Joseph Görres or Freiherr vom Stein .

In contrast to the mandate of the Federal Act , the German Confederation , founded in 1815, did not succeed in standardizing economic conditions in Germany. Article 19, which concerned the trading area, merely regulated that trade and transport issues were to be discussed later. Although the Bundestag dealt with a possible customs agreement on Baden's initiative in 1819 and 1820, the deliberations ended with no result.

The overcoming of internal German tariffs took place outside the federal organs at the level of the participating states themselves. The fragmentation of customs policy hindered industrial development and made internal German trade more expensive. Important impulses for changes in this area came from outside. With the lifting of the continental blockade, German traders were in direct competition with British industry. A general German trade and industry association demanded protection from customs policy out of fear of the developed English export industry, which appeared to be exaggerated in retrospect. Their spokesman, the economist Friedrich List , feared that the German economy would otherwise end up as the "British water carriers and wood chopper" . Comparable to the memorandum by Karl Friedrich Nebenius from 1819, on which the Baden initiatives at the German Confederation were based, List, on behalf of the General Trade Association, called for a dismantling of the internal German customs barriers in a widespread petition beyond the idea of ​​protective tariffs:

“Thirty-eight customs and toll lines in Germany paralyze internal traffic and produce roughly the same effect as when every limb of the human body is cut off so that the blood does not overflow into another. In order to trade from Hamburg to Austria, from Berlin to Switzerland, one has to cut through ten states, study ten customs and toll regulations, and pay ten times through duty. But whoever is unfortunate enough to live on a border where three or four states collide, has spent his whole life among hostile tax collectors and toll collectors, he has no fatherland. "

List pursued not only economic, but also political goals. For List, an economically united nation-state with high customs barriers to the outside and free trade to the inside should replace the German Confederation. The success of the initiative remained low, but promoted liberal positions, indirectly influenced state measures and, particularly in southern Germany, also the later negotiations on a customs union .

Modernization of national customs systems

Friedrich von Motz (Prussian Minister of Finance until 1830)

However, Prussia's customs policy measures were more effective. In Prussia, too, there were points of contact with the reforms of the Confederation of the Rhine. For example, in the areas of the Kingdom of Westphalia that had been closed to Prussia, the abolition of internal tariffs continued. The customs law of this former state became the model for Prussian customs legislation. This was also ensured by Hans Graf von Bülow , who was Finance Minister in Westphalia until 1811 and who held this position in Prussia from 1813. As in southern Germany, there was also the need to integrate the newly won territories into the national territory. The Southwest German states and Prussia subsequently became leaders in modernizing the customs systems within the states of the German Confederation.

Like the territorially grown middle states of southern Germany, the government of Prussia had a self-interest in the abolition of customs borders in view of the fragmented state territory. After the Congress of Vienna , the contrast between the industrially developed western Prussian provinces of Rhineland and Westphalia on the one hand and the heavily agrarian East Elbe regions on the other was particularly great. These unequal regions had to be grouped together politically and administratively. One aspect was customs policy. In Prussia itself, with the Customs Act of 1818, all internal trade barriers had fallen. Outwardly, only a moderate protective tariff was levied. However, high tariffs were due for through traffic. This allowed both the large landowners interested in free trade and the commercial economy threatened by foreign competition to live. The Prussian customs law was also simple, efficient and, unlike in earlier times, was consistently applied by the administration. Since 1818 there have only been import, export and transit duties, which, unlike before, were levied regardless of the country of origin or destination. Staple foods and raw materials were exempt from tariffs. Commercial goods were moderately taxed. The very high taxes on textiles were an exception. Most important were the income from upscale groceries, luxury goods and luxury goods.

The Prussian customs system therefore more or less became the model for the customs system in the German states for about half a century. Despite some changes and dilutions in detail, the basic principles remained constant until the time of the Empire. In 1871 three quarters of the revenue from customs came from beverages (beer, wine, spirits, etc.), food and beverages (coffee and some colonial goods) and tobacco products. Overall, tariffs in Prussia in 1818 were higher than those in the smaller German states, but significantly lower than in Austria , France or Russia.

Especially for the smaller neighboring states, which were partially or completely enclosed by Prussian state territory, the transit tariffs in particular led to pressure to join the Prussian system. The principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen was the first to join the Prussian customs area. Other small states followed. The remaining states immediately protested the hindrance to their economies. They criticized Prussia's politics as a particularist action against the smaller member states of the German Confederation. In the middle states, especially on the other side of the Main Line and in Northern Germany, Prussian politics initially led to efforts to establish defensive regional tariff alliances against Prussian politics.

Foundation and merger of several customs associations

Johann Friedrich Cotta played an important role in the development of the southern German customs union and finally for its rapprochement with the Prussian-Hessian customs union (lithograph around 1830)

As early as 1820, Württemberg planned the establishment of a customs association of the Third Germany , i.e. the medium-sized states of the German Confederation excluding Austria and Prussia. However, the project failed due to the different interests of the countries addressed. While the economically relatively highly developed Baden, with its long external borders and good infrastructure, advocated free trade, the Bavarian government demanded a protective tariff. The only result of the negotiations was a short-lived trade agreement between Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt. However, in a second round of negotiations in Stuttgart in 1825 , an agreement was reached between Württemberg and Bavaria and the South German Customs Association was founded. As a counter-foundation to the Prussian activities, a Central German Trade Association was established in 1828 from Hanover, Saxony, Kurhessen and other states, supported by Austria, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands . The states undertook not to join the Prussian union, but did not form a customs union themselves. The club was ultimately unsuccessful because it was all about maintaining the status quo.

