The German Imperium

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German Empire
German Empire
National flag of the German Empire: black-white-red Coat of arms of the German Empire - Imperial Eagle 1889.svg
flag coat of arms
Flag of the German Empire.svg navigation Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg
Constitution Constitution of the German Reich of April 16, 1871
official language German
capital city Berlin
form of government federal hereditary monarchy
System of Government
– 1871 to 1918
– 1918

constitutional monarchy
parliamentary monarchy
Head of State
- 1871 to 1888
- 1888
- 1888 to 1918
German Emperor, King of Prussia
Wilhelm I
Friedrich III.
William II
Prime Minister
- 1871 to 1890
- 1890 to 1894
- 1894 to 1900
- 1900 to 1909
- 1909 to 1917
- 1917
- 1917 to 1918
- 1918
Imperial Chancellor
Prince Otto von Bismarck
Leo Count of Caprivi
Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Prince Bernhard von Bülow
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Georg Michaelis
Georg Count von Hertling
Prince Max von Baden
– 1910

540,858 km² (excluding colonies )
– 1871 (Dec 1)
– 1890 (Dec 1)
– 1910 (Dec 1)

49,428,470 (excluding colonies)
64,925,993 (excluding colonies)
Population density
- 1871
- 1890
- 1910

76 inhabitants per km²
91 inhabitants per km²
120 inhabitants per km²
currency 1 mark = 100 cents
– January 1, 1871
– January 18, 1871

Entry into force of the new constitution
Proclamation of the Emperor
national anthem No
imperial hymn: heal in the victor's wreath
national holiday unofficially 2 September ( Sedantag )
Time zone
- 1871 to 1893
- 1893 to 1918

no uniform time zone
License plates
- 1871 to 1907
- 1907 to 1918

no uniform regulation
Map of the German Empire

German Empire is the retrospective designation for the phase of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918 to clearly distinguish it from the period after 1918. In the German Empire, the German nation state was a federally organized constitutional monarchy .

The German Empire was founded when the new constitution came into effect on January 1, 1871. It was staged by a less spectacular, secretly prepared military-court ceremonial, the imperial proclamation of the Prussian King Wilhelm I on January 18, 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles . Meanwhile, the Empire was still in the Franco-Prussian War . A German national state was created for the first time on a Kleindeutsch basis and under the rule of the Prussian Hohenzollerns . The main residence of the German Emperor and Prussian King was the Berlin Palace .

During the time of the German Empire, Germany was economically and socially characterized by high industrialization . Economically and socio-structurally, it began to change from an agricultural to an industrial country, especially in the last decades of the 19th century . The service sector also gained increasing importance with the expansion of trade and banking. The economic growth, which was also caused by the French war reparations after 1871, was temporarily slowed down by the so-called founder's crash of 1873 and the long-term economic crisis that followed. Despite significant political consequences, this did not change anything in the structural development towards an industrial state.

Characteristic of the social change was a strongly internationally oriented reform movement, in the course of which the social question was pushed forward with poverty scandalization and poverty fight, women demanded improved educational opportunities and the right to vote . In addition to mass politicization, the structural basis of these changes was rapid population growth , internal migration and urbanization . The social structure was significantly changed by the increase in the urban working population and - especially in the years from about 1890 - also the new middle class of technicians, employees and small and medium-sized civil servants. On the other hand, the economic importance of crafts and agriculture - based on their contributions to national income - tended to decline.

Until 1890, domestic and foreign policy developments were determined by the first and longest-serving chancellor of the empire, Otto von Bismarck . His reign can be divided into a relatively liberal phase, characterized by domestic political reforms and the Kulturkampf , and a more conservative period after 1878/79. The transition to state interventionism ( protective tariffs , social security ) and the Socialist Law are seen as turning points .

In terms of foreign policy, Bismarck attempted to secure the empire with a complex system of alliances (e.g. dual alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879). From 1884 began the - later intensified - entry into overseas imperialism . International conflicts of interest with other colonial powers followed, most notably the world power Great Britain .

The phase after the Bismarck era is often referred to as the Wilhelmine era , because Kaiser Wilhelm II (from 1888) personally exercised considerable influence on day-to-day politics after Bismarck was dismissed. Other, sometimes competing, players also played an important role. They influenced the emperor's decisions, often making them seem contradictory and unpredictable.

Public opinion also gained weight through the rise of mass associations and parties and the growing importance of the press . Last but not least, the government tried to increase its support among the population with an imperialist world policy, an anti-social democratic collection policy and a popular naval armament (see naval laws ). In terms of foreign policy, however, Wilhelm's striving for world power led to isolation; through this policy the empire contributed to increasing the danger of the outbreak of a major war. When World War I finally broke out in 1914, the Reich was embroiled in a multi-front war. The military also gained influence in domestic politics. With the increasing number of war casualties on the fronts and the social hardship at home (encouraged by Allied naval blockades ), the monarchy began to lose support.

It was not until the end of the war that the October reforms of 1918 came about, which stipulated, among other things, that the Reich Chancellor had to have the confidence of the Reichstag . The republic was proclaimed soon afterwards in the November Revolution , and the constituent national assembly in Weimar constituted the Reich as a parliamentary democracy in 1919 . Under international law, today's Germany is identical to the German Reich of 1871, even if the form of government and administrative area have changed several times since then.


Up to the founding of the nation state, German history in the 19th century was characterized by numerous political and territorial changes, which entered a new phase after the end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806. The Old Empire , a pre-national and supranational entity led by the Roman-German emperors – from the mid-18th century increasingly shaped by the conflicting interests of its two great powers , Austria and the up-and-coming Prussia – broke up as a result of the Napoleonic Wars and the founding initiated by France of the Rhine Confederation .

The ideas of the French Revolution between 1789 and 1799 and the wars of liberation directed against the subsequent hegemonic policy of Napoleon Bonaparte led to nation state movements in almost all of Europe , including the German-speaking area, with the idea of ​​the nation as the basis for state formation. A unified empire including the German settlement areas of the Austrian , Prussian and Danish empires was described as the Greater German solution , and a German Empire without Austria under Prussian leadership as a small German solution .

However, after the European powers opposed to France (Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria in the lead) defeated the armies of Napoleon, the German princes had no interest in a central power that would limit their own rule. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, only the German Confederation was founded, a loose association of those areas that had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation before 1806. The era that followed the Congress of Vienna, later known as the Vormärz era, was shaped by the policy of restoration , which was dominated by the Austrian state chancellor Clemens Wenzel Fürst von Metternich . As part of the so-called Holy Alliance , an alliance initially formed between Austria , Prussia and Russia , the restoration was intended to restore the balance of power in Europe, both domestically and internationally, which had prevailed in the Ancien Régime up until the French Revolution.

Cheering revolutionaries after barricade fighting on March 18, 1848 in Berlin (chalk lithograph by an unknown artist)

Nation- state and bourgeois-democratic movements opposed the policy of the Restoration. In the year of revolution 1848 in large parts of Central Europe, the March Revolution in the German states was also included in the revolutionary movement. Members of the first all-German, democratically elected parliament that then emerged, the Frankfurt National Assembly , offered the German imperial crown to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV as part of the Little Germany solution after the Paulskirche constitution had been passed. However, because he refused, citing his “right of God ”, the attempt to unify the majority of the German states on a constitutional basis failed.

After the violent suppression of the revolutionary movement in 1848/49, the German Confederation continued to exist until 1866. After a decade of political reaction ( reaction era ), in which democratic and liberal aspirations were again suppressed, the first political parties as we know them today were formed in the German states at the beginning of the 1860s . The relationship between Austria and Prussia was characterized by cooperation in the 1850s, and then by rivalry again. Different ideas emerged, for example, at the Frankfurt Princes ' Day in 1863: Austria and the central states such as Bavaria wanted to expand the German Confederation into a confederation of states, while Prussia preferred a federal solution. In the German-Danish War of 1864, the two great powers worked together again, but then fell out over the spoils of Schleswig-Holstein .

Prussian provocation (the invasion of Austrian-administered Holstein) triggered the German War of Prussia against Austria in 1866 , in which the armies of Prussia and some northern German states fought alongside Italy against the troops of Austria, which shared with the southern German states, including Baden , Bavaria , Hesse and Württemberg , was allied. After the defeat, Austria had to recognize the dissolution of the German Confederation and accept that Prussia founded the North German Confederation with the states north of the Main line , initially as a military alliance . This received a federal constitution in 1867 . The southern German states, previously allied with Austria, concluded protective and defiant alliances with Prussia.

Otto von Bismarck and France's Emperor Napoleon III. after the Battle of Sedan (after a painting by Wilhelm Camphausen from 1878)

The Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, triggered by a diplomatic dispute over the Spanish succession . The declaration of war came from the French side after the Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck had exposed France politically. The southern German states took part in the war and joined the North German Confederation on January 1, 1871. The three wars between 1864 and 1871 are also known as the German wars of unification .

Empire founding

The German victory at Sedan and the capture of the French Emperor Napoleon III. (both on September 2, 1870) paved the way for the founding of the empire. Bismarck began negotiating with the southern German states. This meant the accession of Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden to the North German Confederation through the establishment of a new "German Confederation" agreed in November 1870. Other plans, such as a double alliance, as proposed by Bavaria , now stood no chance. On the one hand, Bismarck's solution guaranteed Prussia's dominance in the new, so-called second German Reich . On the other hand, the monarchical federalism meant a barrier against tendencies towards parliamentarization .

Demands were made in the German public for an annexation of Alsace and parts of Lorraine , and Bismarck embraced these demands. This prolonged the war, was one reason for the intensification of the " Franco-German hereditary enmity " (see also French revanchism ) and gave national enthusiasm in Germany a further boost. The latter facilitated Bismarck's negotiations with the southern German states, which resulted in the November treaties.

The imperial winter residence Berlin Palace and the Kaiser Wilhelm National Monument around 1900

Nevertheless, he had to make concessions, the so-called reservation rights . Thus Bavaria retained its own army ( Bavarian Army ) in peacetime. Moreover, like Württemberg, it retained its own postal service. The southern German states as a whole retained their state railways ( Royal Bavarian State Railways , Royal Württemberg State Railways , Grand Ducal Baden State Railways , Grand Ducal Hessian State Railways ). In foreign policy they successfully insisted on their own diplomatic relations .

The Prussian king, holder of the Federal Presidium , received the additional title " German Emperor ". This designation was of subordinate constitutional importance, but of considerable symbolic importance - the memory of the Old Kingdom made it easier to identify with the new state. In order to emphasize the monarchical legitimacy of the nation state , it was important to Bismarck that King Ludwig II, as the monarch of the largest accession country , should offer the imperial crown to King Wilhelm I. After agreeing to improve his private treasury, the reluctant but politically isolated Bavarian king agreed to take this step and proposed King Wilhelm as German emperor in Bismarck's letter of 30 November 1870. The secret annual donations that Bismarck diverted from the Guelph fund for Ludwig totaled 4 to 5 million marks. Characteristic of the character of the new empire was that the representatives of the North German Reichstag had to wait until the federal princes had declared their consent to the imperial dignity. Only then could the deputies ask the king to accept the imperial crown . This was in marked contrast to the Kaiserdeputation of 1849.

King Wilhelm himself, who – not without reason – feared that the new title would cover up the Prussian royal dignity, remained opposed for a long time. If anything, he demanded the title of "Kaiser von Deutschland". Bismarck warned that the southern German monarchs were unlikely to accept this. In addition, the constitutional title has been “German Emperor” since January 1st. At the Kaiser proclamation on January 18, Wilhelm allowed the Grand Duke of Baden to cheer “Kaiser Wilhelm”.

The first Reichstag elections then took place on March 3, 1871 . The first constituent session of the Reichstag took place on March 21 in the Prussian House of Representatives in Berlin , which was declared the capital of the Reich . Thereafter, the constitution of January 1, 1871 was revised and passed on April 16; it is usually meant when the "Bismarckian Imperial Constitution" is mentioned.

The Peace of Frankfurt officially ended the Franco-Prussian War. The signing took place on May 10th. The Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine was annexed to the German Reich and was directly subject to the German Emperor. The victory of Prussia and the allied German states and the founding of the Reich were celebrated on June 16, 1871 with a pompous victory parade in Berlin and other German cities. The Reichsmünzgesetz unified the German currencies, the Mark was introduced in 1876 as a uniform currency in the Reich and replaced the previous means of payment of the individual states . The new mark currency was based on the gold standard .

structure of the empire

area breakdown

The Empire included 25 federal states (federal members) - including the three republican Hanseatic cities of Hamburg , Bremen and Lübeck - as well as the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine .

Structure of the German Empire 1871-1918
state form of government capital city Area in km² (1910) Population (1871) Population (1900) Residents (1910)
Kingdom of Prussia monarchy Berlin 348,780 24.691.085 34.472.509 40.165.219
Kingdom of Bavaria monarchy Munich 75,870 4,863,450 6,524,372 6,887,291
Kingdom of Wuerttemberg monarchy Stuttgart 19,507 1,818,539 2,169,480 2,437,574
Kingdom of Saxony monarchy Dresden 14,993 2,556,244 4,202,216 4,806,661
Grand Duchy of Baden monarchy Karlsruhe 15,070 1,461,562 1,867,944 2,142,833
Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin monarchy Schwerin 13.127 557,707 607,770 639,958
Grand Duchy of Hesse monarchy Darmstadt 7,688 852,894 1,119,893 1,282,051
Grand Duchy of Oldenburg monarchy Oldenburg 6,429 314,591 399,180 483,042
Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach monarchy Weimar 3,610 286,183 362,873 417,149
Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz monarchy Neustrelitz 2,929 96,982 102,602 106,442
Duchy of Brunswick monarchy Brunswick 3,672 312,170 464,333 494,339
Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen monarchy Meiningen 2,468 187,957 250,731 278,762
Duchy of Anhalt monarchy dessau 2,299 203,437 316,085 331.128
Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha monarchy Coburg / Gotha 1,977 174,339 229,550 257,177
Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg monarchy Altenburg 1,324 142.122 194,914 216,128
Principality of Lippe monarchy Detmold 1.215 111.135 138,952 150,937
Principality of Waldeck monarchy arolsen 1.121 56,224 57,918 61,707
Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt monarchy Rudolstadt 941 75,523 93,059 100,702
Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen monarchy Sondershausen 862 67.191 80,898 89,917
Principality of Reuss younger line monarchy Gera 827 89,032 139,210 152,752
Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe monarchy Buckeburg 340 32,059 43.132 46,652
Principality of Reuss older line monarchy greece 316 45,094 68,396 72,769
Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg republic Hamburg 414 338,974 768,349 1,014,664
Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck republic Luebeck 298 52,158 96,775 116,599
Free Hanseatic City of Bremen republic Bremen 256 122,402 224,882 299,526
Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine monarchy Strasbourg 14,522 1,549,738 1,719,470 1.874.014
Deutsches Reich monarchy Berlin 540,858 41,058,792 56.367.178 64,925,993

Administrative divisions (January 1, 1900)

Geographic-political situation in Central Europe

The Empire had eight neighboring states:

In the north it bordered on Denmark (77 km), in the northeast and east on the Russian Empire (1,322 km), in the southeast and south on Austria-Hungary (2,388 km), in the south on Switzerland (385 km), in the southwest France (392 kilometers), to the west by Luxembourg (219 kilometers) and Belgium (84 kilometers), and to the north-west by the Netherlands (567 kilometers). The border length totaled 5,434 kilometers (excluding the border in Lake Constance ).

Since the beginning of the 19th century, this position has been characterized as the “middle position” in Europe in the German debate about the supposed “naturalness” of historically determined borders and spaces of a nation. This discussion also continued during the Kaiserreich and is still represented today, such as the publicist Joachim Fest :

“Germany's destiny is the middle position in Europe. Either it is threatened by all its neighbors, or it is threatening all its neighbors.”

symbols of the empire

Coats of arms and flags in 1900

The German Empire did not have an official national anthem . The songs Heil dir im Siegerkranz , the melody of which is identical to the British national anthem , as well as Die Wacht am Rhein and the Lied der Deutschen were considered as replacements .

According to Art. 55 RV, black, white and red were the colors of the naval flag and the merchant flag . They date from the time of the North German Confederation. The colors are made up of the colors of Prussia ( black and white ) and those of the free and Hanseatic cities (white over red). Only in 1892 was black, white and red made the national flag by the highest decree .


The constitution of the German Reich of April 16, 1871 emerged from the constitution of the North German Confederation drawn up in 1866 ; Otto von Bismarck had decisively shaped it and tailored it to himself. On the one hand, it was an organizational statute that mutually delimited the competences of the state organs through which the Reich acted and other institutions of the Reich. On the other hand, it determined the jurisdiction of the Reich in relation to the federal states. Here it followed the principle of limited individual authority: the Reich was only allowed to take action for those matters that were expressly assigned to the Reich in the constitution as responsibility. Otherwise, the states were responsible.

Simplified graphic representation of the imperial constitution, there was no "imperial government" with responsible ministers in the literal sense, but only an "imperial leadership" made up of state secretaries subordinate to the imperial chancellor
Alternative diagram with the most important organs of the empire

The Imperial Constitution does not have a section on fundamental rights that would have legally defined the relationship between subjects (citizens) and the state with constitutional status. Only a ban on discrimination based on citizenship of a federal state (equal treatment for nationals) was standardized. The missing section on fundamental rights did not necessarily have to have a negative effect. Because the federal states generally implemented the imperial laws, only they intervened in the law against the citizen. The decisive factor was therefore whether and which basic rights were provided for in the state constitutions. For example, the constitution of January 31, 1850, applicable to the Prussian state , contained a catalog of basic rights.

According to its constitution, the German Reich was an “eternal federation” of federal princes. This corresponded to the fact that the German Reich was a federal state . Its constituent states had distinctive autonomy, with them also having an important shaping function at the Reich level through the Federal Council . The Bundesrat was intended by the constitution to be the real sovereign of the Reich. Its powers were both legislative and executive in nature. Realpolitik, however, its importance as an independent center of power remained limited for various reasons. One aspect was that Prussia, as the largest federal state, had only 17 out of 58 votes, but the small states of northern and central Germany almost always supported the Prussian vote.

The King of Prussia formed the presidium of the federation and bore the title of German Emperor. The Emperor was entitled to considerable powers that went far beyond what the term Presidium of the Federation would suggest. He appointed and dismissed the Reich Chancellor and the Reich officials (particularly the Secretaries of State). Together with the Reich Chancellor, who was usually also Prussian Prime Minister and Prussian Foreign Minister, he determined the foreign policy of the Reich. The Kaiser was supreme in command of the navy and the German army (the Bavarian army only in times of war). In particular, the constitution provided that the emperor, if necessary, could restore internal security with the help of the army. This concentration of command was often used as a means of pressure in domestic politics. The southern German kingdoms of Württemberg and Bavaria reserved reservation rights during the constitutional negotiations . However, the power of neither the Prussian king nor the German emperor was absolute, but they stood in the tradition of German constitutionalism of the 19th century, albeit with elements that stood outside of the constitution.

In this power structure, the Reich Chancellor was the Reich Minister responsible to the Kaiser, who was responsible for the State Secretaries. He chaired the Bundesrat, headed the Reich administration and was usually Prussian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister at the same time. The democratic deficit of this constitution was primarily due to the lack of parliamentary responsibility for the Reich Chancellor, who the Reichstag could neither elect nor overthrow. It was not until October 1918 that the Reich Chancellor's parliamentary responsibility was introduced as part of the October Constitution .

The real counterweight to the allied governments, the Federal Council and the Reich leadership was the Reichstag . The suffrage provided for universal and equal suffrage for males aged 25 and over (in the form of first-past-the-post suffrage). In principle the election was secret, although not necessarily in practice. In comparison with other European states, but also with the right to vote in many federal states , this was a special democratic feature of the imperial constitution.

