The German Imperium

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German Empire
German Empire
National flag of the German Empire: black-white-redNational flag of the German Empire: black-white-red Coat of arms of the German Empire - Reichsadler 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 Empire of April 16, 1871
Official language German
Capital 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 Kaiser, King of Prussia
Wilhelm I.
Friedrich III.
Wilhelm II.
Head of Government
- 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
Count Leo von Caprivi
Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Prince Bernhard von Bülow
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Georg Michaelis
Graf Georg von Hertling
Prince Max von Baden
- 1910

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

49,428,470 (without colonies)
64,925,993 (without colonies)
Population density
- 1871
- 1890
- 1910

76 inhabitants per km²
91 inhabitants per km²
120 inhabitants per km²
currency 1 mark = 100 pfennigs
- January 1, 1871
- January 18, 1871

Entry into force of the new constitution,
proclamation of the emperor
National anthem No
imperial hymn: Hail in the wreath
National holiday unofficial September 2nd ( Sedan Day )
Time zone
- 1871 to 1893
- 1893 to 1918

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

no uniform regulation
Map of the German Empire

Deutsches Kaiserreich is the retrospective name for the phase of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918 to clearly differentiate it from the period after 1918. In the German Empire, the German nation- state was a federal (or member-state ) 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 ceremony, the 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-German war . On a small German basis and under the rule of the Prussian Hohenzollerns , a German nation-state was created for the first time . The main residence of the German Emperor and Prussian King was the Berlin Palace .

During the time of the empire, Germany was shaped economically and socially by high industrialization . Economically and socially and 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 crash of 1873 and the long-term economic crisis that followed it. Despite considerable political consequences, this did nothing to change the structural development towards an industrialized state.

Characteristic of the social change was a strongly internationally oriented reform movement, in the course of which the “social question” was promoted by scandalizing and fighting poverty, but also promoting democratic reforms and women's rights. In addition to mass politicization , the structural basis of these changes was rapid population growth , internal migration and urbanization . The structure of society was changed significantly by the increase in the urban working population and - especially in the years from around 1890 - also by the new middle class made up of technicians, employees and small and medium-sized civil servants. In contrast, the economic importance of handicrafts and agriculture - in relation to their contributions to national income - tended to decline.

Domestic and foreign policy developments were determined by the first and longest-serving Chancellor of the Reich, Otto von Bismarck , until 1890 . His reign can be divided into a relatively liberal phase, shaped by domestic political reforms and the Kulturkampf , and a more conservative period after 1878/79. The transition to state interventionism ( protective tariffs , social insurance ) and the Socialist Law are considered to be the turning point .

In terms of foreign policy, Bismarck tried to secure the empire through a complex system of alliances (e.g. dual alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879). The entry into overseas imperialism , which was later intensified, began in 1884 . This was followed by international conflicts of interest with other colonial powers, especially the world power Great Britain .

The phase after the Bismarck era is often referred to as the Wilhelminian era , because Kaiser Wilhelm II (from 1888) after Bismarck's dismissal exercised considerable personal influence on day-to-day politics. However, other actors, some of whom were competing, also played an important role. They influenced the emperor's decisions and often made them appear contradictory and unpredictable.

With the rise of mass associations and parties and the growing importance of the press, public opinion also gained in importance. Not least because of this, the government tried to increase its support among the population with an imperialist world policy, an anti-social democratic rallying policy and a popular naval armament (see naval laws ). In terms of foreign policy, however, Wilhelm’s pursuit of world power led to isolation; through this policy the empire helped to increase the risk of a great war breaking out. When this First World War was finally triggered 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 deaths on the fronts and the social hardship at home (supported by Allied sea blockades ), the monarchy began to lose support.

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


Up until the founding of the nation-state, German history in the 19th century was shaped by multiple political and territorial changes that entered a new phase after the end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806. The Old Reich , a pre-national and supranational entity led by the Roman-German emperors - since the middle of the 18th century increasingly shaped by the conflicting interests of its two great powers Austria and the emerging Prussia - broke up as a result of the Napoleonic Wars and the foundation initiated by France of the Rhine Confederation .

The ideas of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 and to the subsequent hegemony of Napoleon Bonaparte directed liberation wars led throughout most of Europe , including the German-speaking to the nation-state movements with the idea of the nation as the basis of state-building. The Greater German solution was a unified empire including the German settlement areas of the Empire of Austria , Prussia and Denmark , while the Small German solution was a German empire without Austria under Prussian leadership.

After the victory of the European powers against France (led by Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria) over 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, therefore, only the German Confederation was founded, a loose amalgamation 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 and later referred to as Vormärz was shaped by the restoration policy , which was dominated supranationally by the Austrian State Chancellor Clemens Wenzel Fürst von Metternich . As part of the so-called Holy Alliance , an alliance initially concluded between Austria , Prussia and Russia , the Restoration was intended to restore the power relations in Europe, both domestically and internationally, that had ruled in the Ancien Régime up to the French Revolution.

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

Nation- state and bourgeois-democratic movements opposed the restoration policy. In the revolutionary year of 1848 in large parts of Central Europe, the March Revolution in the German states was also included in the revolutionary movement. Members of the then newly formed first all-German, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly in Frankfurt , offered after the adoption of Paulskirchenverfassung the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV. As part of the small German solution, the German emperor crown. But because the latter refused, invoking his “ divine right ”, the attempt to unite the majority of the German states on a constitutional basis failed.

The German Confederation continued to exist until 1866 after the revolutionary movement was ultimately violently suppressed from 1848/49. After a decade of political reaction ( reaction era ), in which democratic and liberal aspirations were again suppressed, the first political parties in the current sense emerged in the German states from the beginning of the 1860s . The relationship between Austria and Prussia was characterized by cooperation in the 1850s, and then again by rivalry. Different ideas emerged, for example, at the Frankfurt Fürstentag in 1863: Austria and the medium-sized states such as Bavaria wanted to develop the German Confederation as a confederation, 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 Schleswig-Holstein .