Influenced primarily by Finance Minister Friedrich von Motz and his successor Karl Georg Maaßen , the Prussian government tried to persuade states that were not previously bound, but also members of the competing customs associations, to join the Prussian system through pressure or financially lucrative offers. The first larger state to join the Prussian customs area was the Grand Duchy of Hesse in 1828. The Central German Trade Association began to break up as early as 1829 when the Electorate of Hesse left it. For financial reasons, resistance to rapprochement with the Prussian system also decreased in the south and west of Germany. In financial terms, the Süddeutsche Zollverein was unable to meet the expectations of its founders. Over 40% of the income was consumed by administrative costs. While in the Prussian-Hessian customs area the income per head of the population was 24 groschen, in Bavaria and Württemberg it was only 9½ groschen.

Therefore, in 1829, not least mediated by the publisher Johann Friedrich Cotta , a contract between the Prussian and South German customs union came about. This provided for the mutual exemption from customs duties for domestic products. The pressure on governments increased when customs policy demands were made in the wake of the revolutionary events of 1830 . The Kingdom of Hanover tried to intervene in the German Confederation with the aim of preventing Prussian supremacy in customs policy. When this failed, Hanover began to set up its own customs association with the establishment of the tax association .

Within these extensive negotiations between the states of the German Confederation, the Prussian government succeeded in winning most of the other German states over to the project of a large customs union. While negotiations with other states such as Baden were still well advanced, the Prussian and South German customs union officially merged with the treaty of March 22, 1833. Saxony and the Thuringian states joined in the same year. On January 1, 1834, the German Customs Union, initially for a period of eight years, came into force.

In the following years Baden, Nassau, Oldenburg, the Free City of Frankfurt and Luxembourg followed. Hanover and Braunschweig as members of the tax association followed after the dissolution of this competing organization in the 1850s. This created a Central European free trade zone of initially 25 (in 1842), later 30 million inhabitants.

Member states of the German Customs Union 1854
Country accession Associated areas
Prussia 1834 Anhalt-Bernburg , Anhalt-Dessau , Anhalt-Köthen , Waldeck , Lippe-Detmold
Hessen-Darmstadt 1834 -
Hessen-Kassel (Kurhessen) 1834 -
Bavaria 1834 -
Württemberg 1834 Hohenzollern-Hechingen , Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen
Saxony 1834 -
Customs and Trade Association of the Thuringian States 1834 Saxe-Weimar , Saxe-Meiningen , Saxe-Coburg and Gotha , Saxe-Altenburg , Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt , Schwarzburg-Sondershausen , Reuss-Greiz , Reuss-Schleiz , Reuss-Lobenstein and Ebersdorf
to bathe 1835 -
Nassau 1835 -
Frankfurt 1836 -
Braunschweig 1841 -
Luxembourg 1842 -
Hanover 1854 Schaumburg-Lippe
Oldenburg 1854 -

Of the states of the German Confederation, Austria, Liechtenstein , Holstein , Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Mecklenburg-Schwerin remained outside the customs union . The two Mecklenburgs were indirectly involved in the Zollverein as the German customs area after the establishment of the Empire. The Hanseatic cities of Hamburg , Bremen and Lübeck joined the Zollverein in 1888, but set up free ports that were outside the German customs area. After the war of 1866 the Prussian province Schleswig-Holstein and after 1871 the realm of Alsace-Lorraine were added to these states as dependent areas.

Structure and functionality

Prussian Law Gazette with a copy of the Customs Union Treaty between the Hessian-Prussian and the South German Customs Union of March 22, 1833

In order to preserve the sovereignty of the smaller states, an attempt was made to uphold the principle of equal rights in the negotiations on the structure of the association. The highest organ was the Zollverein conference, for whose decisions unanimity was required and in which the individual states had a right of veto. The conference met once a year for several months up to six months. The venue changed between the member states. The delegates appointed by the governments were bound by instructions. In principle, each state had one vote. Some smaller states such as the Free City of Frankfurt or the Thuringian states were not represented themselves, but delegated their votes. The small states in Thuringia founded the Customs and Trade Association of the Thuringian States to protect their interests . The customs union contract was initially concluded for eight years and was automatically extended if it was not terminated by one of the members. There was no uniform customs administration, the implementation of the resolutions remained a matter for the authorities in the member countries. The only central institution was the central accounting office in Berlin, which was responsible for the proportionate distribution of income based on the headcount of the population and for compiling the customs union statistics.

The resolutions of the General Conference were binding for the common customs legislation and did not require any further ratification by the individual states. While it was possible to uniformly regulate customs issues in the narrower sense of the word, this was only partially successful in the case of issues relating to the harmonization of consumption taxes, state monopolies and the standardization of measurements, weights and coins. Only a few states joined the Prussian system for consumption taxes, e.g. B. Saxony and the Thuringian states. The result was great differences, which led to administrative problems at the customs union level. Compensation payments offered a certain amount of compensation, and later a uniform transit tariff was levied. Where there were still salt and playing card monopolies, there was an import ban. The result was that smuggling salt, for example , became a permanent problem for the customs union. This meant that, at least in part, the free internal market was not fully developed and there still had to be customs control posts within the customs union area. On the question of weights, the customs union agreement stipulated that the member states should choose the Bavarian or Prussian weights as the standard.

Trade agreements with foreign states were of considerable importance. Although Bavaria and Württemberg had basically reserved the right to conclude their own trade agreements, they rarely used this right. As a rule, the basic lines of an agreement were decided at the annual customs union conference, but the concrete negotiations were then left to Prussia, which sometimes involved other governments. This regulation gave Prussia a lot of weight, but since the resolutions also had to be ratified by the individual states , this could lead to considerable conflicts.