The legislative period of the Reichstag initially lasted three years, after 1888 five years. With the Emperor's consent, the Federal Council could dissolve Parliament at any time and call for new elections; in reality, the initiative for the dissolution came from the chancellor. MPs received no diets as a counterweight to universal suffrage . The deputies had a free mandate and, according to the constitution, were not bound by the orders of the voters. In fact, there were numerous "wild deputies" in the first legislative periods. In practice, of course, the formation of factions quickly continued to prevail.

The Reichstag was an equal body with the Bundesrat when it came to passing laws. This central parliamentary right was of growing importance in the age of legal positivism , since government action was essentially based on laws. After the development of the doctrine of the reservation of statutes , government regulations only played a role after parliamentary authorization. Administrative directives only had an effect within the administration. The second core competence of Parliament was the adoption of the budget in the form of a law. The budget debate quickly developed into a general debate on all government action. However, the possibility of deciding on the military budget, which was the main expenditure item of the empire, was limited. By 1874 the budget was fixed anyway, and later the Septennate and later the Quinquennate limited parliamentary rights in this area. The Reichstag had the legislative initiative, i.e. the right to propose possible new laws, just like the Reich Chancellor.

The political leadership of the Reich was therefore dependent on cooperation with the Reichstag. Contrary to what the preamble to the constitution suggested, the empire was by no means a “federation of princes”. Rather, the constitution represented a compromise between the national and democratic demands of the aspiring business and educated middle classes and the dynastic structures of rule ( constitutional monarchy ), or a compromise between the unitarian principle, embodied by the emperor and the Reichstag, and the federal principle with the Federal Council as representation of the member states.

power centers of the empire

The constitutional order was an important framework for the actual order of government. In fact, the institutions anchored in Bismarck's imperial constitution, such as the Reichstag or the chancellor, were of central importance to the political system. In addition, there were other centers of power that were only partially reflected in the written constitution.

bureaucracy and administration

Bureaucracy, for example, was hardly mentioned in the constitution. The bureaucratic apparatus ensured continuity in all domestic political conflicts. At the same time, the political decision-makers - including the Chancellor and the Emperor - had to reckon with the weight of the higher officials. However, the Reich itself had only a modest apparatus at the beginning and was dependent on the support of the Prussian ministries for a long time.

There was no real imperial government alongside the imperial chancellor. Instead of ministers, there were only a number of state secretaries reporting to the chancellor, who presided over imperial offices. In the course of time, in addition to the Reich Chancellery , a Reich Railway Office , a Reich Post Office , a Reich Justice Office , a Reich Treasury , a Ministry for Alsace-Lorraine , the Foreign Office , the Reich Office of the Interior , a Reich Navy Office and finally a Reich Colonial Office were created . The administrative dependency on Prussia decreased with the expansion of the imperial administration. Until the end, however, the organizational connection between Prussia and the Reich was of great importance.

Protestants as well as members of the nobility were over-represented in the higher positions, including in the higher imperial administration. Thus, out of a total of 31 Reich State Secretaries , twelve belonged to the nobility and in 1909 71% were of the Protestant denomination. Politically, however, these were initially relatively liberal in orientation. Only a long-term youth policy ensured a conservative orientation of the higher officials in the long term.

monarchy and court

Adolph Menzel : The Ball Supper , 1878

The constitution guaranteed the emperor considerable freedom of action. The various imperial advisory bodies such as the civil , military and naval cabinets played important roles in the decisions of the monarchs. Added to this were the court and the close personal confidants of the emperors. As early as Wilhelm I, the monarch exerted considerable influence on personnel policy, without usually intervening in day-to-day business. This level was one of the central centers of power in the empire, especially under Kaiser Wilhelm II with his claim to a “ personal regiment ”.

The change of the emperor from a presidency of the federation to an imperial monarch should also hardly be underestimated. Outside of Prussia, not only the commemoration days of the various dynasties were celebrated, but also the Kaiser's birthday . The emperor increasingly became a symbol of the empire. The question of the extent to which Kaiser Wilhelm II was actually able to enforce a personal regime is, of course, controversial in historical scholarship. In the years after 1888, Hans-Ulrich Wehler sees more of an authoritarian polycracy in which, in addition to the “ brambling but weak” Kaiser, the Reich Chancellor, Alfred von Tirpitz as State Secretary of the Reich Navy Office, the General Staff, the bureaucrats of the Reich offices and the representatives of the various economic interests wrestled with each other over the basic lines of Reich politics.

It is undisputed that the imperial influence was still limited until 1897, while the importance of the emperor increased significantly until 1908, only to then lose importance again. The affair surrounding the confidante of Emperor Philipp zu Eulenburg contributed to this . This and the ensuing Daily Telegraph scandal contributed to the decline in the public image of the emperor, but not of the monarchy as an institution.


Apart from the approval of the necessary financial resources, the army and the navy remained largely under the control of the Prussian king and emperor, respectively. The limits of the seemingly absolutist “command authority” were hardly defined. It therefore remained one of the central pillars of the monarchy. Below the “supreme warlord” there were three institutions, the military cabinet , the Prussian Ministry of War and the General Staff, which at times competed with one another over competences. In particular, the General Staff under Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke and later Alfred von Waldersee tried to influence political decisions. The same applies to Alfred von Tirpitz on naval matters.

The army was not only directed against external enemies, but should also be used internally, for example in the event of strikes , according to the will of the military leadership . In practice, the army was hardly used in the big strikes. Nevertheless, as a potential threat, the army represented a domestic political power factor that should not be underestimated.

The close ties with the monarchy were initially reflected in the officer corps , which was strongly characterized by aristocracy . Even later, the nobility retained a strong position among the leading ranks, although in the middle ranks, with the enlargement of the army and the navy, the bourgeois portion penetrated more strongly. However, the appropriate selection and the internal socialization in the military ensured that the self-image of this group hardly differed from that of their noble comrades.

Militarism in Germany intensified. Between 1848 and the 1860s, society tended to view the military with suspicion. This changed fundamentally after the victories from 1864 to 1871. The military became a central element of the emerging imperial patriotism . Criticism of the military was considered unpatriotic. Nevertheless, the parties did not support an enlargement of the army indefinitely. It was only in 1890, with a peacetime presence of almost 490,000 men, that the military reached its constitutional strength of one percent of the population. In the years that followed, the land forces were further reinforced. Between 1898 and 1911, costly naval armaments required restrictions on the land army. During this time, the General Staff itself had opposed an increase in troop strength because it feared that the bourgeois element would be reinforced at the expense of the aristocratic element in the officer corps. In 1905, the Schlieffen Plan was the concept for a possible two-front war against France and Russia, taking into account England's participation on the enemy's side. After 1911 rearmament was intensively pursued. Ultimately, the number of troops required to carry out the Schlieffen Plan was not reached.

During the Empire, the army gained a very strong social significance. The officer corps was considered by large parts of the population to be the "first class in the state". Its world view was characterized by loyalty to the monarchy and the defense of royal rights, it was conservative, anti-socialist and fundamentally anti-parliamentary. The military code of conduct and honor extended far into society. For many citizens, too, reserve officer status now became a desirable goal.

The military was undoubtedly also important for internal nation-building. The shared service promoted the integration of the Catholic population into the Protestant-dominated empire. Even the workers were not immune to the military's broadcasts. Military service , which lasted at least two years (three years for the cavalry), as the so-called “school of the nation”, played a formative role. However, because of the oversupply of conscripts in Germany, only half of those born did active military service. Highly educated conscripts—almost exclusively members of the middle and upper classes—were privileged to do short-term military service as one-year volunteers .

Heinrich Mann's Untertan , the Hauptmann von Köpenick or the Zabern Affair reflect the importance of militarism in German society. Everywhere in the empire the new warriors' associations became the bearers of a militaristic worldview. The number of 2.9 million members in the Kyffhäuser League (1913) shows the widespread effect this had . The Bund was thus the strongest mass organization in the Reich. The associations sponsored by the state were supposed to cultivate military, national and monarchical sentiments and immunize the members against social democracy.

population, economy and society

Population density of the German Empire

The period of the German Empire saw fundamental demographic, economic and social changes that also had a significant impact on culture and politics. A characteristic of this was the enormous growth in population . In 1871 there were 41 million inhabitants in the Reich, in 1890 there were over 49 million and in 1910 almost 65 million inhabitants. Not least due to internal migrations - initially from the surrounding area, later also due to long-distance migrations, for example from the agricultural Prussian eastern areas to Berlin or western Germany - the urban population, especially the large city population, grew strongly. In 1871, 64% of the population still lived in communities with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants and only 5% in large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, by 1890 there was already equality between city and country dwellers. In 1910 only 40% lived in communities with less than 2000 inhabitants and 21.3% in large cities. This was also associated with a change in lifestyle. For example, life in the tenements in Berlin was fundamentally different from life in the village.

Industry, mines and smelters

This change was only possible because there were a few prerequisites:

  • the economy was able to provide enough jobs
  • banking, and especially the big universal banks, had evolved and grown
  • Transport and logistics had made progress (see also History of the railways in Germany ): for example, the Prussian Eastern Railway transported many times the quantity of goods forecast at the time of construction - including large quantities of food - from the countryside to metropolitan areas.

During this period, Germany transitioned from an agricultural country to a modern industrial state (→ high industrialization in Germany ). At the beginning of the empire, railway construction and heavy industry dominated ; later, the chemical industry and the electronics industry were added as new leading sectors. In 1873 the share of the primary sector in the net domestic product was 37.9% and that of industry 31.7%. In 1889 the tie was reached; In 1895, agriculture only accounted for 32%, while the secondary sector accounted for 36%. This change was also reflected in the development of employment relationships. Whereas in 1871 the ratio of those employed in agriculture to those in industry, transport and the service sector was 8.5 to 5.3 million, in 1880 the ratio was 9.6 to 7.5 million and in 1890 9.6 to 10 million. In 1910, 10.5 million people were employed in agriculture, while 13 million were employed in industry, transport and the service sector.

Employed persons and relatives in % of the total population
economic sector 1882 1895 1907
Agriculture 41.6 35.0 28.4
Industry/Craft 34.8 38.5 42.2
trade/traffic 9.4 11.0 12.9
domestic services 5.0 4.3 3.3
public service/professions 4.6 5.1 5.2
unemployed/pensioners 4.7 6.1 8.1

From a socio -historical point of view, the Kaiserreich was shaped above all by the rise of the working class. The different groups of origin, consisting of unskilled workers, semi-skilled workers and skilled workers, tended to develop a specific self-image of the working-class population, despite all the differences that still existed, through shared experiences at the workplace and in the living quarters. With the emergence of large companies, new state services and the increase in trade and transport, the number of employees and small and medium-sized civil servants also increased. These paid attention to social distance from the workers, even if their economic situation differed little from that of industrial workers.

The old urban middle classes were among the stagnant parts of society. Craftsmen often felt their existence threatened by industry. The reality, however, was different: there were overstaffed traditional trades; on the other hand, construction and food crafts benefited from the growing population and urban development. Many professions adapted to developments, for example the shoemakers no longer made shoes, but only repaired them.

The bourgeoisie largely succeeded in enforcing its cultural norms, with the business bourgeoisie (including the big industrialists ) being the economic leaders and the educated bourgeoisie making Germany a center of science and research. Nevertheless, the political influence of the bourgeoisie remained limited, for example due to the peculiarities of the political system and the rise of the workers and the new middle classes.

Economically, the existence of the landowning nobility was threatened, especially in East Elbia , by the increasing international integration of the agricultural market. The demands of the nobility and agricultural interest groups for state aid became a feature of domestic politics during the imperial period. At the same time, the Prussian constitution ensured that the nobility retained numerous special rights in the largest state in the empire. The nobility was also able to maintain its influence in the military, diplomacy and bureaucracy.


The largest cities of the empire were:

denominations and national minorities

Confessional differences have changed less than the economy and society during this time. But they were also important for the overall history of the empire. The same applies to the contradiction between the claim to be a nation state and the existence of numerically significant national minorities.

Denominations and Churches in the Empire

Denomination map (Protestant/Catholic) of the German Empire (ca. 1890)
Spread of the Israelite religion in the German Empire (ca. 1890)
Denomination map according to Meyers Konversationslexikon, ca. 1885

There was basically little change in the general distribution of denominations in the early modern period . Furthermore, there were almost purely Catholic areas ( Lower and Upper Bavaria , northern Westphalia , Upper Silesia and others) and almost purely Protestant (Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, Saxony, etc.). The denominational prejudices and reservations, especially towards mixed denominational marriages, were therefore still significant. Gradually, internal migration led to a gradual denominational mixing. In the eastern areas of the empire, there was often also a national difference, since the equation Protestant = German, Catholic = Polish applied to a large extent there. In the immigration areas, for example in the Ruhr area and Westphalia or in some large cities, there were sometimes considerable confessional shifts (especially in Catholic Westphalia due to Protestant immigrants from the eastern provinces).

Politically, the distribution of denominations had significant consequences. In the Catholic-dominated areas, the Center Party managed to win over the vast majority of voters. The Social Democrats and their unions hardly managed to gain a foothold in the Catholic parts of the Ruhr area. Only with increasing secularization in the last decades of the empire did this begin to change.

Religious creeds in the German Reich 1880
area Protestants Catholics Otherwise. Christians Jews Other
number % number % number % number % number %
Deutsches Reich 28.331.152 62.63 16,232,651 35.89 78,031 0.17 561,612 1.24 30,615 0.07
Prussia 17,633,279 64.64 9,206,283 33.75 52,225 0.19 363,790 1.33 23,534 0.09
Bavaria 1,477,952 27.97 3,748,253 70.93 5.017 0.09 53,526 1.01 30 0.00
Saxony 2,886,806 97.11 74,333 2.50 4,809 0.16 6,518 0.22 339 0.01
Wuerttemberg 1,364,580 69.23 590,290 29.95 2,817 0.14 13,331 0.68 100 0.01
to bathe 547,461 34.86 993.109 63.25 2,280 0.15 27,278 1.74 126 0.01
Alsace-Lorraine 305,315 19.49 1,218,513 77.78 3,053 0.19 39,278 2.51 511 0.03

Judaism and anti-Semitism

Around 1871, the Jews in the German Empire made up a small percentage of the total population, accounting for just over one percent. Due to a lower number of births and the increasing proportion of Christian-Jewish marriages, in which the children were mostly raised Christian, their share gradually decreased. The Jewish population was concentrated in the larger cities. Around 1910, a third of all German Jews lived in the city of Berlin with surrounding communities, where their share of the population was about 5%. Apart from Berlin, centers of Jewish life were Frankfurt am Main (10%), Breslau (5.5%), Königsberg (Prussia) and Hamburg (3.2%). But there were also rural regions with above-average Jewish populations: in the east the province of Posen , West Prussia and Upper Silesia , in the south-west the Grand Duchy of Hesse , Lower Franconia , the Palatinate (Bavaria) and Alsace-Lorraine .

In the eastern provinces with a mixed German and Polish population, the Jews predominantly identified themselves as German. Even among those Jews who spoke East Yiddish dialects , the tendency to assimilate into German society was strong for a long time. Zionism , which sought to found a national home for the Jews in Palestine, was rejected by the overwhelming majority of German Jews until the end of the German Empire.

In 1893 the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith was founded, and the name of the association was program. The Central-Verein made it its task to combat anti-Semitism, but rejected all ideas of the Jews as a people or a separate race, and regarded the German Jews as one of the German tribes, so to speak. Overall, German Jews were extraordinarily successful in the areas of business, culture, science, and the academic professions. According to statistics from 1910, the Jewish population was 0.95% (615,000 of 64,926,000). Of these, 555,000 were of German origin, the remaining 60,000 (approx. 10%) were non-German nationals (mostly refugees from Poland, Ukraine and Russia). In contrast, 4.28% of the public prosecutors and judges, 6.01% of the doctors, 14.67% of the lawyers and notaries in the German Empire were of Jewish faith. A disproportionately large number of prominent musicians and virtuosos were of Jewish descent. The Jewish contribution was particularly evident in major cities, particularly Berlin . The German Jews thus made an outstanding contribution to global cultural life.

Nevertheless, for various reasons , anti-Semitism was able to gain an administrative, social and political foothold, especially in the later empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II . Certain professions were practically closed to the Jews. Thus it was impossible for a Jew to become an officer (which was a serious limitation, since the officer rank was one of the most prestigious professions in the Empire). For example, in 1907 the Prussian Minister of War Karl von Einem considered "an intrusion of Jewish elements into the active officer corps not only to be harmful, but to be directly fatal". The percentage of Jewish university professors was significantly lower than the percentage of Jewish private lecturers, which was partly an expression of anti-Jewish reservations about appointments to chairs. Leading scholars, while dismissing the anti-Semitic movement as primitive, expressed their distrust of Jewish intrusion into the academic profession and envisioned possible Jewish domination of German universities. Jews were never appointed to a chair in German language and literature or in classical antiquities and languages , and were mainly only employed in the newly developing mathematical and scientific subjects and medicine, where they achieved outstanding results. The later Nobel Prize winner Richard Willstätter later confessed: … the attitude of the faculties made a much deeper and decisive impression on me, namely the frequent cases in which the appointment of Jewish scholars was opposed and prevented, and the way in which this happened. The faculties allowed exceptions, but did not grant equal rights.

Despite the high percentage of Jewish lawyers, higher legal careers were largely closed to them. In particular , judicial offices were only filled with Jews to a limited extent, which was justified by the fact that the judicial office requires special trust and therefore, out of consideration for the feelings of the population, it could not be filled with Jews, and a Jew could hardly take an oath from a Christian. It was very difficult or impossible for Jews to obtain a higher state office. In contrast to Great Britain, where a Christian-baptized Jew - Benjamin Disraeli - even became prime minister, the German Empire had no Jewish minister. Individual Jews who reached a higher state office, such as the director of the colonial department of the Foreign Office , Bernhard Dernburg , remained exceptions. Anti-Semitism spread in the flourishing seaside resorts on the North and Baltic Seas . Anti-Semitic prejudices and caricatures of Jews were to be found in almost all walks of life.

The attitude of the social democratic party was at least ambivalent for a while, since the stereotype of the wealthy capitalist Jew existed there. In principle, anti-Semitism was rejected by the Social Democrats; party chairman August Bebel condemned anti- Semitism as reactionary in a keynote speech on anti-Semitism and social democracy held in 1893. Conservative parties flirted with anti-Semitic program points at times. In its Tivoli program of 1892 , the German Conservative Party turned against “the Jewish influence on our national life, which was pushing ahead and decomposing in many ways” and called for a Christian government and Christian teachers . There were efforts to withdraw the civil equality that Jews had gained in the course of the 19th century. In 1880/81, the anti-Semite petition of the “ Berlin Movement ” demanded that Jews be given equal rights under civil law , but was rejected by the Prussian government and the liberal parties in the Reichstag. Anti-Semitic sentiments and actions that recurred on a regional level, such as those expressed in the Konitz murder affair of 1900-1902, were suppressed by the authorities. As a counter-reaction to anti-Semitism, liberal scholars and politicians (including Theodor Mommsen , Rudolf Virchow , Johann Gustav Droysen ) founded the Association for the Defense of Anti-Semitism (“Defense Association”) in 1890. Politically, the anti-Semites did not succeed in forming a unified party. The share of the votes of the fragmented anti-Semitic parties was at most five and a half percent in all Reichstag elections before the First World War. Political anti-Semitism shifted more to the German Conservative Party, professional associations, student fraternities, and the Christian churches. Leaving aside the liberals, German bourgeois culture had long been steeped in anti-Semitism.

national minorities

Native language of the inhabitants of the German Empire
(January 12, 1900)
native language Quantity portion
German 51.883.131 92.05
German and a foreign language 252,918 0.45
Polish 3,086,489 5.48
French 211,679 0.38
Masurian 142,049 0.25
Danish 141.061 0.25
Lithuanian 106,305 0.19
Kashubian 100,213 0.18
Wendish (Sorbian) 93,032 0.16
Dutch 80,361 0.14
Italian 65,930 0.12
Moravian 64,382 0.11
Czech 43.016 0.08
Frisian 20,677 0.04
English 20.217 0.04
Russian 9,617 0.02
Swedish 8,998 0.02
Hungarian 8.158 0.01
Spanish 2,059 0.00
Portuguese 479 0.00
other foreign languages 14,535 0.03
Residents on December 1, 1900 56.367.187 100
Native speaker minorities of the German Reich per district

The German Empire increasingly developed into a unified national state modeled on France and Great Britain. Nevertheless, in 1880, in addition to the almost 42 million German native speakers at the time, there were around 3.25 million non-German speakers, including 2.5 million who spoke Polish or Czech, 140,000 Sorbs , 200,000 Kashubians , 150,000 Lithuanian speakers, 140,000 Danes and 280,000 French native speakers. These mostly lived near the outer borders of the empire.