Prussian provocation (the invasion of Holstein administered by Austria) triggered the German War of Prussia against Austria in 1866 , in which the armies of Prussia and some northern German states fought together with Italy against the troops of Austria, including 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 as an initially military alliance . This received a federal constitution in 1867 . The southern German states that were previously allied with Austria concluded protective and defensive 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)

Triggered by a diplomatic dispute over the Spanish succession , the Franco-German War began in 1870 . The declaration of war came from the French side after the Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck had politically exposed France. 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) cleared the way for the founding of the empire. Bismarck began to negotiate 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 that of a double alliance, as suggested by Bavaria , for example , now had no chance. Bismarck's solution guaranteed, on the one hand, a dominance of Prussia in the new, so-called Second German Reich . On the other hand, the strengthened monarchical federalism meant a barrier against tendencies towards parliamentarization .

Demands for the annexation of Alsace and parts of Lorraine were made among the German public , and Bismarck made these demands his own. This prolonged the war, was a reason for the intensification of the “ Franco-German hereditary enmity ” (see also French revanchism ) and gave further impetus to national enthusiasm in Germany. The latter made it easier for Bismarck to negotiate with the southern German states, which resulted in the November Treaties.

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

Nevertheless, he had to make concessions, the so-called reservation rights . Bavaria kept its own army ( Bavarian Army ) in peacetime . In addition, like Württemberg, it stuck to its own postal system . The southern German states as a whole kept 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 of " German Emperor ". This designation was of minor importance under constitutional law , but of considerable symbolic importance - the memory of the Old Reich 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 propose the imperial crown to King Wilhelm I. After agreeing to improve his private coffers, the reluctant but politically isolated Bavarian king declared himself ready to take this step and proposed King Wilhelm as German Emperor in the Kaiserbrief of November 30, 1870, which was pre-formulated by Bismarck . The secret annual donations that Bismarck diverted from the Welfenfonds for Ludwig totaled 4 to 5 million marks. It was characteristic of the character of the new empire 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 were the delegates allowed to ask the king to accept the imperial crown . This was in clear contrast to the Imperial Deputation of 1849.

King Wilhelm himself, who - not without reason - feared that the new title would cover the Prussian royal dignity, remained negative for a long time. If anything, he demanded the title of "Emperor of Germany". Bismarck warned that the southern German monarchs would hardly accept this. In addition, the constitutional title had already been "German Emperor" since January 1st. During the proclamation of the Kaiser on January 18, Wilhelm let the Grand Duke of Baden shout a cheer for "Kaiser Wilhelm".

On March 3, 1871, the first Reichstag elections took place . 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 . Then the constitution of January 1, 1871 was revised and passed on April 16; it is usually meant when the "Bismarckian constitution" is mentioned.

The Peace of Frankfurt officially ended the Franco-German War. The signing took place on May 10th. The realm of Alsace-Lorraine was annexed to the German Empire and was directly subordinate to the German Kaiser. The Reichsmünzgesetz standardized the German currencies, the mark was introduced as a single currency in the Reich in 1876 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

Territorial division

The empire belonged to 25 federal states (federal members) - including the three republican Hanseatic cities of Hamburg , Bremen and Lübeck - as well as the realm of Alsace-Lorraine .

Structure of the German Empire 1871–1918
State Form of government Capital Area in km² (1910) Population (1871) Inhabitants (1900) Population (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 Württemberg 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 Saxony-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 Braunschweig 3,672 312.170 464,333 494,339
Duchy of Saxony-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 Saxony-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 Greiz 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 Lübeck 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
German Empire monarchy Berlin 540,858 41,058,792 56.367.178 64.925.993

Administrative division (January 1, 1900)

Geographical and political situation in Central Europe

The empire had eight neighboring states:

In the north it bordered on Denmark (77 kilometers), in the northeast and east on the Russian Empire (1,322 kilometers), in the southeast and south on Austria-Hungary (2,388 kilometers), in the south on Switzerland (385 kilometers), in the southwest France (392 kilometers), in the west by Luxembourg (219 kilometers) and Belgium (84 kilometers) and in the north-west by the Netherlands (567 kilometers).

The border length was a total of 5,434 kilometers (excluding the border in Lake Constance ).

This position has been characterized in the German debate about the supposed “naturalness” of historically determined borders and spaces of a nation since the beginning of the 19th century as the “middle position” in Europe. This discussion continued during the German Empire and continues to this day with representatives such as the journalist Joachim Fest :

“Germany’s fate is central to Europe. Either it is threatened by all neighbors or it threatens all neighbors. "

Symbols of the empire

Coats of arms and flags in 1900

The German Reich did not have an official national anthem . The replacements were the songs Heil dir im Siegerkranz , whose melody is identical to the British national anthem , as well as Die Wacht am Rhein and the song of the Germans .

According to Art. 55 RV, black-white-red were the colors of the naval flag and the Kauffahrteiflagge . They come 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). It was not until 1892 that black-white-red was made the national flag by the highest decree .


The constitution of the German Empire of April 16, 1871 emerged from the constitution of the North German Confederation drawn up in 1866 ; Otto von Bismarck had significantly shaped them and tailored them to suit himself. On the one hand, it was an organizational statute which delimited the powers of the state organs through which the Reich acted and of other institutions of the Reich. On the other hand, it established the jurisdiction of the empire vis-à-vis the federal states. Here she followed the principle of limited individual authorization. The Reich was only allowed to act for those matters that were expressly assigned to the Reich as being responsible in the constitution. Otherwise, the states were responsible.

Simplified graphical representation of the Reich constitution, so there was no "Reich government" with responsible ministers in the literal sense, but only a "Reich leadership" made up of state secretaries subordinate to the Reich Chancellor

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

According to its constitution, the German Empire was an "eternal union" of the federal princes. This corresponded to the fact that the German Reich was a federal state . Its constituent states had distinct autonomy, and they also had an important shaping function at the national level via the Federal Council . The Federal Council was constitutionally intended to be the real sovereign of the empire. Its competences were both legislative and executive. In realpolitical terms, however, its importance as an independent center of power remained limited for various reasons. One aspect was that Prussia, as the largest federal state, only had 17 of 58 votes, but the northern and central German states almost always supported the Prussian vote.