From the beginning there were different opinions about the legal nature of the customs union. As represented Georg Jellinek , Gerhard Anschütz and other Staatsrechtler different points of view, from a mere international treaty to an alliance of states in the form of a confederation submitted. There was only agreement that the member states of the Zollverein continued to be sovereign states and that the Zollverein did not represent an association of states in the form of a federal state. However, due to its organs and its subjectivity recognized in international law, it was more than a mere contractual relationship between the individual states; on the other hand, in view of its exclusively economic tasks, it was also not a federation of states in the absence of the fulfillment of essential tasks of state life. The Zollverein - more than a simple treaty, less than a confederation of states - is thus in an area that was not covered by the categories of that time and that is now covered by the international organizations . Although the Zollverein belongs to the first forerunners of the international organizations along with the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine , the classification as an international organization would be anachronistic, which is why the description of the Zollverein as a quasi-confederation of states or a loose confederation of states is most likely to do justice to the Zollverein.

Conflicts and conflicting interests

The changes in customs duties and other regulations in the territory of the Zollverein itself were by no means harmonious in view of the different interests. The solution was made more difficult not least by the members' right of veto. In addition to factual issues, the conflicts often had a power-political dimension. The first contractually pending extension in 1842 almost failed. Only after lengthy negotiations could the contract be extended to a further twelve years.

Ten years later, Prussia conducted secret negotiations with the Kingdom of Hanover with the aim of integrating the northern German tax association into the Zollverein. However, this would have made changes to the Customs Union Agreement necessary. Due to the influence of Austria, the southern German states refused to give their consent. Instead, the Austrian government tried to break up the Zollverein through the idea of ​​a Central European customs association. An agreement could only be reached when Prussia, for its part, terminated the customs treaty. The same thing happened when Prussia had negotiated a trade agreement with Austria a short time later and the middle states opposed it. Again the Prussian government implemented changes in the customs treaty with the help of a contract termination. A similar constellation existed ten years later when Prussia negotiated a new trade agreement with France based on the Cobden Treaty in 1862. This essentially came down to the principle of free trade. The consequence was that the customs tariffs had to be reduced in 161 points. Although the southern German states had been involved in the negotiations, they refused, with the support of Austria, to ratify the treaties. It took three years for these agreements to come into effect. This only succeeded because Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck , who had just come to power in Prussia, threatened to not extend the customs union.

In all conflicts, the fundamental stability is remarkable. Even when some member states were on the opposing side in the German War of 1866, Bavaria, Württemberg and Hanover continued to levy the tariffs and sent them to Berlin in accordance with the treaty. The Prussian government then routinely distributed them proportionally to the individual states. One reason for the stability was the particular financial advantages that existed for everyone involved.


Economic developments

Contemporary representation against customs borders and small states in Germany

Industrialization and Zollverein

The economic effects of the customs union were perceived by contemporaries as well as largely positive. For a long time, the thesis was widespread in research that industrial funding was the main driving force behind the establishment of the Zollverein. The writings of Friedrich List also contributed to this opinion. In Great Britain, leading politicians like Palmerston saw the industrial supremacy of their country in jeopardy as a result of the customs union measures.

This thesis seems to be supported by the fact that agriculture as well as commercial economy and in particular industry showed strong growth in the 1830s. It should be noted, however, that the Zollverein was only one facet of the changes in German social and economic development in the 19th century.

Although the Zollverein facilitated industrial development, it did not provide any direct growth impulses in this area. Recent research has shown that the new tariffs did not result in any direct changes in trade flows or in import and export prices. In the field of agriculture, it was not the Zollverein that was the reason for the upswing, but various structural changes that had been initiated for a long time.

Economic structural significance of the customs union

Customs policy has made a major contribution to the construction of the railways and thus to the breakthrough of industrialization in Germany (painting of the Bonn-Cölner Railway around 1844)
Title page of List's writing About a Saxon railway system as the basis of a general German railway system and in particular about the construction of a railway from Leipzig to Dresden , Leipzig 1833

Nevertheless, the Zollverein was of considerable importance for industrial development in the medium term. On the one hand, in some states the revenue from the customs union formed the basis on which measures to modernize society, infrastructure and trade could be paid for. In the 1830s, for example, Württemberg financed the agricultural reforms and trade promotion measures mainly from the now more abundant customs revenue.

With the fragmentation of the German economic area, the unification of customs eliminated one of the reasons for the economic lag, especially compared to England, and created stable trade policy conditions for the first time. This was not least due to the gradual adoption of the Prussian Commercial Code by the other member states after the Frankfurt National Assembly no longer managed to pass an all-German code. In 1861 the legal alignment was completed by the General German Commercial Code . The trade agreement of 1862 on the basis of the most-favored nation clause meant that smaller German states could for the first time establish contractually guaranteed trade relations with European and non-European states such as the USA or Japan. However, this step was not without controversy. On the contrary, from the beginning there were conflicts between supporters of free trade such as Prussia and the southern German states, who demanded protective tariffs , especially for their textile products . In practice, the Zollverein pursued a differentiated policy. Aside from areas where free trade prevailed, there were others where tariffs played a protectionist role. This included the production of beet sugar , cotton products and iron goods.