Not only the government, the chancellor and the emperor, but also the national and liberal-minded bourgeoisie fundamentally advocated a policy of cultural and linguistic Germanization for the formation of a newly defined nation in the heart of Europe. The school played a central role with the consistent use of German-language instruction.

In the competition between the different cultures, but also in accordance with the desire for a German nation that was recognizable both internally and externally, e.g. For example, the Polish pastors in the Prussian state were replaced by secular, German-speaking teachers. The predominantly French-speaking areas of Alsace-Lorraine were an exception, where French was permitted as a school language. The introduction of German as the official and court language was important.

While the Prussian kingdom with its external borders in the east was largely tolerant towards its national minorities before the founding of the empire and had expressly promoted school teaching in the mother tongue, this tolerance increasingly gave way to a policy of cultural nationalization, especially in the Polish-speaking areas. The Polish language, which had been taught in predominantly Polish-speaking areas before the founding of the Reich, was gradually replaced by the German language of instruction. Only Catholic religious instruction could still be given in Polish. When German was introduced as the language of instruction there, too, there was open resistance, which manifested itself in school strikes (1901 Wreschen school strike ), which the Prussian authorities and teachers responded to with disciplinary measures. The measures were sharply condemned by the Social Democrats, the Left Liberals and the Center. In the case of the Polish population, measures were later added to limit large-scale Polish landownership in favor of German settlers. The Prussian Settlement Commission also tried, with little success, to acquire Polish property for German settlers. In 1885, 35,000 Poles were expelled from the Kingdom of Prussia when Poles were expelled. The procedure was initiated by Bismarck and implemented by the Prussian Minister of the Interior, Robert Viktor von Puttkamer .

However, this new policy had only limited success, as it turned against the authorities the Poles, who had previously been able to live quite well with the tolerant attitude of the Prussian state. Despite financial efforts and pithy nationalist speeches (“We are not going back a step here!”), there was rather an increase in the Polish-speaking population and a decrease in the German population, for example in the province of Posen, and increasing alienation between Germans and Poles. The minorities tried to preserve their own identity and successfully organized themselves into farmers' associations, founded credit institutions and aid organizations. All nationalities, for example, were represented relatively stably in the Reichstag and were even overrepresented in number. Even the Poles who emigrated to the Ruhr area stuck to their roots. Strong Polish trade unions emerged there. The anti-Polish measures during the time of the German Empire had an ominous after-effect on German-Polish relations in general. When the Second Polish Republic emerged as an independent state after World War I, most of the former provinces of Poznań and West Prussia became part of Poland. The Polish government now exercised a similarly repressive policy towards the German minorities in these areas, ultimately to force them to leave the country. This policy was justified with the argument that these areas had been artificially "Germanized" under German rule and now had to be Polonized again.

Change and development of political culture

The Kaiserreich was formative for the political culture in Germany well after the end of the monarchy. Industrialization, urbanization and the improved possibilities of communication (e.g. the distribution of daily newspapers to the lower classes) and other factors also changed the field of political culture. Whereas politics was previously primarily a matter for the elite and notables, fundamental politicization now took place, in which almost all social groups played a part in different ways. The general and equal male suffrage (from the age of 25) at the Reich level also undoubtedly contributed to this. One indication of this was the increase in voter turnout. In 1871 only 51% of those entitled to vote took part in the Reichstag elections, in 1912 it was 84.9%. The growing women's movement, which, like in other industrialized countries, formed at this time, was to prove to be a decisive component of mass politicization, demanding reforms and, in many cases, women's suffrage.

Emergence of the political camps

The formation of the various political camps took place during the founding of the Reich. Karl Rohe distinguishes between a socialist, a catholic and a national camp. Other authors subdivide the latter into a national and a liberal camp. Irrespective of party splits, mergers or similar events, these camps largely shaped political life well into the Weimar Republic . All of these basic orientations had existed in one way or another before the founding of the German Empire. However, the German Center Party (Center) was the first strong Catholic party that reached almost all social groups, from the Catholic rural population and the working class to the bourgeoisie and nobility. But the party organization remained weak and the center did not develop into a mass party. Another hallmark was the rise of social democracy. Overall, their supporters had increased eightfold between 1874 and 1912. The SPD 's share of the vote rose from about 9.1 percent (1877) to 34.8 percent (1912).

The rise of the Social Democrats was not offset by any significant decline in the bourgeois and Catholic camps. Although the Center was not able to fully maintain its level of mobilization from the Kulturkampf period, this party managed to assert itself in the face of a growing number of voters. Despite all the upheavals, the bourgeois camp still managed to reach around a third of those eligible to vote. After the disproportionate position of the National Liberals and the Free Conservative Party at the beginning of the German Empire, there were considerable shifts within this area. At the end of the Kaiserreich, left-wing liberals, conservatives and national liberals were tied at just over ten percent each.

Not least because of the Kulturkampf and later the Socialist Law , the Catholic population and the supporters of social democracy developed a particularly strong inner cohesion. Favored by other factors, a Catholic and social-democratic milieu emerged. In their environment, an organization and club system developed, which met the needs of the respective group from the "cradle to the grave". In the Catholic milieu, the development was differentiated. Above all in the agrarian parts of Catholic Germany, the pastor, the church and the traditional community-based associations tied people to the milieu. In the industrial areas and cities, on the other hand, organizations with millions of members developed with the People's Association for Catholic Germany and the Christian trade unions to integrate the Catholic working-class population .

In the social-democratic field, it was not only the SPD that developed into a mass organization after the end of the Anti-Socialist Law. Union membership increased even more. In addition, a widely ramified club system of workers' education associations , workers' singers or workers' sports clubs developed, partly on older foundations . Consumer cooperatives rounded off this picture.

The self-image and way of life of Catholics, Social Democrats and Protestant bourgeois society differed significantly. Switching between them was hardly possible. The cohesion was carried on through the respective socialization even after the end of the Kulturkampf and anti-socialist laws.

mass organizations

Not only in the political sphere, but also in almost all areas of life, the mass mobilization to assert interests and other social goals unfolded.

Propaganda postcard of the Fleet Association

On the right side of the political spectrum, hypernationalism and the colonial movement mobilized adherents from different social groups. The German Fleet Association relied on 1.2 million members. At least temporarily, anti-Semitism also managed to gain considerable resonance. This included the Christian Social Party around the preacher Adolf Stoecker . Some economic interest groups took up these populist demands in order to strengthen their own position. Anti-Semitism was particularly pronounced in the German National Association of Clerks . Nationalism and anti-Semitism were closely linked in the Pan-German Association .

The Federation of Farmers (BdL) was particularly successful in organizing farmers from all over the Reich, with national and anti-Semitic undertones, although the leadership was always in the hands of the eastern Elbian agrarians . He relied on a well-developed organization with millions of members. A large number of members of the Reich and Landtag owe their mandates to the support of the federal government. These were therefore also committed to the BdL in terms of content. Industrial associations such as the Central Association of German Industrialists (CdI) were less successful in this regard. But he also managed to influence politics through successful lobbying in the background, for example on the question of protective tariffs.

Associated with the large industrial associations, the CdI and the Federation of Industrialists , were the employers' associations , which had been developing since the 1890s and were primarily directed against the trade unions' claims to a say. In addition to the large interest groups, there were numerous other economically oriented organizations. In 1907 there were 500 associations with around 2000 affiliated organizations in the areas of industry, crafts, trade and commerce alone.

Development of trade unions in Germany according to their political direction, 1887-1914

One aspect of the linking of politics and advocacy among the working class was the emergence of directional unions . The supporters were (social) liberalism, the Catholic milieu and social democracy. The so-called free trade unions associated with the SPD had the highest number of members after the end of the Anti-Socialist Law. In important industrial areas, such as the Ruhr area , the Christian trade unions were sometimes just as strong or even stronger. In addition, organizations of Polish-speaking miners appeared in this area after the turn of the century, so that the non-socialist trade unions were very important in this industrial core area of ​​the empire. The left wing of liberalism found this new form of politics particularly difficult. Liberal trade unions had existed since the 1860s in the form of the Hirsch-Duncker trade unions, but their success in mobilizing them remained comparatively small.

changing nationalism

Kaiser Wilhelm monument at Porta Westfalica around 1895

Admittedly, there were still individual state and dynastic special identities. But overall, identification with the nation as a whole gained a formative social significance. During the German Empire, the idea of ​​the nation state changed significantly. Until 1848/1849, the old nationalism was an opposition movement aimed at change, fed by the classical liberal ideals of the French Revolution and directed against the forces of the Restoration era, which were considered conservative at the time . At the latest with the founding of the empire, the focus began to shift. The previous opponents on the right adopted national ideas and goals. Nationalism tended to be conservative. In the long run, the democratic element lost importance.

“Unity” became more important than “freedom”. Among other things, this led to a turn against the national and cultural minorities in the Reich, especially against the Poles and – in connection with the racist-based anti-Semitism gaining in importance from the late 1870s – against the Jews (→ Berlin Anti-Semitism Controversy ). The national passions in the struggle against ultramontane Catholicism also belong in this context . In the further course of the history of the Reich, nationalism was directed not least against social democracy . Their internationalist and revolutionary ideology seemed to the political elite and their supporters to be proof of their enmity towards the Reich. Against this background, the socialists/social democrats were defamed from the end of the 19th century during the Bismarck era as “ journeys without a fatherland ” or their corresponding reputation was launched in the newspapers that were pro-government and loyal to the emperor at the time.

Since the founding of the empire, nationalism in the empire had a hitherto unknown broad effect and, in conjunction with militarism , which was also increasing, now also included the petty-bourgeois and peasant sections of the population. The nationalism was carried by the gymnastics, shooting, singing and above all the warrior clubs. Schools, universities, the (Protestant) church and the military have also contributed to the spread. "Kaiser und Reich" became established as a fixed term. In contrast, the constitution of the empire was not able to develop any independent symbolic value. Of the institutions, only the Chancellor and the Reichstag gained any importance in this regard.

The Reichstag and the general elections became a visible piece of national unity. With the celebrations of the emperor's birthdays, the Sedan Day and other occasions, the national pervaded the annual calendar, especially of the rural and middle-class population. Nationalism was also visible in the numerous national memorials such as the Niederwald memorial , the Hermann memorial , later the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial on the Deutsches Eck or the Porta Westfalica , the numerous Bismarck towers and the local war memorials.

In the long term, even the "enemies of the Reich" could not escape the pull of the national. Since 1887, at the Catholic Days , cheers have not only been given to the pope, but also to the emperor. Especially after the beginning of the war in 1914, it became apparent that the workers were by no means unaffected by nationalism.

Especially during the Wilhelmine era, alongside the semi-official nationalism, there was a growing trend towards radical nationalism , such as that represented by the Pan-German Association . He propagated not only the creation of a large colonial empire, but also a Central European sphere of power ruled by Germany.

Bismarck era

The first decades of the new empire were largely shaped by Bismarck as a person, both in terms of domestic and foreign policy. The period between 1871 and 1889 is clearly divided into two phases: from 1871 to 1878/79 Bismarck worked primarily with the Liberals. In the period that followed, the conservatives and the center dominated.

Liberal era until 1878

In view of the constitutional conflict in Prussia in the 1960s, it is surprising at first glance that Otto von Bismarck worked closely with the Liberals politically even during the existence of the North German Confederation and in the early years of the German Empire. A central reason for this was the majority situation in the Reichstag, in which the Liberals had a strong majority. The National Liberals alone had 125 out of 382 seats in 1871 . If one includes the members of the Liberal Reich Party and the Progressive Party , Liberalism had an absolute majority; this was mostly reinforced by the Free Conservatives . After the Reichstag election of 1874 , the Liberals alone had an absolute majority with 204 out of 397 deputies. The Chancellor could hardly govern against them – and he probably could not have governed with the Conservatives with other majorities either: They rejected Bismarck’s policies and the Center ceased to be a possible counterweight at the latest when the Kulturkampf began.

The politics of the founding phase of the empire were made easier by the booming development of many economic sectors, which contributed to the social acceptance of liberal reforms.

Domestic and legal policy reforms

The head of the Reich Chancellery Rudolph von Delbrück, portrait by Gottlieb Biermann (1875)

Bismarck's real partners were the National Liberals under Rudolf von Bennigsen . Although they were willing to compromise on many points, they also succeeded in pushing through central liberal reform projects. Cooperation was facilitated by liberal officials such as the head of the Reich Chancellery, Rudolph von Delbrück , or the Prussian Minister of Finance , Otto von Camphausen , and the Minister of Education, Adalbert Falk . The main focus of the reforms was the liberalization of the economy. Freedom of trade and freedom of movement were introduced in all federal states where they did not already exist. In the spirit of free trade , the last protective tariffs for hardware expired. A trademark and copyright protection as well as a uniform patent law were introduced. The founding of stock corporations was also made easier. In addition, measurements and weights were standardized and the currency unified: in 1873 the mark (later called 'Goldmark') was introduced. The Reichsbank was founded in 1875 as the central bank of issue. Another focus was the expansion of the rule of law , the foundations of which have survived in part to the present day. The main features of the Reich Criminal Code of 1871 , which is still in force today, but has been amended many times, should be mentioned. This is very similar to the Criminal Code of the North German Confederation of May 31, 1870.

Milestones were the Imperial Justice Laws of 1877, namely the Courts Constitution Law, the Code of Criminal Procedure , the Code of Civil Procedure , the content of which has also been modified, is still in force today, as well as the Bankruptcy Code . The Imperial Court of Justice was introduced in 1878 as the highest German criminal and civil court. A unified supreme German court of justice, which also replaced the existing Reich Higher Commercial Court , made a major contribution to the legal unification of the Reich. In addition, the liberal majority also succeeded in extending the powers of the Reichstag in questions of civil law. While the parliament in the North German Confederation was only responsible for civil law issues with an economic background, at the request of the National Liberal Reichstag deputies Johannes von Miquel and Eduard Lasker , responsibility was extended to all civil and procedural law in 1873. As a result, the Civil Code , which was passed in 1896 and came into force on January 1, 1900, was created as the codification of private law that is still in force today .

However, the liberals had to accept far-reaching compromises in the area of ​​procedural regulations and press legislation, which some left-wing liberals did not support. A majority came about in 1876 only with the help of the Conservatives. Since there was also a liberal to moderately conservative majority in the Prussian House of Representatives , political reforms were also carried out in the largest federal state. This includes, for example, the Prussian district order of 1872, which also eliminated the remnants of estate rights. The threat of failure due to the resistance of the Prussian dynasty could of course only be broken by a " Pairsschub " (i.e. the appointment of new politically acceptable members).

culture clash

The cooperation between the liberals and Bismarck worked not only in the reform policy, but also in the so-called Kulturkampf against the Catholics and the Center Party. Structurally, the causes lay in the contrast between the secular state, which claimed more and more regulatory powers, and an official church, which opposed modernity in all its manifestations in the spirit of ultramontanism (" anti-modernism "). The 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura with its syllabus errorum was a clear rejection of modernity. For the Catholic Church, liberalism, as the legacy of the Enlightenment and as the bearer of modernization, represented the opposite of their own positions. For their part, for liberals, the papacy, with its rejection of any change, was a relic of the Middle Ages. Bismarck had various reasons for the Kulturkampf. For example, he suspected the clergy of promoting the Polish movement in the Prussian eastern provinces. He, too, fundamentally did not want state authority and the unity of the empire to be restricted by other older powers. Domestically, he was also concerned with dissuading the liberals from further domestic reform projects by redirecting the political debate. The dispute between the modern state and the ultramontane church was a common European phenomenon. In German states such as Baden ( Badischer Kulturkampf ) and Bavaria, there had already been a Kulturkampf in the 1860s. Most of the Catholic bishops in Germany did not aggressively pursue the papal criticism of modernity, and since 1866 there has not been a Catholic faction in the Prussian House of Representatives. In fact, in 1866 the Mainz Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler spoke out in favor of recognizing the Little German solution.

Caricature by Wilhelm Scholz on ending the Kulturkampf . Pope Leo XIII and the Reich Chancellor ask each other to kiss their feet . In the background, Ludwig Windthorst , leader of the Center Party, watches the action through the curtain. Caption: Pontifex: "Now please, don't be embarrassed!" Chancellor Bismarck: "Please do the same!" From: Kladderadatsch , No. 14/15 (March 18, 1878)

In the initial phase from 1871, the liberals and the government were concerned with increasing state influence. The penal code was expanded to include the so-called " pulpit paragraph ", which was intended to restrict the political activities of clergy. The Jesuit order , known as the ultramontane 'spearhead' , was banned. In addition, state school supervision was introduced in Prussia.

In a second phase, starting around 1873, the state now intervened directly in the inner sphere of the church, for example by subjecting the training of priests or the filling of church offices to state control. In a third step, further laws such as the introduction of civil marriage followed from 1874 onwards . An expatriation law of May 1874, which allowed the stay of insubordinate clergymen to be restricted or, if necessary, expelled, was purely an instrument of repression. The so-called breadbasket law blocked all government grants for the church. In May, all monastic communities were dissolved unless they devoted themselves exclusively to nursing.

One consequence of the Kulturkampf laws was that in the mid-1870s many pastoral posts were vacant, church activities no longer took place, and bishops were arrested, deposed or expelled. But the government's actions and the demands of the liberals quickly led to backlash and widespread political mobilization within Catholic Germany. The Center Party, founded before the actual start of the Kulturkampf, quickly attracted the majority of Catholic voters.

limits of cooperation

Bismarck and the Liberals did not agree on all points. For example, the attempt by the National Liberals and the Progressive Party to unify the various city ordinances failed, also due to the lack of support from the Reich Chancellor. A financial reform initially failed due to Bismarck's objections. The military budget remained a permanent problem. At first the conflict could be put off, but by 1874 at the latest it was back on the agenda. While the government, and in particular Minister of War Albrecht von Roon , demanded permanent approval of the budget ( Aeternat ), the Liberals insisted on an annual right of approval. Giving in would have meant giving up about eighty percent of the total budget. The dispute ended with a compromise - the grant for seven years ( Septennat ). At least the regulation of military strength by law remained, albeit stretched out over a fairly long period of time. Furthermore, the Liberals were unable to assert themselves on civil service law, military criminal law and the demand for jury trials for press offences.

In the first half of the 1870s the Liberals had managed to make their mark on a number of policy areas, but this was only possible through compromises with Bismarck. Not infrequently, maintaining power was more important than enforcing liberal principles. There was also internal criticism, for example of the exceptional laws of the Kulturkampf. In particular, it failed to strengthen Parliament's rights. This led to tensions within the liberal camp and disappointment among some groups of voters. In addition, a new political direction had emerged with the center. Since then, the liberals could no longer claim to represent the people as a whole. Bismarck succeeded in strengthening state power in the early 1870s. However, the alliance with the Liberals meant that the government had to make concessions and promoted economic and social modernization.

Founding years and the founding crisis of 1873

Iron Rolling Mill (oil painting by Adolph Menzel 1872–1875)
Depiction of inflation and change of measurements on a grave in Berlin

Shortly after the founding of the empire, there was an economic boom, the so-called founding years began. This was followed by an economic depression called the “ Gründerkrach ” . Several factors are considered to be the causes of the upswing: Trade within the borders of the empire was greatly simplified. For the first time in the history of the empire, a uniform domestic market was created. The impeding national tariffs were eliminated. A uniform metric system of measurement was introduced in late 1872. A general spirit of optimism triggered by the success of the war and the founding of an empire led to an enormous increase in investment and a construction boom. France 's very high reparation payments also played a major role in financing the Gründerzeit.