The King of Prussia formed the Presidium of the Confederation and carried the title of German Emperor. The emperor was entitled to considerable powers that went far beyond what the name presidium of the federal government suggested. He appointed and dismissed the Reich Chancellor and the Reich officials (especially the State Secretaries). Together with the Reich Chancellor, who was usually also the Prussian Prime Minister and Prussian Foreign Minister, he determined the Reich's foreign policy. The emperor was in command of the navy and the German army (the Bavarian army only in times of war). In particular, the constitution stipulated that the emperor could, if necessary, use the army to restore internal security. This concentration of command was often used as leverage 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 were outside the constitution.

The Chancellor was in that power structure in charge of the Empire Minister, the subordinate to the Secretaries of State. He chaired the Federal Council, headed the Reich administration and was usually Prussian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister at the same time. The democratic deficit of this constitution was mainly due to the lack of parliamentary responsibility of the Reich Chancellor, whom the Reichstag could neither elect nor overthrow. It was not until October 1918 that the Reich Chancellor was given parliamentary responsibility under the October Constitution .

The real counterbalance to the allied governments, the Federal Council and the Reich leadership was formed by the Reichstag . The right to vote provided for a universal and equal election for men aged 25 and over (in the form of majority voting ). 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 consent of the emperor, the Federal Council could dissolve parliament at any time and call new elections; in reality, the initiative to dissolve came from the Chancellor. As a counterbalance to universal suffrage, MPs were not given any diets. The MPs had a free mandate and, according to the constitutional text, were not bound by the orders of the voters. In fact, there were numerous "wild MPs" in the first legislative periods. In practice, of course, the formation of factions quickly continued to prevail.

The Reichstag was, alongside the Bundesrat, an equal body in the passing of laws. This central parliamentary law 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 the law, government ordinances only played a role after parliamentary authorization. Administrative policies only had an internal administrative effect. The second core competence of Parliament was the adoption of the budget in the form of a law. The budget debate quickly evolved into a general debate on all government action. However, the decision on the military budget, which formed the main expenditure item of the empire, was limited. The budget was fixed by 1874 and later the septnate and later the quinquennate limited parliamentary rights in this area. The Reichstag and the Reich Chancellor had the legislative initiative, i.e. the right to propose possible new laws.

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

Power centers of the empire

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

Bureaucracy and administration

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

Besides the Reich Chancellor, there was no real Reich government. There was instead of ministers only one row of the chancellor assumed secretaries of state, the Empire offices pilot ate. Over 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 , Reich Office of the Interior , a Reich Navy Office and finally a Reich Colonial Office . The administrative dependence on Prussia decreased with the expansion of the empire 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 overrepresented in the higher positions of 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 Protestant denomination. Politically, however, they were initially relatively liberal. Only a long-term youth policy ensured a conservative orientation of the higher civil servants in the longer term.

Monarchy and court

Adolph Menzel : The ball souper , 1878

The constitution guaranteed the emperor considerable room for maneuver. The various imperial advisory bodies such as the civil , military and naval cabinets played an important role in the decisions of the monarchs . Then there were the court and the close personal confidants of the emperors. Even with Wilhelm I, the monarch exerted considerable influence on personnel policy without usually intervening in day-to-day business. Especially under Kaiser Wilhelm II with his claim to a “ personal regiment ”, this level was one of the central power centers of the empire.

The change of the emperor from a presidium of the federation to an imperial monarch is hardly to be underestimated. Outside of Prussia, too, not only the days of remembrance of the various dynasts but also the emperor's birthday were celebrated. 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 studies. It is undisputed that the imperial influence was still limited until 1897, while the importance of the emperor increased significantly until 1908, only to lose importance again afterwards. The affair around the confidante of Emperor Philip zu Eulenburg contributed to this . This and the subsequent Daily Telegraph affair helped to reduce the public image of the emperor - but not of the monarchy as an institution.


Kaiser Wilhelm (center) and his army leaders (postcard from 1915):
Kluck , Emmich (corners top left and right);
Bülow , Crown Prince Rupprecht , Crown Prince Wilhelm , Duke Albrecht , Heeringen (1st row);
François , Beseler , Hindenburg , Stein (2nd row);
Tirpitz , Prince Heinrich (3rd row);
Lochow , Haeseler , Woyrsch , Eine (4th row);
Mackensen , Ludendorff , Falkenhayn , Zwehl (5th row)

Apart from the approval of the necessary financial resources, the army and the navy remained largely under the control of the Prussian king and the emperor, respectively, according to the constitution. The boundaries of the seemingly absolutist "authority of command" 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 war ministry and the general staff, which at times fought among themselves over competencies. 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 issues.

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

The close ties to the monarchy were initially reflected in the officers' corps, which were heavily aristocratic . Even later, the nobility retained a strong position among the ranks of leadership, but the middle class, with the enlargement of the army and the navy, became more prominent in the middle. The appropriate selection and internal socialization in the military ensured that the self-image of this group hardly differed from that of its aristocratic comrades.

The militarism in Germany intensified. Between 1848 and the 1860s, society viewed the military with rather suspicion. This changed fundamentally after the victories from 1864 to 1871. The military became a central element of the emerging empire patriotism . Criticism of the military was considered unpatriotic. However, the parties did not support an expansion of the army indefinitely. Thus it was not until 1890 that the military reached the strength of one percent of the population prescribed by the constitution, with a peace presence of almost 490,000 men. In the following years the land forces were further strengthened. Between 1898 and 1911, the expensive armament of the navy imposed restrictions on the land army. During this time, the General Staff had opposed an increase in the number of troops because it feared that the bourgeois element would be strengthened at the expense of the aristocratic element in the officer corps. In 1905, the Schlieffen Plan gave rise to the concept for a possible two-front war against France and Russia, taking into account the participation of England on the side of the enemy. After 1911, the armament was intensively promoted. The troop strength required for the implementation of the Schlieffen Plan was ultimately not achieved.

The army gained a very strong social impact during the German Empire. The officer corps was considered by large parts of the population to be the “first estate in the state.” Its worldview was shaped 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 reached far into society. For many citizens, too, the status of reserve officer has now become a goal worth striving for.