The Zollverein was also important because it created new horizons of expectation. He increased the willingness of entrepreneurs to invest and intensified the integration of the economic regions into a national market. As early as 1837, around 87% of southern German imports of commercial finished and semi-finished goods came from Prussia and Saxony. Even before the establishment of the Zollverein, the competition between the various customs associations and the states led to higher investments in the transport infrastructure. Since the 1830s, this has particularly been the case for railway construction, where customs policy had an impact on the pace of expansion and the route. In addition to the railways, trunk roads and the inland waterway network were also expanded. With the trade volume increasing in the medium term as a result of the customs exemption, the further expansion of the railroad became necessary. After the opening of the first German railway line in 1835 with a length of six kilometers, the route network grew to 14,690 kilometers by 1865. This in turn had positive effects on the mining, iron and machinery industries. Overall, the transport costs decreased significantly. The expansion of traffic increased security, especially for the sale of commercial mass products, and in turn limited the investment risk, especially in large modern companies, improved investment incentives and thus contributed to the expansion of modern industry. In principle, the Zollverein and railway construction were two complementary processes that Friedrich List had already interpreted in the 1830s as the “Siamese twins” of modernization in Germany. The increase in overall economic growth also masked regional differences, so that despite the occasional fears of "internal colonization", particularly in the southern German rural regions, all participants in the Zollverein, regardless of their level of economic development, participated in this growth.

The association's tariff policy also had a positive effect on industrial development, at least in the 1840s. On the one hand, the moderate tariffs on iron and yarn did not rule out necessary technology transfers and the import of necessary semi-finished and finished goods from Great Britain. On the other hand, they meant that the demand, at least in these important commercial areas, was directed towards providers within the association's territory.

All of this had a significant positive effect on the customs territory's foreign trade. The export of German economies had already increased in the 1820s. This trend intensified again in the Zollverein. The net surplus of German foreign trade also rose in the 1830s, before the modernization push in the context of the industrial revolution in Germany in the 1840s caused the import of more modern goods from more industrialized countries and thus the import values ​​to rise sharply.

Standardization of weights and currencies

Badischer Kronentaler from 1836, minted on the occasion of joining the Zollverein. The coats of arms of the member states are shown on the back - clockwise from above: Bavaria, Württemberg, Kurhessen, Thuringian states, Frankfurt, Nassau, Hessen-Darmstadt, Baden, Saxony and Prussia.
Austrian club thaler from 1866
Prussian club thaler from 1866

Since the customs duties were levied in the Zollverein on joint account, it was necessary to adjust the weights in order to levy uniform duties. Before the Zollverein came into force, some states agreed in 1833 on a uniform tariff weight. The inch pound of 500 grams was introduced as a unit . An approximation of the metric system meant the definition of the hundredweight according to the Hessian-Baden measure as 50 kilograms. Initially, the customs weight was only valid in trade between states; it was not until 1858 that some states began to introduce it as a domestic trade weight. The other states followed suit in the course of time. Only Bavaria held on to the pound at 560 grams until 1871. Since the dimensions hardly played a role in the tariff calculation, their diversity remained large until the North German Confederation was founded.

It was agreed that the contracting states work to ensure that "an identical system of coins, measures and weights is used in their countries, and that special negotiations are initiated immediately" (Article 14). For the standardization of the coin system, the gulden system prevailing in southern Germany and the thaler system prevailing north of the Main had to be harmonized. The Hanseatic cities of Hamburg and Lübeck calculated and also minted a shilling currency with the mark of approx. 234 grams as the basic weight of the coin . Bremen was the only one of the German states to calculate in a gold currency. The harmonization of the north German taler with the south German guilder system was made more difficult by the fact that within these areas both the taler and the guilder were minted in a different currency and thus differed in value. After Prussia had already created a uniform Kurant coin system based on the 14 thaler foot through the Grauman's coin reform in 1750, the small coin system was also standardized for all Prussian provinces in 1821 ( Prussian coin history ). The taler was now divided into 30 silver groschen of 12 pfennings each. In the period that followed, many northern German states switched their taler system to the 14 thaler foot. The two Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz also took over the 14 thaler foot from 1848, but initially without entering into the corresponding treaties and changing the previous small coin systems. Most of the northern German states now divided the taler into 30 silver groschen, so that the northern German currencies were initially more compatible with one another. The Zollverein promoted the standardization of the taler currency based on the Prussian 14 thaler foot with a clear tendency to subdivide this taler into 30 silver groschen. The Kingdom of Saxony also adopted the 14 thaler foot for Kurant coins and divided the thaler into 30 new groschen, but modified the Prussian coin system to the extent that the groschen was divided into 10 instead of 12 pfennigs. The Zollverein did not succeed in fully standardizing the currencies in the Taler area. At least the coinage treaties and the adoption of their stipulations by non-contracting states resulted in a certain harmonization of the coinage systems.

In the Munich Coin Treaty of August 25, 1837, a uniform 24½ guldenfoot was created for the Kurant coins as well as uniform dividing coins down to the three-kreuzer coin in Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Nassau, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and other countries. This was preceded by the suspension of the inferior half and quarter crown coins. The new uniform half (= 30 Kreuzer ) and 1 guilder pieces (= 60 Kreuzer) were created for them. The standardization in the guilder area of ​​the Zollverein thus extended significantly further into the small coin system than in the thaler area. The Kronentaler (approx. 162 Kreuzer) was replaced by the double guilder (= 120 Kreuzer). The Dresden Coin Treaty of July 30, 1838 summarized the southern German guilder currency in the 24½ guilder foot with the Prussian thaler (or Reichstaler ) in the 14 thaler foot. A “club coin” of 2 talers = 3½ guilders, which is valid in all countries, was created. This was introduced in all contracting states by January 1, 1841. In the Vienna Coin Treaty of January 24, 1857, the previous 14 thaler foot based on weight marks was changed to a 30 thaler foot based on a duty pound. The fine silver weight of the thaler decreased from a theoretical 16.704 to 16.667 grams and is therefore hardly noticeable. The single (and double) thalers were now called club thalers and were marketable in Germany as three-mark pieces until 1907. The taler was the main club coin and also minted by the southern German guilder countries. Almost all of Germany and Austria minted a uniform, coarse Kurant coin from 1857: 2 Taler (North German) = 3½ Gulden (South German) = 3 Gulden (Austrian) as well as the single Taler coins. Luxembourg (but without its own club coins) and Liechtenstein (only one-time thaler from 1862) were temporarily involved in this currency union. In addition, there was the introduction of a gold club half and crown coin, which, however, did not become the forerunner of the mark . The currency agreement with Austria collapsed again, however, because this state did not succeed in stopping inflation, instead increasing it further by issuing paper money.