As early as 1872, the German Reich trumped France, which had been weakened by the war, as an industrial power. From around 1873 to around 1879 the so-called start-up crisis followed. It became public knowledge from the Berlin stock market panic of October 1873 (the Vienna stock market crash of May 9, 1873 is considered a harbinger). At first, industrial production was easy; then it stagnated. The economic crisis was a consequence of overheated speculation, a consequence of falling demand and overcapacities that had been built up in the boom years. The various sectors suffered from the crisis in different phases and to different extents. The coal and steel industry, mechanical engineering and construction industry were particularly affected; the consumer goods industry suffered less.

Many commodity prices, profits and wages fell significantly. Agriculture fell into crisis in the mid-1870s. Above all, structural reasons and the emergence of a world grain market played a role here. In direct competition with Russia and the USA , German grain soon became too expensive even on the domestic market.

An important long-term consequence was the emergence of business interest groups . Organizations such as the Association of South German Cotton Industrialists, the Association of German Iron and Steel Industrialists , the Association for the Safeguarding of Common Economic Interests in Rhineland and Westphalia demanded that the state introduce protective tariffs and founded the Central Association of German Industrialists in 1876 to represent their interests together . Protective tariff associations also began to emerge in the agricultural sector, even though free traders initially remained dominant in East Elbia. The move towards protective tariffs brought agriculture and industry closer together.

The start-up crisis also had a significant impact on the political landscape. The optimism about progress of the past decades gave way to a pessimistic attitude. Above all, the ideas of liberalism (“laisser faire, laisser aller”) were blamed for the economic decline. The free-trade Liberals lost weight while the Conservatives and Center gained. In this mood, the importance of modern anti-Semitism increased, since international Jewry was suspected to be behind liberalism and stock market capital. It found expression, for example, in the Berlin anti-Semitism controversy or in the emergence of the Christian-Social Party of court chaplain Adolf Stoecker . The anti-Semitic movement remained a minority; In 1881 she managed to collect 255,000 signatures for an “anti-Semite petition”.

Pressure grew on the government to intervene in markets to regulate them instead of relying on market forces as they did in times of boom. The state itself felt the start-up crisis through falling tax revenues; the deficit increased. The compulsion for a comprehensive financial reform became stronger and stronger. However, this reform could not be pushed through against the majority of the Liberals. For their part, they wanted to use the financial difficulties to achieve constitutional goals.

Politics after the turn of 1878/79

The increasingly less viable cooperation with the Liberals and the economic, social and financial problems in the wake of the start-up crisis prompted Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to make a fundamental change in policy. This change was marked by the Anti- Socialist Law , the turning away from the Liberals and the introduction of protective tariffs. The attitude of the National Liberals was contradictory. Although they supported some of the measures, they were initially fundamentally opposed to the "Bismarck system." This contradictory attitude towards Bismarck's policies led to a deep crisis within the national liberal party. First, in 1879, a right wing split off. A year later, the Liberal Union emerged from the more left wing , which tried determinedly to fight against the conservative turn. The political change of 1878 as an alliance of large agricultural landowners and heavy industry was discussed in research under the term of the Inner Empire .

Socialist Law

"Law against the publicly dangerous efforts of social democracy" (Reichsgesetzblatt No. 34/1878)

Bismarck used the two assassination attempts on Kaiser Wilhelm I in May and June 1878 – both shortly before the Reichstag elections on July 30, 1878 – for an openly anti-social democratic policy. At least since August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht 's commitment to the Paris Commune , the Social Democrats were regarded as enemies of the Reich. The government and large parts of the bourgeoisie agreed on this. In fact, the Social Democrats seemed to be on the rise; they came in the Reichstag elections of 1877 to 9.1%. In addition, the split into ADAV and SDAP had been overcome since 1875. Nonetheless, there has never been an actual “revolutionary” danger. With the Socialist Law , Bismarck reserved extensive exception regulations. In the first attempt, however, this goal failed because of the Reichstag majority.

The second assassination attempt on the Kaiser in June 1878 offered Bismarck the opportunity to dissolve the Reichstag and call new elections. During the election campaign, the government did everything it could to stir up fear of revolution among the bourgeoisie and the middle classes. Anti-socialism, anti-liberalism and anti-Semitic undertones were effectively combined in the conservative press. The liberals, on the other hand, had a difficult time, especially since the interest groups spoke out for the first time in favor of a policy of protective tariffs and against liberal free trade. The July 1878 election brought considerable losses to the National Liberals and the Progressive Party, while the Free Conservative Party and the German Conservative Party made gains. Above all, the National Liberals lost their key parliamentary position to the Center Party. Nevertheless, the government needed the National Liberals to pass the Socialist Law, since the Center refused to do so in the face of the Kulturkampf. The project remained controversial in the National Liberal Party. In view of the election defeat, the party majority around Rudolf von Bennigsen was ready to approve the law. A smaller left wing around Lasker initially wanted to stick to the rejection and condemn the action as an attack on the rule of law; Finally, however, this wing also agreed to the law out of concern for the cohesion of the party, after the Liberals had pushed through some mitigations and a limitation of the law to two years in the deliberations. On October 19, 1878, the German Reichstag passed the law by 221 votes to 149 from the Center Party, the Progressive Party and the Social Democrats.

The Socialist Law itself was based on the unproven claim that those who assassinated the Kaiser were Social Democrats. It made it possible to ban clubs, meetings, pamphlets and fundraising. Violators could be fined or imprisoned. Residence bans could also be issued or a small state of siege imposed on certain areas. However, the law was temporary and therefore had to be repeatedly confirmed by Parliament. In addition, the work of the parliamentary groups and participation in elections (for individuals) remained unaffected. The law failed to achieve its objective in the longer term. Social democracy persisted as a political force. It was partly responsible for the fact that the supporters of the party withdrew into a political ghetto that became entrenched. As a reaction to the persecution, the party also followed a consistently Marxist course from 1890 at the latest.

Transition to protective tariff policy

The leading national liberal politician Rudolf von Bennigsen (wood engraving around 1871)

As early as 1875, Bismarck had announced that he would be banking on a policy of protective tariffs, i.e. restricting free trade. Fiscal policy considerations played a greater role than ideological reasons. Until now, the Reich had been dependent on grants from the federal states ( matriculation contributions ), and the government hoped that this dependence would be alleviated through customs revenue. Bismarck expected support for this from the agricultural center and from the conservatives as well as from the industrial right wing of the national liberals.

After the Socialist Law had been passed, Bismarck began to implement the new customs and financial policy in 1878. Since the liberal ministers responsible, von Camphausen and Achenbach , could not support this policy, they resigned, as Delbrück had done before them. However, Bismarck's ideas initially met with unanimous rejection from high officials and from the finance ministers of the federal states. The economic interest groups and above all the Central Association of German Industrialists, which managed to influence an official memorandum in favor of a protectionist policy, played an important role in the softening of this position . The associations successfully campaigned for this change of policy among many members of the Reichstag. Across all bourgeois parties, 204 MPs from the conservative parties, almost all members of the center faction and a minority of 27 national-liberal MPs supported the demands. Implementation of the program proved difficult, as the National Liberals made their approval conditional on significant constitutional concessions. The same goes for the Center Party. Their price was the so-called “ Franckensteinsche Clause ”: the customs revenue did not remain entirely with the Reich, but was to flow to the federal states above a certain level. Bismarck could choose between the Center and the National Liberals, but in any case had to make considerable cuts in his program for the "protection of national labour". He chose the center for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the Center's demands did not amount to further parliamentarization . Bismarck's Reichstag speech in July 1879 sealed the end of the liberal era. In it, the Chancellor gave a clear rejection of the goal of a bourgeois-liberal state shaped by parliament in the long term in favor of a system that continued to be constitutional but was clearly authoritarian and monarchical.

introduction of social insurance

With the industrial revolution and the transition to high industrialization , the focus of the social question had shifted from the pauperized rural underclass to the urban working-class population. There were various approaches to this at the municipal level, such as the Elberfeld system of welfare for the poor . During the Empire, a new form of state social policy began, which was at the same time an essential part of the emergence of the modern interventionist state. Within bourgeois society, the need for a solution to the workers' question was not disputed, also for fear of a revolutionary workers' movement. The means and, above all, the role of the state were discussed controversially. The liberals in particular initially relied on social solutions, for example in the form of self-help organizations for workers. Social reform circles , especially those associated with the Verein für Socialpolitik , called for greater government involvement in this issue.

Contemporary chart of social security revenue, expenditure, and benefits between 1885 and 1909

Bismarck and the Reich government he led had long vacillated between the two positions before opting for stronger state intervention. A factor in this decision was that the social solutions envisaged by the liberals were apparently not up to the dynamics of industrial development in practice. There was also another motive: Bismarck hoped to tie the workers to the state with the help of a state social policy and thus take the edge off the repressive policy of the Socialist Law. The government's original concept envisaged state-supported and tax-financed compulsory insurance .

The legislative process was lengthy. During the deliberations, parties, the ministerial bureaucracy and interest groups brought about significant modifications to the original drafts. The central steps were the introduction

What they all had in common was that, contrary to the original plans, direct state influence was limited. The insurance companies were public institutions, but not state-owned. In addition, they contained elements of self-government and were not primarily financed from taxes, but from the contributions of the labor market parties or the entrepreneurs. In addition, they did not follow the principle of the needs of those affected, but were wage and contribution-related.

The introduction of social insurance is seen as one of Bismarck's great achievements, even if the end result was not quite as planned. This applies not only to the structure of insurance, but above all to the aim of using it to keep workers away from social democracy. He missed this goal, also because the newly established welfare state continued to leave wage development to the free play of market laws . The result was stagnating real wages despite a significant increase in national income, and the social gap continued to widen. The social historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler therefore speaks of a “cementing of inequality” in Germany.

Limits of the Bismarck system

Central politician Ludwig Windthorst

The goals of the conservative turn of 1878/1879 were to block further liberalization of the empire and beyond that to develop in a conservative sense. Bismarck was largely successful with the first goal, but the second could not be implemented because there was no lasting majority in parliament for such a program. A conservative reorganization of the empire always met with resistance from the Reichstag. The Reich Chancellor tried to achieve a lasting majority, but failed. In the early 1880s, it was essentially the Center that opposed the Chancellor's plans. As long as the Kulturkampf was not over, the party, under the leadership of Ludwig Windthorst , pursued an emphatically constitutional course that secured the rights of parliament and refused to cooperate more closely with the government. Although a new septenate was passed in 1880 and the Socialist Law was extended, other government bills, such as a tobacco monopoly, failed. The problems intensified for the government with the Reichstag election of 1881 , when the two conservative parties lost 38 and the National Liberals even 52 seats in the Reichstag. On the other hand, the Social Democrats and Center won slightly, while the Liberal Union and the Progressive Party were the real winners. Together, the Left Liberals gained 80 seats.

With the weakening of parliamentary support, Bismarck intensified his confrontational stance against the Reichstag and attempted to increase the government's weight in the political system. In this context, there were considerations of setting up a German Economic Council made up of representatives of the interest groups as a kind of subsidiary parliament. Similar plans were behind the creation of trade associations to carry accident insurance. Again and again rumors were launched about changes to the Reichstag electoral law and a repeal of the constitution. Bismarck was not successful with any of his anti-parliamentary initiatives. They contributed to the further hardening of the fronts and strengthened the public impression that the chancellor was increasingly lacking in political concepts.

Cartel parties and conservative majority

Mandates in the German Reichstag 1871-1887
1871 1874 1877 1878 1881 1884 1887
conservative 57 22 40 59 50 78 80
Free Conservatives 37 33 38 57 28 28 41
national liberals 125 155 128 99 47 51 99
progressive party 46 49 35 26 60 - -
Liberal Association - - - - 46 - -
free spirit - - - - - 67 32
center 63 91 93 94 100 99 98
social democrats 2 9 12 9 12 24 11
minorities 21 34 34 40 45 43 33
Other 31 4 17 13 9 7 3

In the second half of the 1880s, the political situation changed, mainly due to shifts in the party system. The political orientation of the National Liberals shifted significantly to the right after the resignation of Bennigsen, the rise of Johannes Miquel and the growing influence of agrarian interests. With its Heidelberg Declaration of 1884, the party supported the Chancellor on the main issues and distanced itself from the left-wing liberals. This also indirectly led to the merger of the Liberal Association with the German Progressive Party in 1884 to form the German Liberal Party . The dismantling of the Kulturkampf laws since the first half of the 1880s led to a lessening of the center's opposition. After the parliamentary elections of 1884 , which ended with losses for the left-wing liberals and significant gains for the conservative parties and slight gains for the national liberals, a right-wing coalition seemed possible. In fact, these parties collaborated on the Germanization policy in the Prussian eastern provinces.

The plan for a right-wing majority was pushed in 1886 in connection with a deep foreign policy crisis. Bismarck then demanded that the army's peacetime presence be increased, which was strictly rejected by the Zentrum and Freisinn. The result was a renewed dissolution of the Reichstag. During the election campaign, the government did everything possible to brand left-wing liberals, center and social democrats as enemies of the Reich. In addition, conservatives and national liberals concluded an electoral alliance – the so-called cartel . The 1887 election , marked by a possible war with France, brought gains to the cartel parties (mainly the National Liberals) at the expense of the Left Liberals and the Social Democrats. The cartel parties had an absolute majority with 220 out of 397 MPs.

Although Bismarck had had a strong majority since then, he was also dependent on the continued existence of the coalition. At first, the cartel and the government worked together quite smoothly. The controversial military bill was passed, as were laws in the interests of agriculture. The Socialist Law was also extended again until 1890. After that, however, tensions increased significantly. The National Liberals, for example, did not agree to a peace law to end the Kulturkampf, and part of their faction also refused to increase agricultural protective tariffs again. This law came about only with the help of the center. The continuation of the anti-socialist law, colonial policy and social legislation also met with criticism from the national liberals. The social laws also came about only with the help of the center. In the conservative camp, voices calling for permanent cooperation with the center increased.

alliances and foreign policy

The empire owed its existence in the war against France to the benevolent neutrality of England and Russia. However, this relatively favorable general diplomatic climate did not last. The main structural problem was that with the founding of the empire, a new major power had emerged in Europe, which first had to find its place in the system of powers. Although Bismarck repeatedly protested that the new nation was saturated, the other states did not consider Germany's policies to be entirely predictable. Overall, the foreign policy situation seemed relatively open. Fixed points, however, were the Franco-German antagonism on the one hand and the competition from Great Britain and Russia on the other ( The Great Game ). There were various theoretical options for German foreign policy to integrate itself into the existing state system. Although Bismarck initially kept all alternatives open, including a preventive war, he ultimately opted for a defensive variant as an "honest broker" between the powers.

Alliance systems until the early 1880s

On September 7, 1872, a meeting of the Three Emperors took place . Kaiser Wilhelm welcomed Emperor Franz Joseph I and Tsar Alexander II in Berlin. On October 22, 1873, the Three Emperors' Agreement was signed between the German Empire, Russia and Austria-Hungary . At the beginning of the foreign policy of the new empire there was a close alliance with Austria-Hungary and good understanding with Russia.

The decision in favor of a defensive policy was made in 1875 after the so-called war-in-sight crisis , when Russia and Great Britain had made it clear that they would not accept a possible preventive war by the empire against France, which had regained strength. This made it clear that the attempt to achieve a position of hegemony carried with it the danger of a European war.

The decision in favor of a policy of equilibrium first became clear in the Balkan crisis of 1877/1878 in connection with the Russo-Turkish War . While the other great powers had their own interests, Germany tried to act as a mediator. However, there was a risk of losing the support of Austria-Hungary and Russia. Therefore, Bismarck avoided everything to have to choose between the two sides. The goal was to bring about a constellation, as the chancellor had recorded in his Kissinger Dictate of 1877, in which all powers except France need us and are kept from coalitions against us by their relationships with one another as far as possible .

Berlin Congress (painting by Anton von Werner , 1881, 3.60 × 6.15 m in Berlin City Hall )
Depicted (from left to right): by Haymerle , Károlyi , de Launay , Gortschakow , Waddington , Disraeli , von Radowitz , zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst , Corti , Count de Moun, d'Oubril, de Saint-Vallier, Desprey , Andrássy , Bucher , Otto von Bismarck , von Holstein , Busch, Herbert von Bismarck , Pjotr ​​Andreyevich Schuwalow , Sadullah Bey , Russell , von Bülow , Salisbury , Carathéodori and Mehmed Ali Pasha

The Berlin Congress was held in 1878 to resolve the conflict of interests between Russia and Great Britain after the Russo-Turkish War. Bismarck tried to play the role of "honest broker" and to find a balance between the great powers. However, this was contrary to the hopes of the Russian government, which had expected diplomatic confirmation of the military successes achieved in the Balkans from Congress. In this respect, the result, which allowed Austria more influence without having made military sacrifices, was viewed by Russia as a diplomatic defeat. After the congress, the relationship between the Tsarist Empire and Germany deteriorated considerably, making it increasingly difficult to maintain an alliance between the two states.

Bismarck therefore sought even more clearly than before a union with Austria-Hungary. This culminated on October 7, 1879 in the so-called " Dual Alliance ". With the alliance, the role of the German Reich as an independent mediator between the powers came to an end. As a result, the construction of Bismarck's system of alliances began , first to the east, then to the west and south. In 1881, the League of the Three Emperors was concluded with Austria-Hungary and Russia. In terms of content, the powers committed themselves to changing the status quo in the Balkans only in consultation and to maintaining benevolent neutrality with a fourth power in the event of war. This provision referred primarily to a new war between France and Germany and Britain and Russia. However, since tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Balkans soon increased again, the policy of the Three Emperors failed in the long term.

In 1882 the dual alliance with Italy was extended to the south to form the triple alliance. The background to this expansion was the increasing tensions between France and Italy in Tunisia. The Triple Alliance was also a defensive alliance and also relieved Austria-Hungary, since disputes had repeatedly arisen over the course of the border with Italy.

At the beginning of the 1880s, the German Empire was therefore at the center of two alliance systems. Maintenance was complicated, contradictory and unstable. On this unstable basis, the status quo was maintained for some time.

Beginning of German imperialism

German colonizer in Togo (ca. 1885)

In the mid-1880s, the imperialist expansion of the great powers created a new dynamic in the relationship that made the balance increasingly difficult to maintain and eventually threw it out of balance.

Initially, overseas expansion was carried out by private entrepreneurs. Although state support soon followed, this was still based on the British model within the framework of building an "informal empire" (ie the control of an area without official state ownership). Reasons for an engagement overseas were, on the one hand, the emergence of an influential colonial movement in Germany, which saw colonies as a way of overcoming the start-up crisis and slowing down the population increase. But owning colonies was also seen as an issue of national prestige. Organizations such as the German Colonial Association or the Society for German Colonization soon emerged as colonial propagandists . Both later joined together to form the German Colonial Society .

The reasons why Bismarck succumbed to the pressure of the colonial movement and began establishing a formal empire are a matter of scholarly debate. One argument is that the Chancellor exploited Britain's problems in Afghanistan and Sudan, among other places, to seek rapprochement with France through an anti-British policy. The high point of this development was the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884/85, when Germany and France joined forces to oppose England's Central Africa policy. Other interpretations refer primarily to domestic political reasons. The acquisition of colonies was then intended to bring party-political relief for the government and, in the Reichstag elections of 1884 , to bring in votes for the parties close to the government. A third thesis interprets the turning point as social imperialism. According to this, colonies were supposed to cover up the social and economic difficulties and reduce the lack of legitimation. Recent research sees a mixture of different causes and also emphasizes the momentum in the later colonies. The year 1884 then marked the actual beginning of German colonial policy, when in April the so-called " Lüderitzland " as the nucleus of what later became German South-West Africa was placed under the protection of the German Reich. In German East Africa , Togo , Cameroon and in the Pacific, too, informal rule gave way to formal rule. It is true that colonial policy under Bismarck remained an episode, with expansion already ending in 1885, but this was a start for further expansion and for conflicts with Great Britain.