The military was undoubtedly also of importance for the internal formation of nations. The common service promoted the integration of the Catholic population into the Protestant-dominated empire. Even the workers did not remain immune to the military radiance. The military service , which lasted at least two years (three years for the cavalry) as a so-called “school of the nation”, played a decisive role. Due to the oversupply of conscripts in Germany, however, only a good half of a cohort did active military service. Conscripts with higher education - almost exclusively members of the middle and upper classes - had the privilege of doing shortened military service as one-year volunteers .

Heinrich Mann's subject , Hauptmann von Köpenick and the Zabern affair reflect the importance of militarism in German society. Everywhere in the empire the new war clubs became carriers of a militaristic worldview. The number of 2.9 million members in the Kyffhäuserbund (1913) shows the widespread effect this had . The Bund was thus the strongest mass organization in the empire. The associations sponsored by the state should cultivate the military, national and monarchical sentiments and immunize the members against social democracy.

Population, economy and society

Population density of the German Empire

Fundamental demographic, economic and social changes took place during the period of the German Empire, which also influenced culture and politics to a considerable extent. One of the hallmarks of this was the enormous population growth . In 1871 there were 41 million inhabitants in the empire, in 1890 there were over 49 million and in 1910 almost 65 million. Not least because of internal migrations - initially from the surrounding area, later also through long-distance migrations , for example from the agrarian Prussian eastern regions to Berlin or western Germany - the urban population, especially the big city population, grew strongly. In 1871 64% of the population still lived in municipalities with fewer than 2000 inhabitants and only 5% in large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, there was already a tie between urban and rural residents in 1890. In 1910 only 40% lived in communities with fewer than 2000 inhabitants and 21.3% in large cities. Associated with this was also a change in the way of life. 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 some prerequisites for it:

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

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

Employed persons and relatives as% 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 / transport 9.4 11.0 12.9
Domestic services 5.0 4.3 3.3
Public Service / liberal professions 4.6 5.1 5.2
Jobless / retirees 4.7 6.1 8.1

In terms of social history , the empire was primarily shaped by the rise of the working class. The different groups of origin of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers developed a specific self-image of the working population due to the common experiences in the workplace and in the living quarters, despite all the remaining differences. With the emergence of large companies, new state services and the increase in trade and transport, the number of white-collar workers and small and medium-sized civil servants also increased. They kept a social distance from the workers, even if their economic situation differed little from that of the industrial workers.

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

The bourgeoisie succeeded in largely enforcing its cultural norms, with the economic bourgeoisie (including the great industrialists ) leading the way in economic terms and the educated citizens making Germany a center of science and research. Nonetheless, the political influence of the bourgeoisie remained limited, for example by the peculiarities of the political system and the rise of the workers and the new middle classes.

Economically, the existence of the land-owning nobility, especially in East Elbia, was threatened by the increasing international interdependence 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 era. At the same time, the Prussian constitution ensured that the nobility retained numerous special rights in the largest state in the empire. The aristocracy was also able to maintain its influence in the military, diplomacy and bureaucracy.


The largest cities of the empire were:

Denominations and national minorities

During this time, denominational differences have changed less than the economy and society. But they too were important for the entire history of the empire. The same applies to the contradiction between the claim to be a nation state and the existence of numerically not insignificant national minorities.

Denominations and Churches in the Empire

Denomination map (Protestant / Catholic) of the German Empire (approx. 1890)
Spread of the Israelite religion in the German Empire (approx. 1890)
Denomination map based on Meyers Konversationslexikon, approx. 1885

In principle, little changed in the general denomination distribution of 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 areas (Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, Saxony, etc.). The denominational prejudices and reservations, especially towards mixed denominational marriages, were therefore still considerable. Gradually there was a gradual mix of denominations through internal migration. In the eastern territories of the empire, there was also often a national contrast, as the equation Protestant = German, Catholic = Polish largely applied there. In the immigration areas, for example in the Ruhr area and Westphalia, or in some large cities, there were in some cases considerable confessional shifts (especially in Catholic Westphalia due to Protestant immigrants from the eastern provinces).

Politically, the distribution of denominations had considerable consequences. In the Catholic-dominated areas, the Center Party managed to win over the vast majority of voters. The Social Democrats and their trade 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 Empire, 1880
area Protestants Catholics Otherwise. Christians Jews Other
number % number % number % number % number %
German Empire 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 30th 0.00
Saxony 2,886,806 97.11 74,333 2.50 4,809 0.16 6,518 0.22 339 0.01
Württemberg 1,364,580 69.23 590.290 29.95 2,817 0.14 13,331 0.68 100 0.01
Swimming 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 formed a small minority with a share of just over one percent of the total population. Due to the lower number of births and the increasing proportion of Christian-Jewish marriages, in which the children were mostly brought up in a Christian manner, their proportion 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 around 5%. In addition to 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 an above-average Jewish population: in the east the province of Posen , West Prussia and Upper Silesia , in the southwest 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 majority of the Jews professed to be Germanness. Even among those Jews who spoke East Yiddish dialects , the tendency towards assimilation into German society was strong for a long time. The Zionism that sought to establish a national home for the Jews in Palestine, was rejected by the end of the Empire of the very great majority of German Jews.

In 1893 the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith was founded, and the name of the association said it was program. The Central Association set itself the task of combating anti-Semitism, but rejected all notions of the Jews as a people or a race of their own, instead viewing the German Jews as one of the German tribes, so to speak. Overall, German Jews were extremely successful in the fields of business, culture, science, and the academic professions. According to statistics from 1910, the proportion of Jews in the population was 0.95% (615,000 out of 64,926,000). 555,000 of them were of German origin, the remaining 60,000 (approx. 10%) of non-German citizenship (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 Jewish. A disproportionately large number of prominent musicians and virtuosos were of Jewish descent. The Jewish contribution was particularly evident in large cities, especially in Berlin . The German Jews thus made an outstanding contribution to global cultural life.