Overall, a kind of taler-and-guilder currency block was created on the basis of silver. However, it was not possible to centralize the issuing of banknotes. This remained a matter for the individual states. In Prussia, for example, the semi-state Prussian Bank was responsible for this. In practice, the Prussian banknotes dominated. The association had also issued a ban on the publication of non-convertible notes. Richard H. Tilly argues that the Zollverein has significantly accelerated the monetary integration of the German states at all borders.

Fiscal consequences

The fiscal consequences of the Zollverein were also fundamentally positive. A large part of the income came from the taxes on colonial goods. In 1835 these accounted for 55% of all customs duties. The tariff income rose from 14.5 million thalers in 1834 to 27 million thalers in 1844 and thus significantly exceeded the population growth during this period. However, the results of the individual Member States varied. Prussia was initially a loser in the customs system. With the beginning of the Zollverein, the Prussian tax revenue fell by 25%. Then they slowly rose again and reached their old level in 1838. Most other countries, on the other hand, benefited from the beginning. Bavaria was able to almost double its income in the first year. For the first ten years of membership, the kingdom received a total of allocations after the cost of 22 million guilders. Even the small states of Thuringia achieved a total surplus of four million guilders during this period. Later, too, Prussia regularly renounced the income that it would have been entitled to based on the number of its residents in favor of the other member states. It was primarily these financial concessions that led to the rise of Prussia's political power.

Political aspects of the customs union

The modernization of customs policy, first at the national level, then in the regional customs associations and finally in the German Customs Union, always had political motives.

During the Heppenheim conference , liberals discussed the Zollverein as the basis for German unity (the conference venue, the “Zum halben Monde” inn in a steel engraving from 1840).

The function of the association as the engine of German unity, emphasized again and again after the founding of the German Reich, especially by the Borussian historiography around Heinrich von Treitschke , was not a main motivation of the Prussian leadership or the governments in the other individual states. The opportunity to use the Zollverein as a path to a German nation-state was instead seen and propagated by the national liberal opposition in the states of the German Confederation. As early as 1840 , Hoffmann von Fallersleben put the economic effects of the Zollverein in an ironic contrast to the German Confederation in his song "Der Deutsche Zollverein":

“Sulfurwood, fennel, bricken,
cows, cheese, madder, paper,
ham, scissors, boots, sweet peas,
wool, soap, yarn and beer;
Gingerbread, rags, funnels,
nuts, tobacco, glasses, flax,
leather, salt, lard, dolls, lights,
radish, rips, rapeseed, schnapps, salmon, wax!

And you other German things, a
thousand thanks be brought to you!
What no spirit could ever do,
eh, you did that:
for you have wound a bond
around the German fatherland,
and hearts bound
more than our bond this bond. "

- Hoffmann von Fallersleben : "The German Customs Union", Nonpolitical Songs (1840).

Heinrich Heine gave in Germany in 1843 . A winter fairy tale mocking the view of a fellow traveler when crossing the border from France to Prussia:

“'The Zollverein', he remarked,
'Will establish our nationality ,
It will unite the fragmented fatherland into
a whole.
He gives us the external unity,
the so-called material;
The spiritual unity gives us the censorship ,
the truly ideal. '"

In 1845, David Hansemann applied to the provincial assembly of the Rhine Province to create a national representation at the congresses of the customs association. On the advice of Hansemann and Mathys, the Heppenheim conference in 1847 also decided on a political program that the Zollverein wanted to use to standardize economic and political conditions and, by creating a customs parliament and a customs executive, bypassing the German Confederation, to create a unified government on a constitutional basis for Germany . However, it was not possible to pursue these plans due to the revolution of 1848/49 and the convocation of the Frankfurt National Assembly.

Many contemporaries, including the main promoter of the customs union idea in the Prussian government, Finance Minister Motz, were aware of the political dimension of the customs union from the start. Motz saw the planned Zollverein as early as 1829 as a tool for the implementation of a small German nation state under Prussian leadership. He wrote “ ... if it is political truth that tariffs are only the result of the political separation of different states, then the truth must also be that unification of these states into a customs and trade association also leads to unification of one and the same political system . ”The Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich also recognized the danger for the Austrian monarchy early on and saw the Zollverein as a “ small subsidiary organization […] which will only too soon get used to primarily pursuing its purposes with its means. “ As a result of this threat to the status quo in the German Confederation and Austria's role in the German power structure, as early as 1833 he considered it to be a “ highly disadvantageous and threatening phenomenon ” and tried to avert the danger by joining the Zollverein with Austria. Despite the support of the Minister of Commerce and Austrian industrialists, Metternich was not able to overcome the distrust of free trade and liberal economic approaches that existed in highly protectionist Austria , although other contemporaries expected Prussia to gain political power as a result of the establishment of the Zollverein.