Overview of the German colonies (“German protectorates”)
  • The German Imperium
  • German Colonial Empire (1914)
  • German Colonies 1910 (contemporary maps)
    1. Deutsch-Neuguinea since 1885, acquired by Otto Finsch on behalf of the Neuguinea-Kompagnie ; these included: Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land (now northern Papua New Guinea ), Bismarck Archipelago (Papua New Guinea), Bougainville Island (Papua New Guinea), northern Solomon Islands 1885–1899 ( Solomon Islands ( Choiseul and Santa Isabel )) , Mariana Islands since 1899, Marshall Islands since 1885, Palau since 1899, Caroline Islands ( Micronesia ) since 1899, Nauru since 1888
    2. German East Africa (now Tanzania , Rwanda , Burundi , Mozambique - Kionga Triangle ) since 1885, acquired through Carl Peters
    3. German Samoa since 1899, today the independent state of Samoa
    4. German Somali Coast (now part of Somalia ) 1885–1888, claims acquired through Gustav Hörnecke , Claus von Anderten and Karl Ludwig Jühlke
    5. German Southwest Africa (now Namibia , Botswana - southern edge of the Caprivi Strip) since 1884, acquired by Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz
    6. Deutsch-Witu (now southern Kenya ), 1885–1890, acquired by the Denhardt brothers of Zeitz
    7. Cameroon since 1884, (now Cameroon , Nigeria -eastern part, Chad -southwestern part, western part of the Central African Republic , northeastern part of the Republic of the Congo , Gabon -northern part) acquired by Gustav Nachtigal
    8. Kapitaï and Koba (now Guinea ) 1884–1885, acquired through Friedrich Colin
    9. Kiautschou since 1898 ( China , leased for 99 years)
    10. Mahinland (now Nigeria ) March to October 1885, acquired by Gottlieb Leonhard Gaiser
    11. Togo since 1884 (today Togo , Ghana - western part) acquired by Gustav Nachtigal

    Foreign policy double crisis 1885/1886

    "We Germans fear God, nobody else in the world." (Quote from a speech by Bismarck to the Reichstag on February 6, 1888; propaganda print, contemporary chalk lithograph)

    Not only the turn to an imperialist policy overseas, but also two trouble spots in Europe changed German foreign policy. In France, starting not least with General Georges Ernest Boulanger , a nationalist rally movement arose that advocated a war of revenge against Germany. The danger increased when Boulanger became Secretary of War. Bismarck deliberately played up this threat for domestic reasons, among other things to help ensure that a pro-government majority could emerge in the Reichstag elections of 1887 . At the same time, the sharpening of the tone towards France served to cover up the foreign policy difficulties in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. There, the Bulgarian crisis had led to a sharpening of antagonisms between Austria-Hungary and Russia and to the actual breaking up of the Three Emperors' League. Germany's relationship with Russia also deteriorated, not least because of the policy of protective tariffs. Concerns about a two-front war grew among the German government, as Russia and France appeared to be rapprocheting. Domestically, Bismarck came under pressure in the face of the double crisis, as critics accused him of having outdated his foreign policy. Some of the military, such as General Alfred von Waldersee , but also German conservatives and even the Social Democrats, called for a harsh approach to Russia, including a preventive war. Bismarck tried to dampen the wave of nationalism, which he had partly triggered himself, and to resolve the crisis diplomatically. This was achieved with great effort, which made it clear that Germany's political leeway had been significantly reduced since the founding of the Reich. In 1887 the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy was restored. Through various other treaties, such as the Mediterranean Agreement between Italy and Great Britain and the Orient Triple Alliance , in which Germany was not a party, it became part of an anti-Russian coalition through its allies.

    In the same year, instead of the Three Emperors' Agreement, the reinsurance treaty with Russia was concluded on June 18th . Both states pledged themselves to benevolent neutrality in the event of an unprovoked attack by a third power. A secret additional protocol provided for German support for Russia in its Balkans and Bosporus policies. In doing so, Germany entered into obligations that stood in contrast to the alliances and treaties with other states. Apparently, Bismarck was more important at this point to prevent a possible alliance between France and Russia.

    Overall, by the end of Bismarck's tenure, maintaining the balance had become increasingly difficult. At the beginning he was still able to balance out the differences between the great powers, but in the end he only had to stir up the tensions and then try to contain them in the interests of the empire.

    Year of the Three Emperors 1888

    Frederick III

    Kaiser Wilhelm I died on March 9, 1888. Three days later, his son Friedrich III, who was seriously ill, was born. , proclaimed the new emperor. His enthronement was linked to hopes for a liberalization of the empire and greater parliamentary influence on political decisions. He was said to have sympathies for the parliamentary system of the British monarchy.

    During the anti-Semitism controversy , he had publicly opposed the "enemies of the Jews". Especially the Liberals, especially Bamberger , Forckenbeck and von Stauffenberg were close to the emperor. Due to his illness, however, he could hardly influence politics. Only the dismissal of the highly conservative Prussian Minister of the Interior von Puttkamer was a sign in the expected direction. Friedrich III died on June 15, 1888, just 99 days after taking office. of throat cancer. Due to the short term of office, he is also referred to as the "99-day emperor". Ten days after his death, his 29-year-old son was enthroned as Kaiser Wilhelm II . Because of the succession of three monarchs within one year, the year 1888 is also known as the Year of the Three Emperors .

    Wilhelmine Empire

    Even more than in Bismarck's time, politics during the Wilhelmine era was under pressure to adapt to changes in the economy and society and to find answers to the most pressing social and economic questions of the time, such as the integration and emancipation of workers in state and society , but also on the negative economic development in crafts and agriculture. The assumption of new state tasks led to financing problems and a correspondingly high burden on the state budget. Last but not least, it was also about adapting the political structures to the conditions of an industrial society and a hitherto unknown profound politicization of the population.

    End of the Bismarck era in 1890

    Bismarck initially remained in office unscathed. So he tried to enter into an alliance with Great Britain in 1889, but failed with this plan. A final point under the social legislation was the old-age and invalidity insurance, which came into force on May 23rd.

    The Punch cartoon
    Dropping the Pilot by Sir John Tenniel on Bismarck 's dismissal in 1890

    Conflicts soon arose between Wilhelm II and Bismarck. In addition to the generation difference, Wilhelm's desire to shape politics himself played an important role. This severely limited Bismarck's room for manoeuvre. The emperor was encouraged by those closest to him, such as Philipp zu Eulenburg . Criticism of the authoritarian rule of the chancellor – some even referred to it as a dictatorship – and of the domestic political torpor also increased in public . Last but not least, the Kaiser and Chancellor were at odds on the labor question. While Bismarck stuck to his course of repression, Wilhelm spoke out in favor of an end to the anti-socialist laws.

    A sign of this change in attitude was the reception of a delegation of striking workers during the great miners' strike of 1889 . Bismarck, on the other hand, presented the draft for a now indefinite anti-socialist law. However, the majority of the Reichstag rejected the law and the cartel of right-wing parties broke up. These had to accept heavy losses in the Reichstag elections in 1890 , while the Centre, the Left Liberals and the Social Democrats were able to gain ground. As a result, the parliamentary majority for Bismarck's policies was no longer available. The renewed threats of a coup d'etat came to nothing. As a result, the conflicts between Wilhelm II and Bismarck intensified again and the chancellor was gradually marginalized politically. Bismarck was forced by Wilhelm II on March 18, 1890 to resign from all his offices.

    "The New Course" and the Tenure of Leo of Caprivi

    Leo von Caprivi became the new Imperial Chancellor . Unlike Bismarck, who pursued a domestic policy of confrontation, the new chancellor opted for a balancing and more conciliatory policy. Above all, reforms should alleviate the social conflicts and counteract the gradual loss of legitimacy of the last Bismarck years. In foreign policy, the Kaiser, on the advice of Friedrich August von Holstein , refused to extend the reinsurance treaty with Russia, which forced Russia to come to terms with France.

    A new impetus for social policy began in 1890 – mainly supported by the Prussian Minister of Trade Hans Hermann von Berlepsch and his colleague Theodor Lohmann . In doing so, he focused primarily on the expansion of occupational safety and health and a reform of labor law . In the February 1890 Imperial Decrees , these plans were elevated to an official government program. The amendment to the trade regulations actually implemented parts of it in 1891. These included the ban on Sunday work, further restrictions on factory work for women and children, or regulations for work in unhealthy establishments. The improvement of the labor inspection should control the implementation of the measures. The continuation of the program failed on the one hand due to poorer economic conditions and on the other hand due to resistance from industry. The planned revision of the right of association therefore failed to materialize. In terms of trade policy, the Caprivi government concluded a series of trade agreements that not only prevented the threat of tariff wars, but also improved sales opportunities for German products. However, this was only available at the price of lower agricultural tariffs. Under Caprivi, economic policy thus shifted from agriculture to export-oriented industry. In Prussia, Caprivi, who like Bismarck was also Prussian prime minister, had only partial success in reforming the rural community system, which was eventually severely watered down by opposition from the conservatives. A success, however, was the financial reform of the Prussian Finance Minister Miquel, which led to the levying of an at least slightly progressive income tax in 1891 . A wealth tax followed in 1893 . Since then, property, building and trade taxes have been municipal taxes. However, the concessions to the large landowners also showed the limits of the ability to reform. Efforts to reform the three -class electoral system in Prussia had little success.

    "The February Decrees". Idealized representation of Wilhelm II and the claim to a "social empire" ( Neuruppiner Bilderbogen from 1890)

    Overall, Caprivi's policies were successful, but the reforms did not go far enough to bring about a real change in the system. Another problem was the loss of friction at the head of state. Above all, the divergence of politics in the Reich and in Prussia had far-reaching consequences. While the chancellor was opening up to the center and left liberals in the Reichstag, Miquel, as a strongman in Prussia, pursued a collaboration between conservatives and national liberals. In 1892, Caprivi had to hand over the office of prime minister to Count Botho zu Eulenburg . This further weakened the position of the Reich Chancellor, who was unable to secure a lasting majority in the Reichstag anyway. Above all, a new army bill, which would have meant a strong boost in armaments, met with resistance not only from the Social Democrats and the Liberals, but also from the center, which had previously mostly supported the Chancellor's policies. This led to the dissolution of the Reichstag and new elections in 1893 . The SPD gained, but the Left Liberals, who split into the Liberal Union and the Liberal People's Party on the military bill, lost seats, as did the Center.

    Although this made it possible to pass an amended version of the army bill, Caprivi also had to reckon with resistance from the conservatives, who were primarily opposed to the change in customs and trade policies. Above all, the newly founded Farmers' Union was successful in creating anti-Chancellor sentiment. There was also a clear swing to the right in the conservative party when the party overthrew the old leadership at the so-called Tivoli Party Congress in 1892, adopted an anti-Semitic program and aligned closely with the Union of Farmers. Caprivi also encountered increasing resistance from Wilhelm II, who wanted to exert more influence on politics than his predecessors and set up a “personal regiment”. Even if this can only be said to a limited extent, the emperor exerted considerable direct and indirect influence. This influence often manifested itself in erratic and unplanned interventions in the decision-making processes. This concerned less domestic policy than naval and foreign policy. Nevertheless, the Kaiser also began to turn against the domestic "New Course" because this did not expand the basis of legitimacy as hoped, but actually reduced it with the threatening turning away of the conservatives. Bismarck, who still had an influence on parts of the press, also railed against the new course.

    At the beginning of his rule the Kaiser showed a certain amount of accommodation towards the Social Democrats, but this changed in the mid-1890s under pressure from industry (here led by Carl Ferdinand von Stumm-Halberg ), parts of agriculture, the court, the Prussian Prime Minister and others. These demanded a sharper course towards the Social Democrats. There was talk of new exceptional laws and again there were rumors about plans for a coup. When Wilhelm also turned against Caprivi, he could no longer be held back and was dismissed in October 1894, along with the Prussian Prime Minister Eulenburg.

    Transitional chancellor and "personal regiment"

    Chlodwig Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (portrait by Franz von Lenbach , 1896)

    Clovis zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst became Chancellor and Prime Minister of Prussia on October 29, 1894. His age of more than 75 already makes him appear as an interim solution. Although Hohenlohe tried to avoid conflicts with the emperor as far as possible, his tenure was marked by partly latent, partly manifest differences of opinion between the emperor and the chancellor. These went as far as a long-lasting government crisis.

    The new chancellor consistently displayed a policy of hesitation, which corresponded to a recognition of his limited influence in the face of the ever-increasing imperial claim to “ personal rulership ”. Wilhelm exerted a particularly strong influence on personnel decisions. The exponents of the "New Course" were either dismissed or politically neutralized. Social policy began to falter from 1893. Personally, Hohenlohe was rather skeptical about new exceptional laws against social democracy, but it was indicative of his weakness that 1895 with the overthrow bill and later the prison bill of 1899 - the latter was also a reaction to the Hamburg dockworkers' strike of 1896/97 - in the Reichstag such laws were put to the vote. It was characteristic of the uncertain political situation that neither found a majority. A “small socialist law” suffered the same fate in Prussia. Admittedly, the Lex Arons of 1898, which excluded social democrats from teaching positions at universities, was successful. In 1896, after long preliminary work, the civil code was passed during Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst's time as chancellor . This unified civil law, which had previously differed from region to region. The code came into force on January 1, 1900. It marked the conclusion of the legal codification process that began after the founding of the German Empire.

    era of Bülow

    collection policy

    Last but not least, the failure to enforce new exceptional laws reinforced thoughts of an anti-parliamentary coup d'etat in the Kaiser's circle. In 1897, Wilhelm II decisively reorganized the government. Hohenlohe initially remained in office, but the real focus of politics lay with four other people: Johannes Miquel as Vice President of the Prussian Ministry of State, Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner as head of the Reich Office of the Interior, Alfred von Tirpitz as head of the Reich Navy Office and Bernhard von Bülow as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. According to the Emperor's will, these should steer domestic politics in a conservative direction, push for the construction of a strong fleet and act in terms of foreign policy in the sense of world politics. With this change, the emperor's direct intervention in politics initially abated, since the new leadership acted largely in Wilhelm's interest anyway. The conflicts between the government and the emperor continued to decrease after 1900 with the change in the Reich Chancellery to Bernhard von Bülow.

    The catchphrase of the new leadership at the end of the 19th century was the rallying policy of the "state-preserving and productive forces" against social democracy. Customs policy, naval construction, world politics and the empire were supposed to have a socially integrating effect and unite the middle class and bourgeoisie against social democracy. The handicrafts policy also served this goal. The Crafts Act of July 26, 1897 met the wishes of the old middle class, for example by introducing chambers of crafts and guilds . To integrate agricultural and commercial interests, the government involved representatives of agricultural and industrial interest groups in the elaboration of new customs tariffs, which were due to be passed after the turn of the century. It was possible to reconcile the interests of agriculture and heavy industry to a certain extent in the name of protective tariffs. However, the export-oriented light industry and in particular the expanding chemical industry massively criticized this and founded the Federation of Industrialists in 1895 to implement their anti-protectionist goals . Overall, the protective tariff proved to be unsustainable for an alliance between agriculture and industry. There were also different interests in other areas. The possible increase in agricultural tariffs also led to protests from left-wing liberals and social democrats, who feared a rise in food prices. The planned construction of the Mittelland Canal was vehemently rejected by the large landowners in the east of the Elbe. A compromise on the customs issue was not reached until 1902 under Chancellor von Bülow. Even if moderately, this actually burdened the consumers and the Social Democrats were able to conduct the Reichstag election campaign of 1903 with the slogan against "bread usury".

    fleet policy

    Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

    The construction of the fleet was a personal concern of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The fleet was also intended to help balance conflicting interests in society. Naval construction met with a broad response, especially among the middle and middle classes, while there were initially reservations in the Reichstag. A long-term determination of the construction costs would have considerably weakened Parliament 's budgetary powers. In addition, building as a means of world politics would have had negative consequences for relations with Great Britain.

    A powerful fleet was originally intended by Wilhelm II to protect trade and the coasts. A global operational fleet required bases overseas. This became an important motive for colonial politics , particularly in the Pacific . However, this concept of a cruiser fleet was superseded by the battle fleet concept. Alfred Tirpitz became the main advocate and organizer of this fleet. The concept aimed at an offensive defense of the German coast and the breakthrough of an enemy blockade fleet. Behind the battle fleet was also the idea of ​​risk. Any potential attacker should face heavy losses. To serve as a deterrent, the fleet had to be of considerable strength. This change in naval doctrine, which was clearly designed for a confrontation in the North Sea, was bound to increase distrust of the German Empire, especially in England.

    In 1896 an enlargement of the fleet was still rejected. Two years later, however, a first naval law was passed by the Reichstag against the votes of the Social Democrats, the Free People's Party , the national minorities and a small part of the centre. In 1900 another expansion of the building project followed, which if carried out would have meant a ratio of 2:3 to the British fleet. A consequence of the building policy was an arms race with Great Britain .

    The final approval of the Reichstag and the general public for naval policy was not least the result of what appeared to be modern public relations work by Tirpitz . The news bureau of the Reichsmarineamt carried out veritable advertising campaigns for the fleet. It worked closely with the fleet association founded in 1898. In 1900, this mass movement, which ranged from the business classes to the lower middle classes, had 270,000 members. Including corporate members, in 1908 there were more than a million. The propaganda for the enthusiasm for the fleet played an important role, although it encountered a longer tradition of naval enthusiasm, especially among the bourgeoisie. In addition, exaggerated nationalism saw the fleet as a symbol of the empire's power. In addition, economic interests of the industry for fleet construction also played a role. However, the eastern Elbian manor owners, who saw it as modern competition with the army, had reservations about the naval policy. With the second fleet law, the conservatives had to be won over with concessions on customs policy (“Bülow tariffs”).

    The way to world politics

    After the imperialist approaches of Bismarckian politics in the 1880s, the character of foreign policy changed definitively from the 1890s. The imperialism of the European states played a considerable role in this. The fields of action expanded and the number of possible points of conflict increased. Foreign policy did not remain a purely arcane area of government; Rather, public opinion gained influence, and organized social groups also played a role in foreign policy. This applied not least to economic interests. Strategic and armament policy factors were also just as important. Despite all the contradictions within the political leadership, various tendencies emerged. The empire first attempted to consolidate its position in Central Europe through a clear commitment to Austria-Hungary and later also to Italy. Trade agreements played an important role here, even if a customs union with the Habsburg Empire did not come about. In 1891, the Triple Alliance was extended and its content developed. Another aim of the policy of the new course was to try to come to an understanding with Great Britain. One means was colonial policy. The exchange of claims on Zanzibar for the island of Helgoland in 1890 ( “Helgoland-Sansibar Treaty” ) , still partially prepared by Bismarck, falls within this context . This led to some violent protests in Germany, from which the right-wing Pan-German Association later emerged. The aim of the colonial acquisition in the 1890s, which was mainly operated by the Reichsmarineamt, was the establishment of a global network of naval bases.

    Farewell to the German East Asia Expeditionary Force to put down the “Boxer Rebellion”. – Kaiser Wilhelm II during his speech (“Hun Speech”)

    Good relations with Britain made it possible to break ties with Russia. The reinsurance contract expired in 1890 and was not extended by the German side. In the opinion of the Reich leadership, a bond with Russia would have damaged the bond with Austria-Hungary as well as relations with Great Britain. Russia then moved closer to France. The Franco-Russian Alliance (signed August 5, 1892) can be seen as the beginning of a split in Europe into two opposing blocs. The rapprochement with Great Britain did not work out as planned, instead the conflicting interests overseas increased. This led to an attempt to develop better relations with Russia. Overall, Germany shuttled back and forth between England and Russia in the 1890s, failing to appear credible to either side. This distrust increased when Germany finally began to support the Ottoman Empire in its Orient policy against Russia. This is to the chagrin of the indigenous oriental Christians ( Assyrians , Armenians and Pontos Greeks ), who fell victim to a genocide by the Young Turks and Kurds from 1914 onwards. In southern Africa, on the other hand, there were conflicts of interest with Great Britain.