Nevertheless, for various reasons, anti-Semitism was able to gain a foothold administratively, socially and politically, especially in the later Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II . Certain professions were practically closed to the Jews. It was impossible for a Jew to become an officer (which was a serious limitation since the officer class was one of the most respected professions in the empire). As an example, the Prussian War Minister Karl von Eine considered in 1907 "an intrusion of Jewish elements into the active officer corps not only as harmful, but also as directly perishable". The percentage of Jewish university professors was clearly below the percentage of Jewish private lecturers, which was partly an expression of anti-Jewish reservations about professorships. Leading scholars - even if they rejected the anti-Semite movement as primitive - expressed themselves with suspicion of the penetration of the Jews into the academic professions and sketched the fantasy of a possible rule of the Jews over the German universities. Jews were never appointed to a chair for German language and literature or for classical antiquity and languages and were mainly only given jobs in the newly developing mathematical and natural science 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 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 equality.

Despite the high percentage of Jewish lawyers, they were largely closed to a higher legal career. In particular judgeships were restrictively staffed by Jews, which was based on the fact that the judge special trust presupposes and it was therefore unable to occupy it with Jews with consideration for the feelings of the population, also could a Jew bad a Christian remove an oath. It was very difficult or impossible for Jews to obtain a higher office in the state. In contrast to Great Britain, where a Jew baptized Christian - Benjamin Disraeli - even became prime minister, there was no Jewish minister in the empire. Individual Jews who got into a higher state office, such as the director of the colonial department of the Foreign Office, Bernhard Dernburg , remained exceptions. Bath anti-Semitism spread in the flourishing seaside resorts on the North and Baltic Seas . Anti-Semitic prejudices and caricature-like ideas about Jews were to be found in almost all social classes.

The attitude of the Social Democratic Party was also at least ambivalent for a while, since the stereotype of the rich capitalist Jew existed there. In principle, anti-Semitism was rejected by the Social Democrats; the party chairman August Bebel condemned anti-Semitism as reactionary in a keynote address given in 1893 on anti-Semitism and social democracy . Conservative parties occasionally flirted with anti-Semitic items on the agenda. In its Tivoli program of 1892 , the German Conservative Party, for example, turned against “the often encroaching and corrosive Jewish influence on our people's life” and called for Christian authorities and Christian teachers . Efforts were made to deprive Jews of the civil equality they had gained in the course of the 19th century. The anti-Semite petition of the “ Berlin Movement ” demanded the withdrawal of civil equality for Jews in 1880/81 , but was rejected by the Prussian government and the liberal parties in the Reichstag. Recurring anti-Semitic movements and actions at the regional level, such as those expressed in the Konitz murder affair 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 ("Abwehrverein") in 1890 . Politically, the anti-Semites did not succeed in forming a unified party. In all elections to the Reichstag before the First World War, the proportion of votes held by the fragmented anti-Semitic parties was at most five and a half percent. Political anti-Semitism shifted more towards the German conservative party, professional associations, student associations and the Christian churches. Apart from the liberals, German bourgeois culture had long been saturated with anti-Semitic principles.

National minorities

Mother tongue of the inhabitants of the German Empire
(January 12, 1900)
mother tongue number proportion of
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
Resident on December 1, 1900 56,367,187 100
Native-speaking minorities of the German Reich per district

The German Reich increasingly developed into a unified nation-state modeled on France and Great Britain. Nevertheless, in 1880 there were around 3.25 million non-German speakers in addition to the then almost 42 million native German speakers, including 2.5 million with Polish or Czech, 140,000 Sorbs , 200,000 Kashubians , 150,000 Lithuanian speakers, 140,000 Danes and 280,000 French native speakers. Most of them lived near the external borders of the empire.

Not only the government, the chancellor and the emperor, but also the nationally and liberally minded bourgeoisie fundamentally advocated a policy of cultural and linguistic Germanization in order to create a newly defined nation in the middle of Europe. The school played a central role with the consistent use of German-language teaching.

In the competition between different cultures, but also in accordance with the desire for a German nation that can be recognized from within and from outside, z. B. the Polish pastors in the state of Prussia replaced by secular, German-speaking teachers. The predominantly French-speaking regions of Alsace-Lorraine, where French was permitted as a school language, were an exception. The introduction of German as the official and court language was important.

If the Prussian kingdom with its external borders in the east was predominantly tolerant of its national minorities before the founding of the empire and had expressly encouraged school lessons 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 empire, was gradually replaced by the German language of instruction. Only Catholic religious instruction was still allowed to be given in Polish. When the German language of instruction was introduced there, too, there was some open resistance, which was expressed, among other things, in school strikes (1901 Wreschener school strike ), which the Prussian authorities and the teaching staff responded to with disciplinary measures. The measures were sharply condemned by the Social Democrats, the left-wing liberals and the center. In the case of the Polish population, measures were added later to limit the large Polish landed property in favor of German settlers. The Prussian Settlement Commission also tried, with little success, to acquire Polish land for German new settlers. 1885 were in Poland expulsions 35,000 Poles from the Kingdom of Prussia expelled. The procedure was initiated by Bismarck and implemented by the Prussian Interior Minister Robert Viktor von Puttkamer .

Nevertheless, this new policy had only limited success, as it turned the Poles, who had previously been able to live quite well with the tolerant attitude of the Prussian state, against the authorities. Despite financial efforts and pithy nationalistic speeches (“We're not going back here!”), There was an increase in the Polish-speaking population and a decline in the German population, for example in the province of Poznan, and an increasing alienation between Germans and Poles. The minorities tried to preserve their own identity and successfully organized themselves in farmers' associations, founded credit institutions and aid organizations. For example, all nationalities were represented relatively stable in the Reichstag and in numbers even rather overrepresented. Even the Poles who emigrated to the Ruhr area stuck to their origins. Strong Polish unions emerged there. The anti-Polish measures during the empire had a disastrous after-effect on German-Polish relations in general. When the Second Polish Republic emerged as an independent state after the First World War, most of the former provinces of Poznan and West Prussia became part of Poland. The Polish government now practiced 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 empire shaped the political culture in Germany far beyond the end of the monarchy. Industrialization, urbanization as well as the improved communication possibilities (e.g. the spread of daily newspapers down to the lower classes) and other factors also changed the field of political culture. Politics was previously mainly a matter for the elites and dignitaries, but now there has been a fundamental politicization in which almost all social groups have a share in different ways. The universal and equal male suffrage (from the age of 25) at the national level undoubtedly also contributed to this. An indication of this was the increase in voter turnout. Whereas in 1871 only 51% of those eligible 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 during this time, called for reforms and, in many cases, the right to vote for women, should prove to be a decisive component of mass politicization.