Overall, however, an exclusive interpretation of the Zollverein as a Prussian vehicle for achieving supremacy in Germany falls short. Rather, economic and fiscal policy reasons formed the mainspring for accession for most countries. The income of the Zollverein opened up political leeway for the smaller, mostly highly indebted states. This was all the more true as the Zollverein helped to reduce administrative costs and at the same time generated revenue that the executive branch did not have to account for. In doing so, the Zollverein reduced the influence of the chamber parliaments in some states, which, such as the Baden Second Chamber or the Bavarian Chamber of Deputies , had control rights over tax policy, but not over customs revenue. In other states, the Zollverein was one of the reasons that the princes did not have to take the path of constitutionalization, for example in Prussia, where, due to the financial independence of the government, the constitutional promise of the State Debt Act from 1820 until the United Landtag was convened in 1847 did not had to be fulfilled.

In the medium term, the Zollverein compensated to a certain extent for the lack of national unity in the consciousness of contemporaries and acted, intentionally or unintentionally, as a tool for national integration. The liberal economic interests appeared to be largely congruent with those of the Prussian authoritarian state. However, there were also approaches that, like Friedrich List, represented a customs policy in the greater German sense or, like Georg Waitz in the Frankfurt National Assembly, saw in a customs unification that also encompassed Austria the basis for a dominant position in Europe. In the liberal public, after initial skepticism, especially in southwest Germany, which was based in particular on the rejection of Prussian supremacy, the Zollverein was largely rated positively. While the German Confederation was often viewed as an organization for restoration and repression, the Zollverein was seen as a dynamic and constructive element in social change. The above-mentioned demands of the Heppenheim conference should also be seen against this background.

Branch in Hamburg, Die Gartenlaube 1871

When the tax association joined the Zollverein in the 1850s and a trade agreement was concluded with the Austrian monarchy, the greater German solution seemed to be a realistic option at times, both economically and politically . This possibility ended in 1864 when Prussia pushed for a free trade course by terminating the treaty. The renegotiation of the treaty, in which the Prussian government indirectly used the Zollverein as an instrument in the dispute over hegemony in Germany, resulted in Austria becoming a foreign country in customs policy in 1865.

The Zollverein at the time when the nation state was founded

Palais Hardenberg in Berlin (seat of the Prussian House of Representatives , the North German Reichstag and the Customs Parliament )

The establishment of the North German Confederation had significant consequences for the Zollverein. Due to the federal constitution, the former north German states ceased to be individual members of the Zollverein. This made a complete reorganization necessary. The foundations for this were laid at a customs union conference in June 1867. The new contract was concluded on July 8, 1867 and came into force on January 1, 1868. This anticipated a unified federal state on the level of customs and trade policy. For the first time, the new Zollverein had federal institutions, which were later also owned by the German Empire. There was a Customs Federal Council and a Customs Parliament as the legislature. The majority decisions made by these bodies were binding for all member states and there was no longer any veto. The executive body was the customs office. This lay with the Prussian king. It prepared commercial contracts and monitored compliance with the resolutions.

The structure of its organs shows how closely the Zollverein was linked to the North German Confederation. The Federal Customs Council, representing the member states, was nothing more than the Federal Council of the North German Confederation, supplemented by representatives of the southern German states. For the customs parliament, as for the parliament of the North German Confederation, the general, equal and direct male suffrage applied. The first parliament was formed by the members of the Reichstag of the North German Confederation , the representative from southern Germany co-opted were.

The Customs Parliament met three times between 1868 and 1870. The foundations for an economic unit were created, which the German Empire could build on directly. In terms of territory, this reorganization, also known as the “Second Customs Union”, included the province of Schleswig-Holstein , Mecklenburg-Schwerins and Mecklenburg-Strelitz . During this time, some of the remaining special regulations for certain goods were lifted. The state salt monopolies disappeared in 1867, and the last tariffs on the banks of the Rhine were abolished in 1868.

From the customs union to the customs area

The Imperial Constitution of 1871 made the German Empire a unified customs and trading area, although Hamburg and Bremen initially remained outside the customs area as free ports until 1888 . (For duty-free trade with the hinterland, so-called Zollverein defeats were set up in both cities .) The Zollverein contracts remained in place, but the functions of the association were transferred to the Reich. The Reich was entitled to customs legislation and the collection of customs duties at the external borders. At the beginning the Reich Chancellery was responsible for economic policy, later separate departments were created. The Reichstag took over the legislative tasks , the Zollverein became operationally superfluous. The only relic was the fact that Luxembourg was part of the German customs territory as a result of the Customs Union Treaty , which was only ended in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles .

The Zollverein in historiography

Map from 1926, which interprets the Zollverein as part of the German unification.
150 years of the Deutscher Zollverein: special postage stamp of the Deutsche Bundespost from 1983
Commemorative coin 150 years of the German Customs Union

After the unification of the empire, the Zollverein was described by Prussian historiography as a disinterested achievement by Prussia for the benefit of Germany. In evaluating the Zollverein, Treitschke partially adopted the perceptions of the liberal opposition in the 1840s and reinterpreted them conservatively. With the Zollverein and the German Confederation, "two polities [existed]: a Germany of appearance, that in Frankfurt, a Germany of honest work, which found its center in Berlin." Gustav von Schmoller also praised the Prussian achievement, focusing here but the aspect of industrial promotion instead of nation-state policy. This view could partly hold up into the 1970s. Wilhelm Treue viewed Prussian economic policy as a decisive factor in industrialization and, against this background, referred to the Zollverein as the " most important event in German history " between 1815 and 1866, following Schmoller and Wilhelm Roscher .