    In the late 1890s, Germany's foreign policy finally began to shift the framework of continental in favor of world politics, i. H. of imperialism to leave. Von Bülow's demand for a place in the sun became a dictum. Global politics was not only an attempt to establish Germany as a great power, but also had a domestic political component. It served to cover up internal tensions and there were also economic interests, for example in sales or raw material markets. In the German public, apart from the Social Democrats, the concept of global politics met with broad approval. The example of Max Weber and Friedrich Naumann shows how far imperialist ideas reached into the liberal bourgeoisie . They promised themselves prosperity and the integration of the workers. Imperialism was also viewed by conservatives as a means of national integration. In the case of the new right, the imperialist demands for expansion were combined with criticism of the established dignitaries. On the other hand, only a comparatively small part of the economy saw advantages in imperialist expansion, which was primarily geared towards exports to the industrialized countries. Imperialist policy was also characterized by the Kaiser's often counterproductive speeches (such as the Hun Speech of 1900), by its erratic nature, aimed at gaining approval in Germany, and by the often constructed threats. With a dynamic economy, a strong army, and an ever-expanding fleet, this must have looked ominous to the European powers.

    " The Germans to the front... " (idealized depiction of the German role during the Boxer Rebellion on a contemporary postcard)

    The claim to world politics was reflected in the acquisition of colonies. Compared to the high-sounding claims, actual growth was limited. The empire acquired Kiautschou in China in 1898 and various islands in the Pacific ( German Micronesia ) in 1899. Other attempts at colonization - such as in Southeast Africa and the Philippines - aroused the suspicions of Britain and the United States. The construction of the Baghdad railway from 1899 fell within the realm of informal imperialism .

    The situation in Europe continued to play the central role in actual politics. Around the turn of the century, Anglo-German rapprochement faltered, mainly due to the anti-British concept of world power and naval construction. However, there was no serious confrontation, since Great Britain had a large number of conflicts with other states and could choose from various partners in foreign policy. For this reason, a rapprochement with Berlin was also kept open in London. After the joint suppression of the Boxer Rebellion by the European powers, the USA and Japan , there seemed to be signs of a rapprochement with Great Britain. This favorable situation for Germany changed after 1902. Above all, the entente cordiale between Great Britain and France in 1904 was of considerable importance. Germany's attempt to get closer to Russia did lead to a trade agreement in 1904, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Germany also shied away from a closer alliance here, so as not to become the henchman of Russian politics in the Far East in the face of the Russo-Japanese War . In the west, the German Reich tried to achieve success against France. For example, it opposed French expansion in Morocco . Kaiser Wilhelm II demonstratively landed in Tangier in 1905 and demanded an international conference. This also took place in Algeciras , but resulted in distrust towards Germany increasing. This event, known as the First Moroccan Crisis , not only strengthened cooperation between France and England, but also led to a British-Russian understanding of their interests in the Mediterranean. All in all, Germany's glorification in world politics had led to foreign policy isolation, since Germany was in direct competition with England and France. This was reinforced by the naval armaments, especially in relation to Great Britain. The situation was also problematic because the Triple Alliance was renewed in 1902, but a short time later Italy concluded a secret neutrality agreement with France. The alliance was thus de facto devalued and Germany had only one ally in Austria-Hungary.

    domestic politics after the turn of the century

    Reichstag session 1905 (painting by Georg Waltenberger )

    Domestically, too, it soon became apparent that naval construction and world politics could only cover up the problems for a short time, but tended to intensify them in the medium term. Domestic political stabilization around the turn of the century was based on a short-lived political consensus among conservatives, national liberals and, above all, the centre. The Reichstag elections of 1903 initially changed little. The Left Liberals suffered slight losses, while the National Liberals and Social Democrats made gains. The Social Democrats rose to become the second largest group in the Reichstag. The center remained the strongest force and, despite losses, was able to maintain its key parliamentary position. The party initially remained the mainstay of the government. Because of this dependency, too, the Reichsleitung made concessions to the Center on a number of points. As one of the last relics of the Kulturkampf, the Jesuit ban was lifted. The introduction of diets for members of the Reichstag in 1906 was also based on demands from the Center. In addition, the party had a significant influence on the internal political course of the Reich.

    In view of the good economic situation, the number of trade union members grew strongly around the turn of the century. While they were 680,000 in 1900, by 1906 there were already 1.6 million. At the same time, the number of labor disputes increased. While there were only 806 registered strikes in 1900 , by 1906 there were already 3059. Against this background, too, social policy was gradually resumed. After the final failure of anti-social-democratic repressive laws, the government once again hoped to be able to limit the flow of workers to the SPD with social-political measures. However, there was also stronger social pressure on the part of the social reformers. An expression of this was around 1901 when the Society for Social Reform was founded. However, the original reform intentions of the Reich leadership were limited. It was a matter of extending compulsory social security insurance (expansion of accident insurance in 1900), banning child labor in cottage industry or introducing trade courts in larger cities. The amendment to the Mining Act, on the other hand, was a reaction to the miners' strike of 1905 . Among other things, it provided for 8½ hours of working time underground and the introduction of workers' committees. Further reforms did not materialize.

    In terms of military policy, the peacetime presence of the army was increased by 10,000 men. In addition, a new fleet plan from 1905 provided for the transition to the more powerful but also more expensive battleships of the dreadnought type , in addition to the construction of a number of cruisers . All of this greatly increased the empire's fiscal problems. Despite protracted negotiations, the hoped-for major tax reform did not materialize; only a small reform was passed.

    It gradually became problematic for von Bülow that after the various foreign policy failures he lost the Kaiser's support. In addition, displeasure grew among the conservatives at the allegedly too hesitant approach to social democracy. The position of the center as a parliamentary pillar of the government became problematic, above all due to changes within the party. A strong workers' wing emerged within the center, supported by the Christian trade unions and the People's Association for Catholic Germany . In addition, a small-town agrarian populism gained supporters. Despite all the differences, both together formed a “democratic” direction at the center, which, represented by Matthias Erzberger , for example, called for a reform of the electoral law in Prussia, but also rejected colonial policy. The rejection of a supplementary budget for further support of the colonial war against the rebellious Herero led to the dissolution of the Reichstag at the end of 1906 and to new elections.


    The election campaign was conducted in a highly emotional manner and the government and organizations such as the Reich Association Against Social Democracy accused the Center and SPD of national unreliability. Conservatives, national liberals and left-wing liberals concluded electoral agreements against both of them - this was the so-called Bülow bloc . The participation of the left-liberals was only possible because after the death of Eugen Richter they had given up their reservations about colonialism. The so-called “ Hottentot election ” ( August Bebel ) led to gains for the block parties, while the SPD lost almost half of its mandates. The Center lost its key position, despite gains in seats, as the Liberals and Conservatives together held the majority.

    Mandates in the German Reichstag 1890-1912
    1890 1893 1898 1903 1907 1912
    conservative 73 72 56 54 60 43
    Free Conservatives 20 28 23 21 24 14
    national liberals 42 53 46 51 54 45
    left liberals 66 37 41 30 42 42
    center 106 96 102 100 105 91
    social democrats 35 44 56 81 43 110
    minorities 38 35 34 32 29 33
    antisemites 5 16 13 11 22 10
    German People's Party 10 11 8th 6 7 -
    Other 2 5 18 11 11 9

    The Bülow bloc not only remained an electoral alliance, but von Bülow announced that he wanted to base himself on these parties in the future. The change in policy was made clear by the replacement of Interior Secretary Posadowsky, who wanted to continue working with the center, by Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg . There was agreement in numerous policy areas, compromises were possible in other areas, but there were also differences within the Bülow bloc that could hardly be bridged. A reform of the association and assembly law was carried out, which brought liberal progress, but also showed considerable limits due to pressure from the conservatives. Agricultural workers still had no right of association. In addition, there was a language paragraph that prescribed the German language in public meetings and thus represented an exceptional law against the French-speaking Lorraine and the Poles. The left-liberals found it difficult to support this. Some, like Theodor Barth , refused and resigned from the liberal association. The Prussian right to vote remained just as controversial. While the German conservatives on the one hand defended the three-class electoral law, the left-wing liberals on the other demanded the introduction of the democratic Reichstag electoral law. Another area of ​​conflict was the ever more pressing Reich financial reform. Bülow was able to bridge and moderate these differences for a while, although he now depended not only on the emperor's favor but also on a fragile government majority.

    The domestic political situation was made even more difficult by the Daily Telegraph affair in the fall of 1908. A collection of statements made by Wilhelm II during his visit to England documented a number of tactless and politically unwise statements by the Kaiser. Criticism of the “personal rule” then increased in the political and journalistic public. The empire lost a large part of its power of persuasion. Some publicists, such as Maximilian Harden , even demanded the Kaiser's resignation, and even the conservatives felt compelled to advise the Kaiser to exercise restraint in the future. In fact, since then, imperial interference by Wilhelm II in day-to-day politics has become rarer. The Harden-Eulenburg affair , which smoldered at the same time from 1906 to 1909 , grew into one of the biggest scandals in the empire and also attracted international attention. Since the chancellor scarcely defended the emperor, who had been compromised by the two affairs, Bülow now completely lost the support of Wilhelm II.

    In 1909, the question of the Reich financial reform became the fate of the Bülowblock. The state of the Reich finances was desolate due to the construction of the fleet and world politics. Expenditure exceeded revenue and government debt increased. They were 4.5 billion marks (in 1890 it had only been 1.1 billion) and the annual deficit was over 500 million marks. The difficulty of financial reform also had a general political background, since it was a question of clarifying which population group would have to bear the burden of rearmament. While excise taxes would have weighed on the low-income, property taxes would affect the wealthy. The government presented a bill that tried to take into account the interests of the various bloc parties. However, it soon became apparent that no agreement could be reached on the question of inheritance taxes. The conservatives in particular wanted to avoid taxing land ownership at all costs, while the liberals saw an overdue need for greater taxation of land. Finally, after long internal debates, the Center decided to vote with the Conservatives. Although the law ultimately looked a bit more moderate, the large landowners managed to assert their interests once again. On the other hand, a broad protest movement arose, which gathered in the Hansa League . Politically, the bloc of financial reform was finally broken. This eventually led to Bülows' dismissal in June 1909.

    eve of the First World War

    party constellation

    Attempts within the conservative party to overcome the one-sided focus on agrarian interests by creating a conservative people's party failed. Instead, a siege mentality prevailed and the party defended its positions even more tenaciously than before. This increasingly happened against the government and partly in cooperation with the new right. Despite this development, the center worked together with the conservatives until about 1912/1913, not least in order not to fall back into political isolation. This was facilitated by the weakening of the Democratic wing within the centre. The workers' wing, for example, was weakened by the so-called union and center dispute. Overall, the party moved more to the right. Conversely, the failure of the Bülow bloc led the National Liberals to distance themselves sharply from the Conservatives and to a certain swing to the left. This was not without tension, as there were still supporters of cooperation with the Conservatives. The faction leadership around Ernst Bassermann tried to keep the diverging forces together, while the left wing around Gustav Stresemann strived for an alliance with the left-liberals. For the left liberals, the experiences during the Bülow bloc in 1910 led to a merger to form the Progressive People's Party. This party now turned decisively against the right. An alliance with the SPD, for example along the lines of the large bloc in Baden, remained controversial. However, the development of the Social Democrats also played a role. In view of the strength of the party, the question of which direction the SPD would take became increasingly urgent. The so-called "centrists" combined a Marxist ideology with practical reform work, relied on further organizational strengthening and expected the collapse of state and society. The left around Rosa Luxemburg , on the other hand, advocated mass strikes , wanted to radicalize the workforce and prepare the revolution. The reformists around Eduard Bernstein , on the other hand, spoke out in favor of reforms and cooperation with the left-wing liberals, but did not find a majority within the party for this course. With regard to the unity of the SPD, the party leadership around August Bebel largely followed the centrist line.

    Beginnings of the Bethmann-Hollweg government

    Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

    After the end of von Bülow's chancellorship, the attempt to stabilize the empire through imperialist expansion and moderate internal reforms largely failed. Instead, the rupture of the Bülow bloc sharpened the contrast between the rural-agricultural and the urban-industrial world. However, the parties and the Reichstag have gained influence, while the Kaiser and the Reich leadership have been weakened. The new Reich Chancellor was Bethmann Hollweg , who, together with Clemens von Delbrück as State Secretary for the Interior, tried to push back the strengthened position of the Reichstag. The new chancellor therefore also avoided committing himself to a party coalition in the long term and instead relied on changing majorities. In practice, however, the government initially remained dependent on the support of the Center and the Conservatives. Dependence on the Conservatives left all attempts at reform half-hearted. When in doubt, decisions were postponed, since domestic political stabilization usually took precedence over solving substantive problems. In terms of financial policy, this was successful insofar as the government saved itself by pursuing a strict austerity course. In view of the pressure for change from the bourgeois and social-democratic left, the government could hardly avoid attempting reforms, but at the same time tried to bring the conservatives, center and national liberals closer together. This severely narrowed the scope. This was shown, for example, by the attempt to reform Prussia's three-class electoral system in 1910. The government's draft law went too far for the conservatives, while the liberals rejected it as not going far enough. The Social Democrats demonstrated in mass rallies for democratic voting rights, which, however, led to the "black-blue bloc" made up of the center and the conservatives rejecting all attempts at reform on this issue. A completely different fate befell the introduction of a constitution for the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine . Instead of accepting the government proposal, the center of the Reichstag, the SPD and the left-wing liberals took the initiative and redesigned the constitution in crucial points. In contrast, economic policy remained geared towards agriculture. In social policy, however, there was movement. This included the Reich Insurance Code in 1911 , which to a certain extent completed the development of social insurance. The introduction of employee insurance also belongs to this framework. This new institution had the not unwelcome consequence that the social differences between employees and workers were emphasized and institutionalized.

    Political developments after the Reichstag election of 1912

    Governing the German Empire was already extremely difficult up to the Reichstag elections in 1912 , but this became even more difficult afterwards. The dissatisfaction of the voters with the unstable government policy ultimately led to considerable losses for the conservatives, the centre, but also the liberal parties. The clear winners were the Social Democrats, who became the strongest group for the first time. The result was, of course, that the black-blue bloc had lost its majority without a new majority in sight. The Conservatives were now on the defensive, and outside Parliament the new right was gaining traction around the Pan-German Union or the German Wehrverein . Together with agricultural and industrial interest groups, the cartel of the creative estates was formed in 1913 as a kind of right-wing umbrella organization. The right turned more or less clearly not only against the left, but also against the government. However, despite all the cooperation, differences also remained in the right-wing camp, for example between the defenders of rural interests and ethnic groups. On the other hand, after the 1912 elections, there were also attempts at reform. The agrarian wing lost importance in the center while the bourgeois gained influence. As a result, the party broke away from its ties to the Conservatives and sought cooperation with the National Liberals. Both together represented a nationalist and arms-friendly policy, but also demanded greater democratization of the Reich and more rights for parliament. The left liberals supported this and tried to build bridges to the social democrats. However, there was still great resistance to cooperation with the SPD from the Center and National Liberals. Conversely, the reservations of the Social Democrats were also considerable.

    Against the background of the new majorities, the situation of the government had become even more difficult than it already was. The procedure described by the Chancellor as the "politics of the diagonals" did not follow any concept, but tried to react depending on the situation. Overall, since 1912 a blockade of domestic politics prevailed. This became particularly clear in social policy. The great miners' strike of 1912 was an expression of a renewed increase in labor disputes and led to new anti-union considerations, but not to a further development of social policy. On the other hand, the government had hardly any problems in implementing the naval and defense policy. In 1912, a decision was taken to strengthen the army and to amend the naval laws. On June 30, 1913, the bourgeois parties agreed to a new military bill, which, in view of the foreign policy tensions, meant the largest increase in the army in the empire. When it came to financing the new armaments expenditure, Parliament did not follow the government's ideas, but decided on a one-time property levy and a progressive property tax with the so-called military contribution . The Center, Liberals and Social Democrats voted together for the first time. This cooperation also worked to a limited extent when extending parliamentary rights as a whole. Among other things, votes of confidence or no confidence were introduced. This instrument was used, for example, in the context of the Zabern affair in 1913, when the emperor, government and military leadership covered up the unlawful actions of soldiers against civilians in Alsace-Lorraine. The Reichstag then voted no confidence in the government against the votes of the Conservatives. It is disputed whether there was a real chance for parliamentarization at the end of the pre-war period. However, the inability of the Reichstag on the one hand and the government on the other to act contributed to a possible war also being viewed as a kind of domestic liberation.

    foreign policy

    consequences of the Bosnian crisis
    Wilhelm II in 1905 (picture postcard)

    In the last few years before the outbreak of the First World War , international tensions increased significantly. The Balkans were particularly prone to conflict. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had already been occupied in 1878. This sparked strong protests from Serbia, backed by Russia. Germany clearly sided with the dual monarchy and exerted massive diplomatic pressure on Russia. Although the Bosnian crisis was a short-term success for the Central Powers , it had negative long-term consequences for Germany. On the one hand, it was tied to Austria even more than before, and on the other hand, the diplomatic defeat led to the start of a massive rearmament.

    von Bülow, still in office as chancellor, recognized the danger of such a risk policy and now steered a more cautious course. This was followed by Bethmann Hollweg, who clearly shifted foreign policy back from world politics to Europe. In addition, the new chancellor tried to win back the confidence of the other powers by being more predictable. In doing so, he opted for a course of relaxation towards Russia and France and better relations with England. In fact, relations with both Russia and France improved at times. The Reich hoped to come to an understanding with Great Britain on the naval question and, in the event of a possible war, to receive assurances of British neutrality. This did not happen because, on the one hand, the Kaiser and the public in Germany were not willing to compromise on naval armaments and, on the other hand, the willingness in Great Britain to jeopardize good relations with France and Russia was limited.

    Panther Leap to Agadir

    Germany gambled away a large part of the trust it had just regained in connection with the second Moroccan crisis in 1911, which the Reich deliberately triggered. The cause was French military advances, which contradicted international agreements. Under the direction of the new Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter , the Reich leadership took a hard line. Global political ambitions played a role again. The empire was only superficially interested in Morocco's independence. The ultimate goal was to secure the cession of French possessions in French Equatorial Africa in exchange for recognition of French dominance in Morocco . On July 1, the gunboat SMS Panther , on its way home from Cameroon, anchored off Agadir , which is far to the south of the French theater of operations . The process, dubbed the “ Panther Leap to Agadir ” in contemporary press, caused a stir, particularly in Great Britain. When France was not impressed by this and England sided with France, threatening a European war, the empire finally had to give in. In the Morocco-Congo Treaty , Germany accepted French dominance in Morocco and received parts of French Equatorial Africa as compensation, which were annexed to the German colony of Cameroon (“ Altkamerun ”) as “ Neukamerun ”. This gave Cameroon a narrow access to the Congo . Ultimately, however, the outcome of the second Moroccan crisis meant a diplomatic defeat for the German Reich. The bold " gunboat diplomacy " had not led to success, France was awarded Morocco, which was economically incomparably more valuable than the Central African regions. At the international conference, the German demands were generally rejected and only supported by Austria-Hungary, so that Germany's increasing isolation became clear.

    Balkan Wars

    The willingness to engage in conflict remained high in public opinion and also in the Reichstag, while at the same time criticism of the government grew on the part of the general staff. However, with the consolidation of the Anglo-French Entente , the possibilities of German foreign policy were limited. Within the German leadership, there was also disagreement about the course. While Tirpitz, in agreement with the Kaiser, wanted to initiate a further enlargement of the fleet, Bethmann Hollweg tried to prevent this out of concern for relations with Great Britain. This was only partially successful and therefore talks with the British Minister of War Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane , in Berlin at the beginning of 1912 remained fruitless. As a result, the arms race between Great Britain and Germany continued, even though both governments continued to talk. In fact, there were signs of an incipient understanding, for example on colonial issues. Above all, both worked closely together during the Balkan Wars . During these wars between the new Balkan states and the Ottoman Empire in 1912 and 1913, the already unstable balance in the Balkans finally collapsed and led to the confrontation between Austria-Hungary and Russia. This threatened a confrontation between the blocs. This was prevented by the equalizing policies of Germany and Great Britain.