Formation of the political camp

The various political camps took shape during the time when the empire was founded. Karl Rohe differentiates between a socialist, a Catholic and a national camp. Other authors subdivide the latter into a national and a liberal camp. Regardless of party divisions, mergers or similar events, these camps largely shaped political life until the Weimar Republic . All of these basic orientations had already existed in one way or another before the founding of the empire. However, with the German Center Party (Zentrum), a strong Catholic party emerged for the first time, reaching almost all social groups from the Catholic rural population and the working class to the bourgeoisie and the 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 following had increased eightfold between 1874 and 1912. The SPD's share of the vote rose from around 9.1 percent (1877) to 34.8 percent (1912).

The rise of the Social Democrats was not offset by a significant decline in the bourgeois or Catholic camp. Although the center was unable to fully maintain its level of mobilization from the Kulturkampf time, this party managed to assert itself even in the face of a growing number of voters. Despite all the upheavals, the bourgeois camp also 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 Empire, there were considerable shifts within this area. At the end of the empire, left-wing liberals, conservatives and national liberals were each level with a little more than ten percent.

Not least because of the Kulturkampf and later the Socialist Law , the Catholic population and the supporters of social democracy developed a particularly strong internal cohesion. A Catholic and social democratic milieu emerged, favored by other factors . Organizations and associations developed in their environment, which met the needs of the respective group from “cradle to grave”. In the Catholic milieu the development was different. Especially in the agrarian parts of Catholic Germany, the pastors, 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 for the integration of the Catholic working population with the Volksverein for Catholic Germany and the Christian trade unions.

In the social democratic sphere, after the end of the Socialist Law, it was not only the SPD that developed into a mass organization. The membership of the trade unions rose even more sharply. In addition, a widespread association of workers' education clubs , workers' singers or workers' sports clubs was created, partly on older foundations . Consumer cooperatives rounded off this picture.

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

Mass organizations

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

Propaganda postcard of the fleet association

On the right-hand side of the political spectrum, exaggerated nationalism and the colonial movement mobilized supporters from various social groups. The German Fleet Association was based on 1.2 million members. At least for a time, anti-Semitism also managed to gain considerable response. 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, for example, in the German National Sales Aid Association . Nationalism and anti-Semitism were closely linked in the Pan-German Association .

The Bund der Landwirte (BdL) organized particularly successfully farmers from all over the empire with national and anti-Semitic undertones, although the leadership was always with the East Elbe agrarians . He relied on a well-developed organization with millions of members. A large number of members of the Reich and Landtag owed their mandate to the support of the federal government. These were therefore also committed to the BdL in terms of content. The industrial associations such as the Central Association of German Industrialists (CdI) were less successful in this regard . But this 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 emerged in the 1890s and were primarily directed against the rights of the unions to have 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 industry, craft, trade and commerce alone.

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

One aspect of the connection between policy and advocacy in the working population was the formation of trade union federations . The carriers were (social) liberalism, the Catholic milieu and social democracy. The so-called free trade unions around the SPD had the highest number of members after the end of the Socialist Act. In important industrial areas, such as the Ruhr area , the Christian trade unions were in some cases just as strong or even stronger. In addition, after the turn of the century there were also organizations of Polish-speaking miners in this area, so that the non-socialist 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 . Although the Hirsch-Duncker trade unions had been liberally oriented trade unions since the 1860s , their mobilization success remained comparatively low.

Nationalism in transition

Kaiser Wilhelm monument at the Porta Westfalica around 1895

There were still national and dynastic special identities. But in an overview, the identification with the nation as a whole gained a formative significance for society. The idea of ​​the nation state changed significantly during the German Empire. Until 1848/1849, the old nationalism was an opposition movement aimed at change , which was fed by the classical liberal ideals of the French Revolution and directed against the forces of the Restoration era , which at the time were considered to be conservative . At the latest with the establishment 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 longer term, the democratic element lost its weight.

“Unity” became more important than “freedom”. Among other things, this led to a turn against the national and cultural minorities in the Reich, in particular against the Poles and - in connection with the racially founded anti-Semitism , which gained in importance from the end of the 1870s - against the Jews (→ Berlin anti-Semitism dispute ). The national passions in the fight against ultramontane Catholicism also belong in this context . In the further course of the history of the empire, nationalism was directed not least against social democracy . Their internationalist and revolutionary ideology seemed to the political elite and their supporters to be evidence of their hostility to the Reich. Against this background, the socialists / social democrats were defamed as " patriotic journeymen " since the end of the 19th century during the Bismarck era , or their reputation was launched in the government-friendly newspapers loyal to the emperor at the time.

Since the founding of the empire, nationalism in the empire had a widespread effect that was previously unknown and, in conjunction with the likewise increasing militarism, now also encompassed the petty-bourgeois and rural parts of the population. Nationalism was carried by the gymnastics, rifle clubs, singers and, above all, the warrior clubs. But schools, universities, the (Protestant) church and the military have also contributed to the spread. "Emperor and Empire" established itself as a fixed term. In contrast, the constitution of the empire was unable to develop an independent symbolic value. Of the institutions, only the Reich Chancellor and the Reichstag gained any significance in this regard.

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

In the longer term, even the “enemies of the Reich” could not escape the pull of the national. Since 1887, during the Catholic Days , not only the Pope was cheered, but also the Emperor. Especially after the start of the war in 1914 it became clear that the workers were by no means unaffected by nationalism.