Since German economic historiography was influenced for a long time by the historical school of economics , the first new approaches to research came from abroad. A pioneering study was the work of William Otto Henderson from 1939. This began a more differentiated and more sober consideration of the subject. The older interpretations were radically questioned for ideological reasons in GDR research. For example, as late as the 1980s , Karl Obermann saw the Zollverein as merely an economic concession made by the reaction to the bourgeoisie in order to maintain its own power.

In West German research, the Prussian pattern of interpretation was occasionally questioned, but comprehensive studies of the Zollverein did not appear again until the beginning of the 1970s. One cause was the political debates between the supporters of the EEC on the one hand and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) on the other. Both sides tried to legitimize their positions historically by referring to the German Customs Union. While the advocates of the EEC pointed to the pioneering role of the Zollverein for political unification, the advocates of the free trade area argued that the Zollverein had enabled integration into the world economy in a liberal way. Wolfram Fischer, who saw the Zollverein as a historical model for the EEC, followed up on this discussion. In the course of his investigations, the fiscal policy importance of the Zollverein was worked out and, contrary to Treitschke's interpretation patterns, the Zollverein was not presented as a long-term planned system, but as a "system of expedients that was built to meet urgent needs".

Since then, the complexity of the economic processes in which the Zollverein was woven and which influenced each other has been worked out in several works. The works of Hans-Werner Hahn are among the more important recent works . Rolf H. Dumke has described the economic consequences anew. The latest research is unanimous in the complexity of the objectives associated with the Zollverein. The prevailing tendency is that the founding was hardly made as a policy of promoting industry, but out of fiscal and power-political interests. This does not exclude the finding that the association has contributed to the promotion of commercial development. Following on from this perspective, research today regards the Zollverein as an important prerequisite, but not the only or decisive one, in order to catch up with the development lag of the German states compared to Great Britain.


Sources and contemporary literature

Secondary literature

  • Jürgen Angelow : The German Confederation . Knowledge Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-15152-6 , pp. 60-67.
  • Helmut Berding : The reform of the customs system in Germany under the influence of Napoleonic rule . In: History and Society . No. 4 1980, pp. 523-537.
  • Wolfram Fischer : The German Customs Union. Case study of a customs union . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , pp. 110-128.
  • Wolfram Fischer: The German Customs Union, the European Economic Community and the Free Trade Zone. In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , pp. 129-138.
  • Hans-Werner Hahn :
    • History of the German Customs Union . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1984, ISBN 3-525-33500-8 . Digitized
    • The industrial revolution in Germany . Munich 2005, (= EDG , Volume 49) ISBN 3-486-57669-0 .
    • The Zollverein from 1834 from a Prussian perspective. In: Michael Gehler et al. (Ed.): Unequal partners? Austria and Germany in their mutual perception: Historical analyzes and comparisons from the 19th and 20th centuries . Studien Verlag, 1st edition 2009, ISBN 978-3-7065-4849-6 (pp. 95-114); Reprint of HMRG supplement No. 15 from 1996, see reading sample
  • Richard H. Tilly : From Zollverein to an industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914. DTV, Munich 1990, (German history of the latest time) ISBN 3-423-04506-X .
  • Heinrich von Treitschke : The foundation of the German customs union . Leipzig 1913 (= excerpts from Heinrich von Treitschke: German History in the Nineteenth Century. Volumes II – IV, Leipzig 1879–1894).
  • Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German history of society . Volume 2: From the reform era to the industrial and political German double revolution 1815–1845 / 49. CH Beck, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-406-32262-X .
  • Wolfgang Zorn : State economic and social policy and public finances 1800–1970 . In: Hermann Aubin and Wolfgang Zorn: Handbook of German economic and social history. Volume 2. Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-12-90014-9 , pp. 148-197.

Web links

Commons : Deutscher Zollverein  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Zollverein topic page  - sources and full texts