    In the German leadership, however, there were considerable disagreements and leadership problems during the Balkan crisis. In December 1912, Wilhelm II convened the war council of December 8, 1912 with senior military figures. The civilian Reichsleitung was not invited. Contrary to what was assumed for a long time, a decision was not made at this meeting to head for a major war according to plan. Nevertheless, it became increasingly clear that the military considered a European war inevitable and were considering a pre-emptive strike. One result of the meeting was the intention to arm the army on a large scale, as decided by the Reichstag in 1913 in a defense bill.

    First World War

    July Crisis 1914

    The assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 by the Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip ( Sarajevo Assassination ) triggered frenzied diplomatic activity among the powers that culminated in a European war. The warring parties naturally had different views about who was to blame for the war, which led to a decades-long war guilt debate after 1918 .

    Entente and the Central Powers 1916

    There is no doubt that Germany played a key role during the July Crisis that led to the war. In contrast to the Balkan wars of 1912, Germany advised Austria-Hungary to take vigorous action against Serbia and promised the dual monarchy the unconditional support of the empire. Bethmann Hollweg knew when he wrote this “blank cheque” that there was a risk of a major European war. This decision was mainly due to concern that Russia would be militarily superior in the foreseeable future and that England and France would move closer together. As a result, the Reich tied itself even more tightly than before to the only remaining ally. In view of the impasse in domestic politics, there was also the desire to appease the critics, especially those on the right, with foreign policy successes. Last but not least, the military now vehemently pushed for a preventive war against Russia.

    Even if the Chancellor did not share this position, this pressure reduced the chances of a diplomatic solution. The Reich leadership opted for a course of "calculated risk". While she hoped to avoid war, she could not rule it out either. Ultimately, however, Germany relinquished control because everything depended on Russia's attitude. Towards the end of July, the crisis finally spiraled out of control when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and Russia responded with partial mobilization. Although there were still attempts on the German side to find a diplomatic solution, there was increasing preparation for war. For domestic political reasons, it was important to let Russia appear as an aggressor.

    When Russia finally announced general mobilization on July 30, Germany was able to present this as a decisive step towards war. Germany then declared war on Russia on August 1st and France on August 3rd. In accordance with the Schlieffen Plan of 1905, the German army invaded neutral Belgium. The aim was to bypass the fortifications on the Franco-German border and, by rapidly advancing, eliminate the French armies in an encirclement battle. A crucial weakness of the plan was that it overestimated the development of weapons technology at the time and thus the possibility of waging a war of movement. Fast motorized formations were not yet available, the defenders were able to tie down the attacker in a trench warfare that ultimately turned into a war of attrition. The hope that England would accept the violation of Belgian neutrality was also not fulfilled. Instead, the invasion led to Britain and the entire Empire entering the war against the Central Powers .

    course of the war

    On August 18, the major German offensive to encircle the Allied armies began, pushing very quickly towards Brussels . On September 4, the Germans managed to cross the Marne . However, the advance on the western front was held up by an Allied counter-offensive ( Battle of the Marne ). After the defeat at the Marne, the German leadership tried to force a decision in Flanders . There the nationalistically glorified Battle of Langemarck took place . The war of movement then turned into a war of position . The failure of the Schlieffen Plan meant that the Central Powers had to wage a multi-front war in the West, East and South. In the east , after the beginning of the war, the Russian army moved into East Prussia unexpectedly early . The victory at Tannenberg at the end of August 1914 and further battles halted the advance and established the political myth of the two generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff . Especially the Austro-Hungarian army had a difficult time against Serbia and Russia at the beginning of the war. The first months of the war had shown that the forces were only sufficient to be able to hope for a decisive victory on one front.

    For various reasons, the Eastern Front became more important than the Western Front in 1915. The German troops managed to save Austria-Hungary from the impending collapse and establish a land connection to the allied Ottoman Empire . The German offensive pushed back the Russian troops, Serbia was defeated after Bulgaria joined the Central Powers and Romania remained neutral. The offensive was then called off. With the Italian declaration of war on Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915, another front developed in the south. Germany also supported its ally there with troops.

    Australian soldiers in the chateau forest near Ypres 1917

    In 1916, the western front once again became the focus of the German war effort. Given the trenches and fortifications, there were two courses of action on either side. One was breaking through enemy lines and the second was a "war of attrition." In the spring of 1915, the Allies had already tried several times in vain to break through the German positions. The German attack on Verdun since February 21, 1916, on the other hand, was no longer really based on a breach of the lines. Rather, the enemy army was to be worn down in a huge battle of materials with a calculated high number of casualties. The battle cost over 600,000 dead and wounded on both sides. The Germans had not achieved their goal; on the contrary, the inhumanity of the battle also demoralized the German soldiers. From July 1, 1916, the Allies also relied on a strategy of exhaustion in the counter-offensive on the Somme . After tremendous losses on both sides, this attempt was abandoned at the end of November 1916.

    At the height of the fighting on the western front, it became increasingly clear that Germany was barely up to a multi-front war. Both Italy and Russia went on the offensive. The Brusilov offensive leads to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army in Galicia . The result was Romania's transition to the Allied camp. The situation forced the Germans to relocate strong units to the east to stabilize the front. In August 1916 Erich von Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff of the German Army by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg . In military terms, warfare began to become more radical in the years 1916/17. As early as 1915, the German Reich had proclaimed unrestricted submarine warfare . After protests by the USA, this form of naval warfare was restricted again. In January 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare was resumed against the will of the chancellor under pressure from the army command, but also from the Reichstag and public opinion. As a result, on April 6, 1917, the USA entered the war on the Allied side. In retrospect, this development was decisive for the war. However, the Americans were not able to make a massive appearance until the late summer of 1918. In the west, a French offensive began in the spring of 1917 on the Aisne , as well as British offensives at Arras and, from the end of July, in Flanders . The attacks on the German western front, carried out at great expense, brought the Entente powers only small territorial gains with high losses.

    In 1917, the situation in the East had initially changed in favor of the Central Powers as a result of the Russian October Revolution , which had followed the February Revolution with the overthrow of the Tsar. The new rulers wanted peace on the outside so that they could assert their rule internally. An armistice was signed in mid-December 1917 and a separate peace was then negotiated. The Soviet government's hopes for a mild peace were not fulfilled; instead, the German side pushed through a dictated peace in the Peace of Brest-Litovsk . Russia had to give up Poland, Courland , Lithuania , large parts of Georgia , guarantee the independence of Ukraine and Finland , and withdraw from Estonia and Livonia .

    This apparently offered another chance for a victorious offensive in the west. This spring offensive began in March 1918 but quickly failed. Germany was no longer able to cope with the counter-offensives of the opponents of the war, now also with the support of American troops. From the summer of 1918, more and more German soldiers were taken prisoner by the Allies.

    Internal developments during the war

    Social and economic development

    Economically, the conversion of production to the war economy began after the beginning of the war. After a short period of high unemployment, the high number of drafts soon led to a shortage of workers. The companies tried to counter this by using prisoners of war and by hiring more women. As the war lasted longer, the lack of food imports and the lack of agricultural workers had a negative impact on the population's supply situation. The consequences were considerable price increases and supply shortages. It was only insufficiently possible to master this through management measures.

    Truce and national enthusiasm

    The internal political problems of the empire moved into the background with the mobilization. The catchphrase “I no longer know any parties, I only know Germans” that the chancellor came up with for the Kaiser fell on fertile ground because hardly anyone in Germany had any doubts that Russia was the real aggressor. In addition to the numerous reports of national exuberance, there were also thoughtful voices, but in the end even the critics of the system rarely refused national solidarity. Even during the July crisis, Social Democracy had successfully organized mass demonstrations against a possible impending war and sought cooperation with other parties of the International , but when the fatherland was to be protected against "tsarist reaction" the mood changed. The staunch opponents of the war and class warriors, such as Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were isolated, while reformists such as Eduard David or Ludwig Frank were able to persuade the Reichstag faction not only to wait, but to agree to the necessary war credits within a very short time. The truce proclaimed by the government, i.e. the postponement of domestic political disputes, was largely a social consensus, especially since it was generally expected that a war would only last a few weeks. The General Commission of Free Trade Unions refrained from industrial action for the duration of the war and the Reichstag decided to postpone all elections until after the end of the war.

    With the imposition of martial law, executive power passed to the commanding generals of the military districts. These were de jure directly subordinate to the emperor, but he was not able and capable of controlling and coordinating the 24 military commanders. Wilhelm II, who was mostly in the main headquarters after the beginning of the war , was completely overwhelmed by the situation, hardly played any political role and lost authority. Instead, the Chief of the General Staff and the Quartermaster General as his deputy developed into independent power centers that were also important in domestic politics.

    The initial military successes and later the palliative censorship of the press led to high expectations of victory in ultra-nationalist circles as well as in the broader bourgeoisie. This led to sometimes extreme war objectives . Matthias Erzberger started things off with a memorandum dated September 2, 1914. He called for annexations in the west and east, permanent domination of Belgium, and the creation of pro-German satellite states on Russian territory. The Chancellor's September program also envisaged the cession of territory in the West, the creation of a Central European economic area dominated by Germany and a large Central African colonial empire. A memorandum by the major economic associations from 1915 went even further. This provided for further acquisitions and the disenfranchisement of the respective population. In its majority, the labor movement stuck to its initial defensive war aims. Instead, she hoped for domestic political reforms, namely social and political equality, the unrestricted right of association and a democratization and parliamentarization of the political system. Against the background of these different expectations, Bethmann Hollweg was forced to maneuver despite the truce. This raised doubts about the chancellor's sincerity on both the right and the left.

    Criticism was already evident in the SPD in early December 1914, when Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag to vote against further war credits. He was joined in March 1915 by Otto Rühle . This gradually developed into an (intra-party) opposition, which a year later already had 20 MPs. Liebknecht and Rühle left the group and on March 24, 1916, the other dissenters were also expelled. From now on, these formed the so-called “ Social Democratic Working Group ”, which initially remained an opposition within the party.

    The new Supreme Army Command and the Auxiliary Service Act

    The 3rd Supreme Army Command under Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff

    More threatening than the internal disputes in the SPD was the right-wing criticism of the Chancellor's attitude, supported by heavy industry. From 1915, they vehemently demanded the expansion of submarine warfare against the English trade blockade. The Chancellor hoped to benefit from their popularity by replacing the unsuccessful Chief of Staff von Falkenhayn with Hindenburg and his Chief of Staff Ludendorff. However, it soon became clear that the new military leadership did not support the Chancellor's relatively cautious course. Instead, she advocated the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare and advocated territorial annexations. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg also increasingly lost support in parliament. The majority supported the Supreme Army Command (OHL) without making a preliminary decision about a military dictatorship in disguise. At the same time, a majority from the National Liberals to the Social Democrats decided that the Budget Committee would have the right to discuss foreign policy and the war even if Parliament was adjourned. With an imperial decree of November 4, 1916, the committee was upgraded to a main committee and has met almost continuously ever since. The mobilization of all available workers for production essential to the war effort in the form of the so-called Auxiliary Service Act demanded by the OHL was also to be carried out in coordination with Parliament and the associations. While the OHL had in mind a militarization of the entire population, the civilian Reich leadership had achieved a restriction to a general obligation to work. Parliament also pushed through the establishment of workers' committees in the affected companies. In addition, conciliation offices were set up with equal representation from employers and employees.

    Peace resolution and internal political radicalization

    Nonetheless, the power of the OHL was considerable. She succeeded in enforcing unrestricted submarine warfare against the civilian Reichsleitung . In the meantime, the blockade, the switch to wartime production, transport difficulties and other reasons had led to a level of social hardship unknown since the early industrial era, including acute food shortages (“ rutabaga winter ” 1916/1917) and hunger riots. This also increased the political pressure. In March 1917, the left-wing liberals seized the opportunity to press for parliamentarization of the Reich. This was joined by Stresemann for the National Liberal Party , Philipp Scheidemann on behalf of the SPD and also the Center. Bethmann Hollweg tried to adapt to the new situation. However, in his “Easter Message” of April 7, 1917, the Emperor only partially followed him. Mass strikes began among the war-weary workers and the newly founded USPD , which emerged from the social-democratic working group, was very popular. The now Majority Social Democracy (MSPD) also demanded a clearer concession. When the government reacted negatively, Erzberger from the center took the initiative for a peace resolution in the Reichstag, which arose in consultations between representatives of the left and national liberals, the center and the SPD. From these meetings, the intergroup committee of Left Liberals, SPD and Center emerged. Because of the chancellor's mediating attitude, the OHL also began to turn against Bethmann-Hollweg and urge the emperor to dismiss him. When, in connection with the peace resolution, the parties from the conservatives to the social democrats spoke out against the chancellor for various reasons, Bethmann Hollweg's position could no longer be maintained.

    His successor was surprisingly Georg Michaelis . This proved to be hardly able to counteract the dictatorial efforts of the OHL. Since the military spoke out against it, the Reichstag's peace resolution had just as little practical significance as the Pope's peace initiative of 1917 . However, the initiative of the Reichstag, which spoke out in favor of a negotiated peace without annexations, led to the formation of a new rallying movement on the political right. The German Fatherland Party , largely founded by Wolfgang Kapp , had around 300,000 members in 1918 and agitated for a victorious "Hindenburg Peace" with numerous annexations. The authorities' support for the Fatherland Party also cost the Chancellor the confidence of Parliament. His successor was the former Bavarian Prime Minister Georg von Hertling (1843-1919). Under pressure from the parties, he had to make the progressive liberal Friedrich von Payer Vice-Chancellor and commit himself to a program of the Reichstag. However, Hertling remained opposed to parliamentarianization of the Reich and avoided confrontations with the OHL. After the October Revolution , this pushed through the military occupation of other areas in the East . In doing so, the military leadership thwarted any possibility of reaching an agreed peace with the opponents in the West.

    October reforms and end of the monarchy in 1918

    " The Emperor has abdicated. [...] The old and rotten, the monarchy has collapsed. Long live the new. Long live the German Republic! On November 9, 1918, the SPD politician Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the republic on the west balcony of the Reichstag (second window north of the portico).
    Escape of Wilhelm II on November 10, 1918: the former Kaiser (middle of the picture or fourth from left) on the platform of the Belgian-Dutch border crossing at Eysden shortly before his departure for Dutch exile

    At least the alliance of MSPD, Left Liberals and Center remained as a counterpoint to the OHL. However, there were significant conflicts between the parties. When, at the end of January 1918, hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike against the interruption of the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk, leading Social Democrats such as Scheidemann, Friedrich Ebert and Otto Braun joined the strike leadership. This provoked considerable criticism from the bourgeois parties. When, after the Allies had broken through near Amiens on August 8, 1918, it became increasingly clear that the war would be lost, the parliamentary majority ultimately overthrew Hertling, with the approval of the center and demanded the final parliamentarization of the Reich. At the same time, parts of the government and finally Hertling himself saw the need for concessions in order to anticipate a revolution. As early as August 14, 1918, the OHL had classified the military situation as hopeless and on September 29 called for an offer of a ceasefire to be drawn up. This should be done by a parliamentary government so that the parties can be held responsible for the defeat. In view of this pressure from all sides, the Kaiser could only agree. A coalition was formed from the MSPD, Progressive People's Party and Center and Prince Max von Baden as Chancellor. Even before the official appointment, the OHL persuaded the new administration to seek a ceasefire from President Woodrow Wilson immediately after taking office, in order to be able to save the collapsing army. When the OHL backed down at the end of October, Kaiser Wilhelm II fired Ludendorff while Hindenburg remained in office. On October 26, 1918, the Reichstag also officially passed the parliamentarization of the Reich through laws ( October Reform ). The Prussian House of Representatives had already decided on October 15 to end the three-class electoral system.

    Admittedly, the reforms came too late to be able to save the empire. The fleet order of October 24, 1918 to put the fleet to sea against the superior Royal Navy triggered a sailor uprising , which developed into a revolution, the November Revolution, within a few days . Workers' and soldiers' councils were founded in numerous German cities . Kurt Eisner proclaimed the Free State of Bavaria in Munich . On November 9, the revolution also swept through Berlin , where Chancellor Max von Baden, fearing a radical political overthrow, unilaterally announced the Kaiser's abdication and transferred the Reich Chancellorship to the chairman of the SPD , Friedrich Ebert . In the afternoon of the same day, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the German Republic. Karl Liebknecht of the Spartakusbund proclaimed the Free Socialist Republic of Germany. The emperor was urged to abdicate by confidants in order to defuse the situation and possibly save the monarchy. However, Wilhelm II delayed this step. On November 10 he went into exile in the Netherlands . Most other German princes abdicated voluntarily. The last monarchical sub-state was the principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen with the residence town of Sondershausen , whose Prince Günther Victor abdicated on November 25, 1918. The formal declaration of abdication by the former Kaiser Wilhelm II was made on November 28, 1918, almost three weeks after it was announced by Philipp Scheidemann.

    The empire in historiography

    Since its beginning, the history of the empire has always been interpreted differently, not least against the background of the respective political situation. After the founding of the new Reich, a Prussian-Little German line of interpretation initially dominated. As early as 1871, the Basel historian Jacob Burckhardt feared that "the entire history of the world, from Adam to Victory German, will be marked and oriented towards 1870 to 1871. " leave and stressed the role of Prussia. In contrast to Johann Gustav Droysen , for example, these national-liberal interpreters gave way to liberal-democratic hopes. Instead, the power of the nation state and the genius of Bismarck were emphasized. In essence, this interpretation continued to prevail during the Wilhelmine Empire.

    Henry of Sybel

    Especially during the First World War, historians claimed the existence of a German special path , in which the Kaiserreich was described as a better alternative to both Western democracy and capitalism and the autocratic rule of the Tsar. Turned negatively, for example with references to German militarism and exaggerated nationalism , the Allies took up the Sonderweg thesis.

    It was not until the Weimar Republic that the empire could be regarded as a completed epoch. Nevertheless, until well into the 1980s, it was characteristic that the history of the empire was discussed controversially against the background of the respective time. There were focal points of the debates. In the 1920s, the question of war guilt was the focus. In addition to a dominant group that spoke out against Germany being guilty of war and continued to view the Empire positively, there was a minority that, like Johannes Ziekursch or Eckart Kehr , took a critical view of the Empire. During the Third Reich, there was on the one hand a more traditional, national- conservative interpretation of the time since 1871. On the other hand, there was criticism of the “unfinished Reich” from the ethnic history promoted by the regime that Adolf Hitler completed.

    After the Second World War , a line of continuity from Bismarck via Wilhelm II to Hitler was discussed. However, a rather conservative view initially dominated. Theodor Schieder cautiously acknowledged certain shortcomings of the state when he spoke of the fact that the German Empire was incomplete as a nation state, as a constitutional state and as a cultural state. Gerhard Ritter also recognized some structural problems, for example with the containment of militarism, but overall remained committed to a more conservative line of tradition. Last but not least, the depictions of the post-war period attempted to embed Germany in a pan-European context and thus to reject the thesis of the Sonderweg. It was also discussed after the war to what extent the Kleindeutsch solution of 1866 was inevitable.

    The German Empire experienced its heyday as a research subject from the 1960s, when the Fischer controversy brought the war guilt debate back to the fore. The focus was not only on the people involved, but also - following on from the historical forerunners from the 1920s - also on the structural deficits of the Reich. In the 1970s and early 1980s, this debate led to the (negative) Sonderweg thesis, which was taken up again by the Bielefeld school . Not least due to the compact study of the German Empire by Hans-Ulrich Wehler (1973), further questions about the founding of the Inner Reich , Bismarck's colonial policy and finally the modernity of the Wilhelmine Reich were added in the 1970s . Last but not least, a generational change in history played a role in the upswing. Authors such as Wehler, Wolfgang J. Mommsen , Gerhard A. Ritter , Heinrich August Winkler or Jürgen Kocka had a completely different, Western-influenced, intellectual socialization behind them than their predecessors.