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

Bismarck era

The first decades of the new empire were shaped to a large extent by the person of Bismarck, both internally and externally. The time between 1871 and 1889 is clearly divided into two phases: From 1871 to 1878/79, Bismarck mainly worked with the Liberals. In the following period 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 during the existence of the North German Confederation and in the first years of the German Empire. A central reason for this was the majority in the Reichstag, in which the Liberals had a strong majority. The National Liberals alone had 125 seats out of 382 in 1871 . If one adds the representatives of the Liberal Reich Party and the Progressive Party , liberalism had an absolute majority; this was usually reinforced by the free conservatives . After the Reichstag election of 1874 , the Liberals alone had an absolute majority with 204 out of 397 members. The Chancellor could hardly rule against them - and with the conservatives he would probably not have been able to rule with other majorities either: They refused Bismarck's politics and the center failed as a possible counterweight at the latest with the beginning of the Kulturkampf.

The policy of the establishment of the Reich was made easier by the booming development of many branches of the economy, which contributed to the social acceptance of liberal reforms.

Domestic and legal 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. The cooperation was facilitated by liberal officials like the head of the Reich Chancellery Rudolph von Delbrück or the Prussian finance minister Otto von Camphausen and the minister of education Adalbert Falk . The focus of the reforms was the liberalization of the economy. For example, freedom of trade and freedom of movement have been introduced in all states if they have not already existed. In the interests of free trade , the last protective tariffs for hardware expired . A trademark and copyright protection and a unified patent law were introduced. The establishment of public limited companies was also made easier. In addition, weights and measures were standardized and the currency was standardized: in 1873 the mark (later called 'Goldmark') was introduced. In 1875 the Reichsbank was founded as the central bank. Another focus was the expansion of the rule of law , some of the foundations of which have survived to the present day. The main features of the Imperial Criminal Code of 1871 , which is still in force today, albeit often amended, should be mentioned. This is very similar to the Criminal Code of the North German Confederation of May 31, 1870.

Milestones were the Reich Justice Acts of 1877, namely the Courts Constitution Act , the Code of Criminal Procedure , the Code of Civil Procedure , which are also still in force today, with changes in content, and the bankruptcy code . The Imperial Court of Justice was introduced as the highest German criminal and civil court through the Courts Constitution Act in 1878 . A uniform supreme German court, 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 expanding the powers of the Reichstag in matters of civil law. Whereas 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, jurisdiction was expanded to include all civil and procedural law in 1873. As a result, the Civil Code , which was adopted in 1896 and came into force on January 1, 1900, is a private law codification that is still in force today .

However, the liberals had to accept far-reaching compromises in the area of ​​procedural rules and press legislation, which were not supported by some of the left-wing liberals. 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 also took place in the largest federal state. These include, for example, the Prussian district order of 1872, which also removed the remnants of estate rights. The threat of failure due to the resistance of the Prussian mansion could of course only be broken by a “ pair push ” (i.e. the appointment of new politically acceptable members).


The cooperation between Liberals and Bismarck worked not only in the reform policy, but also in the so-called Kulturkampf against the Catholics and the Center Party. The causes were structurally in contrast between the secular state, which claimed more and more regulatory powers, and an official church, which, under the sign of ultramontanism, opposed modernity in all its forms (" anti-modernism "). The encyclical Quanta Cura of 1864 with its syllabus errorum was a clear rejection of modernity. For the Catholic Church, liberalism, as the legacy of the Enlightenment and as the vehicle of modernization, represented the antithesis of its own positions. For the liberals, for their part, 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. In principle, he too did not want the 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 conflict between the modern state and the Ultramontan 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 papal criticism of modernity, and there has not been a Catholic parliamentary group in the Prussian House of Representatives since 1866. Rather, the Bishop of Mainz, Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, spoke out in favor of recognition of the small German solution in 1866.

Caricature by Wilhelm Scholz on the end of the Kulturkampf . Pope Leo XIII and the Reich Chancellor ask each other to kiss their feet . In the background, Ludwig Windthorst , Chairman of the Center Party, observes what is happening through the curtain. Caption: Pontifex: “Well, please, don't be embarrassed!” Chancellor Bismarck: “Also please!” From: Kladderadatsch , No. 14/15 (March 18, 1878)

In the initial phase from 1871 onwards, 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 activity of clergymen. 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 intervened directly in the interior 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 followed from 1874, such as the introduction of civil marriage . An expatriation law of May 1874, which allowed the residence of insubordinate clergy to be restricted or, if necessary, to be deported, were purely instruments of repression. The so-called Bread Basket Act blocked all government grants from the church. In May, all monastic communities were dissolved, unless they devoted themselves exclusively to nursing.

One consequence of the Kulturkampf Acts was that in the mid-1870s, many pastoral posts were vacant, church activities were no longer taking place, and bishops were arrested, deposed or deported. But the government measures and the demands of the liberals quickly led to counter-reactions and broad political mobilization within Catholic Germany. The Center Party, which was founded before the actual beginning of the Kulturkampf, quickly attracted a large part of the Catholic electorate.

Limits of cooperation

Bismarck and the Liberals disagreed on all points. The attempt by the National Liberals and the Progress Party to standardize the various urban orders failed, for example, due to the lack of support from the Reich Chancellor. For the time being, because of Bismarck's objection, a financial reform had also failed. The military budget remained a permanent problem. At first the conflict could be postponed, but by 1874 at the latest it was up again. While the government, and in particular Minister of War Albrecht von Roon, demanded permanent approval of the budget ( Aeternat ), the Liberals insisted on annual approval. Giving in would have meant giving up about eighty percent of the total budget. The dispute ended with a compromise - the permit for seven years ( Septennat ). At least the military strength was regulated by law, albeit over a fairly long period of time. Furthermore, the Liberals could not assert themselves in the civil service law, in military criminal law and with the demand for jury courts in press offenses.

In the first half of the 1870s, the liberals had succeeded in showing their signature in a number of political fields, but this was only possible through compromises with Bismarck. It was not infrequently that maintaining power was more important than the enforcement of liberal principles. There was also internal criticism of the exceptional laws of the Kulturkampf. In particular, it did not succeed in strengthening Parliament's rights. This led to tension and disappointment among some constituencies within the liberal camp. In addition, a new political direction had emerged with the center. Since then, the liberals could no longer claim to be the actual representative of the entire people. Bismarck succeeded in strengthening state power in the early 1870s. However, the alliance with the liberals meant that the government also had to make concessions and encouraged economic and social modernization.