  1. , accessed on Jan. 3, 2019
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  8. Friedrich List, quoted in after Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 2, p. 133.
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  11. ^ Helmut Berding: The reform of the customs system in Germany under the influence of Napoleonic rule . In: History and Society. Volume 4, 1980, p. 535 f.
  12. ^ Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union. Case study of a customs union . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , p. 119. On the customs policy of Prussia up to the establishment of the Zollverein, compare: T. Ohnishi: Zolltarifpolitik Preußens up to the establishment of the Zollverein. A contribution to the financial and foreign policy of Prussia . Göttingen, 1973; Richard H. Tilly : From Zollverein to an industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914. DTV, Munich 1990, (German history of the latest time) ISBN 3-423-04506-X . P. 39, contemporary: A. Villaume: Handbook of the Prussian Tax and Customs Legislation with special reference to use in the courts . (With supplement tape). Reimer, Berlin 1844.
  13. ^ Richard H. Tilly: From the customs union to the industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914. DTV, Munich 1990, (German history of the latest time) ISBN 3-423-04506-X . P. 40.
  14. Jürgen Angelow: The German Confederation . Knowledge Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-15152-6 , p. 63.
  15. Ferdinand Wall Schmitt: Admission bathing in the German Zollverein. Dissertation, Hanau 1904, p. 29.
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  17. Customs Union Treaty of March 22, 1833 ( Memento of the original of November 19, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. at @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  18. ^ Treaty on the connection of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the German Customs and Trade Association of February 8, 1842 in the Ordinance and Administrative Gazette of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg .
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  20. ^ Essentially based on Jürgen Angelow: Der Deutsche Bund . Knowledge Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-15152-6 , p. 61
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  22. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber : German constitutional history since 1789. Volume II: The struggle for unity and freedom 1830 to 1850. 3rd edition, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1988, § 26.
  23. Huber, who qualifies the Zollverein as a federation of states, speaks of a “quasi-federation of states” with regard to this point, see Huber, ibid.
  24. ^ Ludwig Karl Aegidi and Alfred Klauhold: The crisis of the Zollverein documented. Supplement to the State Archives. Meissner, Hamburg 1862.
  25. ^ Agreement between ... the continuation of the Customs and Trade Association of May 16, 1865 in the Memorial of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg .
  26. ^ Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union. Case study of a customs union . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , pp. 114-118, pp. 121-123.
  27. ^ Richard H. Tilly: From the customs union to the industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914. DTV, Munich 1990, (German history of the latest time) ISBN 3-423-04506-X . Pp. 42-44.
  28. ^ Willi A. Boelcke: Social history of Baden-Württemberg 1800-1989 . Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1989. (= Writings on political regional studies of Baden-Württemberg, Volume 16), p. 38.
  29. a b Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union. Case study of a customs union . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , p. 125.
  30. ^ Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union. Case study of a customs union . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , p. 124; Richard H. Tilly: From Zollverein to an industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914. DTV, Munich 1990, (German history of the latest time) ISBN 3-423-04506-X . P. 45.
  31. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 2, p. 134.
  32. ^ Gustav Stolper: German economy since 1870. 2nd edition, Tübingen 1966, p. 45, quoted. after Manfred Görtemaker: Germany in the 19th century. 4th edition. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 1994, p. 163.
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  34. ^ Hahn: The industrial revolution in Germany. P. 22 f .; P. 80 f. and Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 2, p. 135.
  35. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 2, p. 139.
  36. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz: Means of payment, measures and weights since 1800 . In: Handbook of German Economic and Social History . Volume 2, Klett, Stuttgart 1976, pp. 954-958; on this contemporary: Carl Ludwig Wilhelm Aldefeld: The dimensions and weights of the German customs union states and many other countries and trading centers in their mutual relationships. Cotta, Stuttgart and Tübingen 1838.
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  39. ^ Between Prussia and Austria - The Vienna Mint Treaty. In: Coin Week .
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  41. Zorn, Economic and Social Policy. P. 150.
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  45. August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben: Unpolitische Lieder. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1840, p. 46. Scan from Google Books .
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  48. cit. after Thomas Nipperdey: German History 1800–1866. Citizen world and strong state. Munich, 1998, ISBN 3-406-44038-X . P. 359.
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  50. Manfred Botzenhart: Reform, Restoration, Crisis. Germany 1789–1847 . Frankfurt, 1985. pp. 95-104; Wolfram Siemann: From confederation to nation state . Munich, 1995. pp. 337-342; Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 2, p. 131.
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  53. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 2, p. 372 ff.
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  55. ^ Wolfgang J. Mommsen: Central Europe idea and Central Europe planning . In: Wolfgang J. Mommsen: The First World War. Beginning of the end of the bourgeois age . Bonn 2004, ISBN 3-89331-540-1 , p. 96 f.
  56. Jürgen Angelow: The German Confederation . Knowledge Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-15152-6 , p. 67.
  57. Woodcut The session building of the Customs Parliament. In: Die Gartenlaube , 1868, No. 20, p. 309
  58. Contract between the North German Confederation, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse, regarding the continuation of the customs and trade association at wikisource.
  59. Article 8, § 6, p. 1
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  61. ^ Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union. Case study of a customs union . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization. Göttingen, 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , p. 114.
  62. a b Zorn: Economic and Social Policy. P. 150.
  63. Article 40 of the Versailles Treaty (at
  64. ^ Illustration from William R. Shepherd : The Historical Atlas. 1926, in the online library of the University of Texas Libraries . The map is part of a map series with the heading "The Unification of Germany" (" Die deutsche Einigung "). The representation interprets the territorial expansion of the Zollverein as an essential part of the German unification. By choosing the year of the founding of the empire (1871) as the end point, the thesis is reinforced.
  65. ^ Heinrich von Treitschke: German history in the 19th century . Leipzig 1879–1894, quoted from Dieter Langewiesche : Europe between Revolution and Restoration 1815–1849 . 4th edition, Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1994 (= Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte (OGG), Volume 13), p. 126.
  66. Langewiesche, OGG, p. 126.
  67. ^ Wilhelm Treue: Society, Economy and Technology in Germany in the 19th Century . In: Gebhardt: Handbook of German History. Volume 3. 9th edition, Stuttgart 1970, pp. 377-541, quoted here. according to Hahn: industrial revolution. P. 76.
  68. ^ William Otto Henderson: The Zollverein. London 1939 (2nd edition 1959); compare Hahn: Industrial Revolution. P. 80 and Langewiesche, OGG, p. 126.
  69. ^ Karl Obermann: Germany from 1815 to 1849. 5th edition, Berlin (East) 1983, cited above. according to Langewiesche, OGG, p. 127.
  70. ^ Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union, the European economic community and the free trade zone . In: Wolfram Fischer: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization . Göttingen 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , p. 129.
  71. p. 128.
  72. ^ Hans-Werner Hahn: History of the German customs union . Göttingen, 1984; Rolf H. Dumke: The economic consequences of the customs union . In: Werner Abelshauser , Dietmar Petzina (Ed.): German economic history in the industrial age. Königstein 1981, pp. 241-273.
  73. cf. for example Richard H. Tilly: From Zollverein to an industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914 . Munich 1990.
  74. ^ Richard H. Tilly: From the customs union to the industrial state. The economic and social development of Germany from 1834 to 1914. DTV, Munich 1990, (German history of the latest time) ISBN 3-423-04506-X . P. 189.
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