    In the 1980s, the boom in imperial research slowed down significantly. While the proportion of articles on the German Empire in the historical journal from 1966 to 1977 was 27%, it fell to below 10% between 1986 and 1990. In the magazine history and society , the share between 1975 and 1979 was still a third, between 1995 and 1999 it was only a quarter. Even the German reunification did not arouse any increased interest in the topic. The debates about the Nazi era and developments after the Second World War became more important for society's self-image. In the meantime, the German Empire has become a "normal" research area alongside numerous others, which, unlike in the 1960s and 1980s, no longer causes broad scientific or even social controversy. In the process, however, the methodological approaches and the subjects treated have expanded. In the 1990s, for example, there was a new interest in questions of political history and cultural history. Comparative research, for example on the nobility and the bourgeoisie, also became increasingly important, but research on nationalism was also intensified. In the process, earlier views were relativized in part, for example in research on the bourgeoisie. The regional differences in the empire and research into the "socio-moral milieus" also became increasingly important. Overall, unlike in the 1970s, the Kaiserreich played a lesser role as a prehistory of the Third Reich; the Kaiserreich became more important as an example of social, political, economic and cultural change against the background of industrialization and democratization. The interpretive embedding in the pan-European context tended to take the place of the Sonderweg theses.

    See also


    overview displays

    Bismarck era

    • Beate Althammer: The Bismarck Empire 1871-1890. 2nd, updated edition Paderborn 2017 (= seminar book history, utb volume no. 2995)
    • Christoph year: blood and iron. How Prussia conquered Germany, 1864–1871. CH Beck, Munich 2020, ISBN 978-3-406-75542-2 ( technical review ).
    • Wolfgang J. Mommsen : The struggle for the national state. The founding and internal expansion of the German Empire under Otto von Bismarck, 1850 to 1890 . Propyläen-Verlag, Berlin 1993 (= Propyläen History of Germany 7/1), ISBN 3-549-05817-9 .

    Wilhelmine era

    Empire and First World War

    web links

    Commons : German Empire  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


    1. For the controversy over the Reich as a constitutional monarchy, see Hans-Peter Ullmann , Politik im Deutschen Kaiserreich 1871–1918 , Munich 2005, p. 65 f.
    2. Michael Kotulla : German constitutional history. From the Old Kingdom to Weimar (1495 to 1934). Springer, 2008, p. 522 .
    3. ^ Cf. Tim Ostermann , The constitutional position of the German Emperor after the founding of the Reich in 1871 , Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-631-59740-8 , p. 25 note 152 ; Gordon A. Craig , German History 1866–1945. From the North German Confederation to the end of the Third Reich , 3rd edition in the Beck series, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-406-42106-8 , p. 50 ; Matthias Schwengelbeck: The politics of the ceremonial. Homage Celebrations in the Long Nineteenth Century . Campus, Frankfurt am Main/New York 2007, ISBN 978-3-593-38336-1 , p. 307 .
    4. Margaret Anderson, Sibylle Hirschfeld (transl.): Apprenticeship of democracy - elections and political culture in the German Empire . Stuttgart 2009; Ute Planert: How capable of reform was the German Empire? A Western European comparison from a gender-historical perspective , in: Sven Oliver Müller/ Cornelius Torp (eds.): The German Empire in controversy. Goettingen 2009, pp. 165–184; Hedwig Richter : The reform period around 1900 , in: LeMO, ed. from the German Historical Museum Berlin, 2019.
    5. In the English-speaking world, the term "Great War" has been preserved as a synonym for the First World War.
    6. ^ Protocol of November 15, 1870 between the North German Confederation, Baden and Hesse ( Federal Law Gazette 1870 p. 650, Bavarian Law Gazette 1870/71 p. 199).
    7. ^ Bismarck's letter to Ludwig II of Bavaria (November 27, 1870) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    8. Law concerning the constitution of the German Reich of April 16, 1871.
    9. Berlin Victory Parade of 1871 , article in the FAZ, June 16, 2021
    10. ^ " Community directory Germany 1900" .
    11. Hubert Kiesewetter : Industrial Revolution in Germany. Regions as engines of growth. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-515-08613-7 , p. 126.
    12. Statistical yearbook for the German Reich 1911 .
    13. Hans-Dietrich Schultz: Germany's "natural" borders. "Central location" and "Central Europe" in the discussion of geographers since the beginning of the 19th century. In: History and Society 15 (1989), pp. 248-281; ders.: country – people – state. The geographic part in the 'invention' of the nation. In: History in Science and Education 51 (2000), pp. 4-16.
    14. Hans-Dietrich Schultz: "What is the German fatherland?" Geography and nation state before the First World War. In: Geographical Review 47 (1995), pp. 492–497.
    15. On the geopolitical aspect of the historians ' dispute in the 1980s Imanuel Geiss : Geography and center as historical categories. Notes on an aspect of the 'historians' dispute'. In: Journal of Historical Science 10 (1991), pp. 979-994.
    16. Eric Hobsbawm : Mass-Producing Traditions. Europe, 1870-1914. In: Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger (eds.): The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983, pp. 263-307, here p. 277, footnote 26 .
    17. Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 36, in detail on the role of the Federal Council: Nipperdey, power state before democracy , pp. 88-96.
    18. Nipperdey, Power State before Democracy , pp. 98-102.
    19. Nipperdey, Power State before Democracy , pp. 102–108.
    20. Wehler, History of Society , Vol. 3, pp. 857–864.
    21. Bernhard von Bülow coined the term in a letter to Count Eulenburg in 1896, cf. the same, Political Correspondence (edited by John Röhl ), vol. 3, p. 1714 (no. 1245).
    22. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German social history. Vol. 3: From the German double revolution to the beginning of the First World War. 1849–1914 . Beck, Munich 1995, pp. 1000-1004 (here the citation).
    23. See John Röhl , Emperor, Court and State. Wilhelm II and German Politics , Munich 1988, and Wehler, Gesellschaftsgeschichte Vol. 3 , pp. 854–857, 1016–1020; summarizing for discussion Frie, Kaiserreich , pp. 69–80.
    24. Wehler, History of Society , Vol. 3, p. 877 f.
    25. Secret decree on the deployment of the military in internal unrest (1907) (on germanhistorydocs).
    26. Wilhelm II on the "nobility of sentiment" in the officer corps (on germanhistorydocs ).
    27. On the ideology of the officer corps (on Germanhistorydocs).
    28. Wilhelm I. on the ethos of the Prussian officers (on germanhistorydocs).
    29. Wehler, Gesellschaftsgeschichte Vol. 3, pp. 873-885, 1109-1138; Nipperdey, Machtstaat , pp. 230–238.
    30. John Munro: German banking and commercial organization ( memento of January 7, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (English; PDF; 215 kB).
    31. Note: before the railway was built, these goods were primarily transported by ship; The often low water levels of the rivers Oder, Vistula or Warthe and their freezing in the winter months had been a hindrance.
    32. Gerd Hohorst, Jürgen Kocka, Gerhard A. Ritter: Social History Workbook Vol. 2: Materials on the Statistics of the Empire 1870-1914 . Munich 1978, p. 66.
    33. For this basic Gerhard A. Ritter , Klaus Tenfelde : Workers in the German Empire 1871 to 1914 . Bonn 1992, ISBN 3-8012-0168-6 .
    34. on this Lüke, especially pp. 81-134 and 278-296.
    35. ^ So Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The German Empire 1871-1918 , pp. 47-49.
    36. ^ On the denominations in detail: Nipperdey: Arbeitswelt und Bürgergeist , pp. 428-531; Wehler: History of Society Vol. 3 , pp. 1171–1190.
    37. Figures for the year 1995, from: Prof. AL Hickmann's geographic-statistical pocket atlas of the German Reich (first part), Verlag G. Freytag & Berndt, Leipzig/Vienna, 2nd edition 1896, table no. 22.
    38. ^ Numbers quoted from J. Schmidt-Liebich (ed.): German history in data, volume 2: 1770-1918 , Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981, ISBN 3-423-03195-6 , p. 314.
    39. For the Jewish population, see Nipperdey: Arbeitswelt und Bürgergeist , pp. 396-413; Volker Ullrich : The nervous great power. II.4: The spread of anti-Semitism. 2nd edition, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1997.
    40. Quoted from Volker Ullrich: The nervous great power. II.4: The spread of anti-Semitism. 2nd edition 1997.
    41. In 1909 about 10% of the private lecturers were of Jewish descent, but only 7% of the associate professors and 2% of the professors. According to Ernest Hamburger : Jews in public life in Germany - members of the government, officials and parliamentarians in the monarchical period 1848-1918. Chapter Personnel policy from the beginning of the third emancipation period to 1914 . Mohr Siebeck, Tubingen 1968.
    42. Quoted from Hamburger, Chapter Jews in Government and Administration .
    43. Dagmar Bussiek: "With God for King and Fatherland!" The New Prussian Newspaper (Cross Newspaper) 1848-1892. Lit, Munster 2002.
    44. Heinrich August Winkler : History of the West. From the beginnings in antiquity to the 20th century. 2nd Edition. Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-59235-5 , p. 1154 .
    45. Foreign-speaking minorities in the German Reich . Retrieved January 20, 2010.
    46. Germany, section "non-German population" . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 4, Publisher of the Bibliographic Institute, Leipzig/Vienna 1885–1892, p. 817.
    47. See fundamentally Martina G. Lüke: Zwischen Tradition und Aufbruch. German lessons and reading book in the German Empire . Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-631-56408-0 .
    48. Wehler: History of Society Vol. 3 , pp. 961-965; Nipperdey: Power State before Democracy , pp. 266–285.
    49. Ullmann: Empire , p. 129.
    50. Angelika Schaser : Opportunities for women to participate in politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries before women were given the right to vote in Germany in 1918, in: Digital German Women's Archive, published online on September 13, 2018.
    51. Historical exhibition of the German Bundestag. Results of the Reichstag elections from 1871 to 1912. In: German Bundestag. Deutscher Bundestag, p. 2 , accessed 12 December 2020 .
    52. Results of the Reichstag elections of 1871-1912. In: Federal Agency for Civic Education. Federal Agency for Civic Education, accessed December 13, 2020 (results of the Reichstag elections of 1884–1912).
    53. Karl Rohe: Elections and voter traditions in Germany. Cultural foundations of German parties and party systems in the 19th and 20th centuries . Frankfurt 1992, ISBN 3-518-11544-8 .
    54. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 26-137, on the economic interest groups see also: Pierenkemper: Gewerbe und Industrie , pp. 74-87, on the scientific discussion in relation to the formation of milieus see Ewald Frie: Das Deutsche Kaiserreich. Controversies about History , Darmstadt 2004, pp. 94–117.
    55. Memories of a sedan celebration in the 1870s (on Germanhistorydocs) and, with regard to the education of young people, Lüke, p. 82 f., 216-292 and 362 ff.
    56. Nipperdey: Power State , pp. 250-266; Winkler: Way to the West , pp. 214–246.
    57. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 51 f., 58; Loth: Empire , p. 44.
    58. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 52-54; Loth: Empire , p. 46 f.
    59. Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 51.
    60. Winkler, Weg nach Westen , vol. 1, p. 222; Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 51.
    61. § 130 a Penal Code (so-called pulpit paragraph) of December 10, 1871 .
    62. Law Prohibiting the Jesuit Order of July 4, 1872 .
    63. Law concerning the supervision of education and training (March 11, 1872) .
    64. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 55-57; Winkler: Way to the West , Vol. 1., p. 224 f.
    65. Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 49.
    66. Excerpt from Karl Biedermann's letter to Eduard Lasker on the exceptional laws of 1872 .
    67. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 58 f.; Nipperdey, Machtstaat , p. 361; Loth. Empire , p. 49.
    68. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 60-68; Winkler: Way to the West , p. 227.
    69. Max von Forckenbeck to Franz von Stauffenberg on the necessity of national-liberal opposition (January 19, 1879) (on germanhistorydocs).
    70. Declaration of the Liberal Secessionists (August 30, 1880) (on germanhistorydocs).
    71. Frie, Kaiserreich , pp. 32–38.
    72. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 70.
    73. On the swing of the liberals, for example, Winkler, Weg nach Westen , p. 240; Eduard Stephani to Rudolf von Bennigsen on national-liberal motives for supporting Bismarck (July 14, 1878) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    74. August Bebel condemns the proposed anti-socialist legislation in the Reichstag (September 16, 1878) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    75. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 70-72; Winkler: Way to the West , pp. 240–242.
    76. Winkler: Way to the West , p. 238 f.
    77. Winkler: Way to the West , pp. 242–244; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 73–76.
    78. On the emergence of Bismarck's social insurance, see Source collection on the history of German social policy from 1867 to 1914 , I. Section: From the time the Reich was founded to the Imperial Social Message (1867-1881) , Volume 2, 5 and 6; Collection of sources on the history of German social policy from 1867 to 1914, Section II: From the Imperial Social Message to the February Decrees of Wilhelm II (1881–1890) , Volume 2, Parts 1 and 2; Volume 5 and 6.
    79. Nipperdey, Arbeitswelt und Bürgergeist , p. 341 ff.; Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 180 f.
    80. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The German Empire 1871-1918. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1977, p. 147 f.
    81. Ullmann, pp. 85-88.
    82. Figures according to Tormin: History of German Parties , p. 282 f. Notes: Social Democrats include the SDAP and the ADAV up to 1874, minorities include: Guelphs, Poles, Danes, Alsace-Lorraine, Others include up to 1878 (old )Liberals, German People's Party, 1881 and 1884 only German People's Party, 1887 also 1 deputy of the Christian Social Party and 2 other deputies
    83. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 89–91.
    84. Quoted from Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 78.
    85. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 76–79.
    86. Goals of the German Colonial Society (on germanhistorydocs).
    87. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 80–82.
    88. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 83, 85.
    89. Winkler, Way to the West , p. 257.
    90. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 158.
    91. Winkler, Weg nach Westen , p. 259 f.; Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 91–93.
    92. Hans Hermann Freiherr von Berlepsch, "Why do we pursue social reform" (1903) (on Germanhistory docs).
    93. Program of the BdL (on germanhistorydocs ).
    94. Tivoli program of the German Conservative Party (1892) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    95. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 138-145.
    96. Penitentiary template (on germanhistorydocs)
    97. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 145-147; Winkler: Way to the West , p. 269 f.
    98. Winkler: Way to the West , pp. 270–272; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 147–149.
    99. The fleet and Anglo-German relations: Letter from Rear Admiral Tirpitz to Admiral von Stosch (February 13, 1896) (on germanhistorydocs).
    100. Tasks and activities of the news office (on germanhistorydocs).
    101. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 150 f.; Winkler: Way to the West , pp. 272–274.
    102. Treaty between Germany and England over the colonies and Helgoland (July 1, 1890) (on germanhistorydocs).
    103. Termination of the reinsurance contract (on germanhistorydocs ).
    104. Gabriele Yonan: A forgotten Holocaust - The annihilation of the Christian Assyrians in Turkey. A documentary . Ed.: Society for Threatened Peoples. Goettingen 1989, p. 9783922197256 .
    105. David Gaunt, Naures Atto, and Soner O. Barthoma: Let Them Not Return, Sayfo - The Genocide Against the Assyrian, Syriac, and Chaldean Christians in the Ottoman Empire . Editor: David Gaunt. 2018, ISBN 978-1-78920-051-5 .
    106. von Bülows on the goals of foreign policy (1899) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    107. Bernhard von Bülow on Germany's "Place in the Sun" (1897) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    108. Wilhelm II.: Hun speech (on germanhistorydocs ).
    109. Lease agreement between China and the German Reich (March 6, 1898) (on germanhistorydocs).
    110. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 154-163; Winkler: Way to the West , pp. 274–277.
    111. Bernhard von Bülow dissolves the Reichstag due to the colonial issue (December 13, 1906) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    112. Loth: Empire , pp. 115-123; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 163–167.
    113. "Sylvesterbrief" by Bülows (1906) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    114. Figures according to Loth: Kaiserreich , p. 236. Left-wing liberals include the German Frisian Party , from 1893 the Liberal People's Party and Liberal Association , and from 1910 the Progressive People's Party .
    115. Daily Telegraph Affair (on germanhistorydocs ).
    116. Loth: Empire , pp. 123-131; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 167–172.
    117. Ullmann, Kaiserreich pp. 204-206.
    118. Report on the constitutional deliberations of the Reichstag Commission (on germanhistorydocs).
    119. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 206 f.
    120. Chronicle 1913. German Historical Museum , retrieved December 22, 2012 .
    121. Parliamentary debate on the Zabern Affair (on germanhistorydocs).
    122. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 210 f.
    123. Ullmann: Empire , pp. 212-214.
    124. Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter on his foreign policy goals (1911) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    125. See also Hans H. Hildebrand, Albert Röhr, Hans-Otto Steinmetz: Schiffsbiographien von Lützow bis Prussia. Mundus Verlag, Ratingen o. J., p. 212 f. ( The German warships. Biographies - a mirror of naval history from 1815 to the present. Vol. 6.)
    126. Ullmann: Empire , p. 214 f.
    127. General Bernardi: The Inevitability of War (1912) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    128. Ullmann: Empire , pp. 216-219.
    129. The "blank cheque": Ladislaus Graf von Szogyény-Marich (Berlin) to Leopold Graf von Berchtold (July 5, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    130. Army intervention on the occasion of the July crisis: Helmuth JL von Moltke to Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (July 29, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ) .
    131. Ullmann: Empire , pp. 219-227.
    132. Ullmann: Empire , pp. 228-234.
    133. Employment development men and women .
    134. ↑ Price increases 1913–1920 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    135. Overview of principles of rationalization (on germanhistorydocs ).
    136. ↑ Despite all the criticism still fundamental: Jürgen Kocka: Klassengesellschaft im Krieg. German Social History 1914–1918 . Goettingen 1978.
    137. The Kaiser speaks from the balcony of the royal palace (August 1, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    138. The Socialists support the war (4 August 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    139. Loth: Empire , pp. 142-144.
    140. Loth: Empire , pp. 144-147.
    141. The Hindenburg Plan (1916) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    142. Auxiliary Service Law (December 1916) (on germanhistorydocs ) .
    143. Loth, pp. 147-149.
    144. Admiral von Holtzendorff on the objectives of unrestricted submarine warfare (on germanhistorydocs ).
    145. Public mood March 1917 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    146. Easter Message of Wilhelm II April 1917 .
    147. USPD baselines (April 1917) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    148. Erich Ludendorff against Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (July 1917) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    149. Loth: Empire , pp. 149-157.
    150. Fatherland Party 1917 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    151. Loth: Empire , pp. 157-160.
    152. Quoted from Michalka and Niedhart (eds.): German history 1918-1933 , pp. 20 f.
    153. January strikes 1918 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    154. Demands for parliamentarization October 1917 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    155. Erich Ludendorff admits defeat: from the diary notes of Albrecht von Thaer (October 1, 1918) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    156. Loth: Empire , pp. 162-166.
    157. ^ Quoted from Frie: German Empire , p. 3.
    158. Frie, German Empire , p. 3 f.
    159. Frie: German Empire , p. 5.
    160. Frie, German Empire , p. 119.
    161. Frie, German Empire , p. 5 f.
    162. Loth: Empire , p. 205, Frie: German Empire , p. 6 f.
    163. Loth: Empire , p. 204; Frie: German Empire , p. 10, p. 119.
    164. Frie, Deutsches Kaiserreich , pp. 8–10, p. 120.
    165. Frie: German Empire , p. 119 f.
    166. Frie: German Empire , p. 121 f.; Hedwig Richter, Modern Elections. A history of democracy in Prussia and the USA in the 19th century. Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2017, pp. 321-350; on current debates: Conference report: The German Empire in controversy - problems and perspectives .