Founding years and crisis of 1873

Eisenwalzwerk (oil painting by Adolph Menzel 1872–1875)
Description of price increases and changes in size on a Berlin grave

Shortly after the founding of the empire, there was an economic boom and the so-called founding years began. This was followed by an economic depression with the “ founder crash ” . Several factors are considered to be the reasons for the upswing: Trade within the imperial borders has been greatly simplified. For the first time in the history of the empire, a uniform internal market was created. The hindering national tariffs were dropped. A uniform metric system of measurement was introduced at the end of 1872. A general mood of optimism triggered by the success of the war and the founding of an empire led to an enormous increase in investment and a building boom. The very high reparation payments from France also largely financed the early days.

As early as 1872, the German Empire trumped France, which had been weakened by the war, as an industrial power. The so-called founder crisis followed from around 1873 to around 1879. It became generally aware of the Berlin stock exchange panic in October 1873 (the Vienna stock market crash on May 9, 1873 is considered a harbinger). At first industrial production fell slightly; then it stagnated. The economic crisis was a result of overheated speculation, a result of falling demand and overcapacities that had built up in the boom years. The different industries suffered from the crisis in different phases and to different degrees. The coal and steel industry, mechanical engineering and construction were particularly hard hit; the consumer goods industry suffered less.

Many prices of goods, profits and wages fell considerably. Agriculture went into crisis in the mid-1870s. Structural reasons and the emergence of a world grain market played a role here. In direct competition with Russia and the USA , German grains were soon 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 Manufacturers , the Association of German Iron and Steel Industrialists , the Association for the Protection of Common Economic Interests in Rhineland and Westphalia demanded the introduction of protective tariffs from the state and founded the Central Association of German Industrialists in 1876 to represent common interests . Protective tariff associations also began to emerge in the agricultural sector, even if free traders initially remained dominant in East Elbe. The move towards protective tariffs brought agriculture and industry closer together.

The start-up crisis also had a significant impact on the party landscape. The optimism for progress of the past decades gave way to a pessimistic basic attitude. Above all, the ideas of liberalism (“laisser faire, laisser aller”) were held responsible for the economic decline. The free-trade liberals lost weight while the conservatives and the center won. In this mood, the importance of modern anti-Semitism increased, since international Judaism was suspected behind liberalism and stock market capital. It found expression, for example, in the Berlin anti-Semitism dispute or in the emergence of the Christian social party of court preacher Adolf Stoecker . The anti-Semitic movement remained a minority; In 1881 she managed to collect 255,000 signatures for an “anti-Semite petition”.

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

Politics after the turning point of 1878/79

The increasingly less sustainable cooperation with the liberals as well as the economic, social and financial problems in the wake of the founding crisis prompted Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to make a fundamental change in policy. This change was marked by the socialist law , the turning away from the liberals and the introduction of protective tariffs. The attitude of the National Liberals on this was contradicting itself. Although they supported some measures, for the time being they were fundamentally in opposition to the “Bismarck system.” This contradicting attitude towards Bismarck's politics led to a deep crisis within the national liberal party. First a right wing split off in 1879. A year later, the Liberal Association emerged from the left wing and tried to fight against the conservative turnaround. The political change of 1878 as an alliance of agricultural landowners and heavy industry was discussed in research under the heading of the establishment of an inner empire .

Socialist law

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

Bismarck used the two assassinations of Kaiser Wilhelm I in May and June of 1878 - both shortly before the Reichstag elections on July 30, 1878 - for openly anti-social-democratic policies. The Social Democrats have been considered enemies of the Reich for the Paris Commune at least since August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht's confession . The government and large parts of the bourgeoisie agreed on this. Indeed, the Social Democrats seemed to be on the rise; they came in the Reichstag elections of 1877 to 9.1%. In addition, the split between ADAV and SDAP had been overcome since 1875. At the same time, there was never a real “revolutionary” danger. With the Socialist Law, Bismarck reserved extensive exceptions. At the first attempt, however, this goal failed due to the majority in the Reichstag.

The second assassination attempt on the Kaiser in June 1878 gave 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 were for the first time in favor of a protective tariff policy and against liberal free trade. The election of July 1878 brought the National Liberals and the Progressive Party considerable losses, while the Free Conservative Party and the German Conservative Party gained. 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, as the center refused to take part in the cultural war. The project remained controversial in the National Liberal Party. The party majority around Rudolf von Bennigsen was ready to approve the law in view of the election defeat. A smaller left wing around Lasker initially wanted to hold on to the rejection and condemn the approach as an attack on the rule of law; In the end, however, out of concern for the cohesion of the party, this wing finally agreed to the law after the liberals had pushed through some moderation and a limitation of the law to two years in the deliberations. On October 19, 1878, the German Reichstag passed the law with 221 votes to 149 from the center, the Progress Party and the Social Democrats.

The Socialist Law itself was based on the unproven claim that the assassins on the Kaiser were Social Democrats. It made it possible to prohibit associations, meetings, pamphlets and money collections. Violations could result in fines or imprisonment. Residence bans could also be issued or a minor state of siege imposed on certain areas . However, the law was limited in time and therefore had to be confirmed again and again by parliament. In addition, the work of parliamentary groups and participation in elections (for individuals) remained unaffected. The law did not achieve its goal in the longer term. Social democracy persisted as a political force. It was partly responsible for the party's supporters withdrawing into a political ghetto that was becoming entrenched. In response to the persecution, the party also followed a consistent 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 focusing on a protective tariff policy, i.e. restricting free trade. Fiscal policy considerations played a greater role than ideological reasons. Up until now, the Reich had been dependent on grants from the federal states ( matriculation contributions ), and the government hoped to alleviate this dependency through revenue from customs duties. Bismarck expected support for this from the agricultural center and from the conservatives as well as from the right, industrial wing of the National Liberals.

After the socialist law was passed, Bismarck began to implement the new customs and financial policy in 1878. Since the liberal responsible ministers von Camphausen and Achenbach could not support this policy, they resigned, as Delbrück had done before. However, Bismarck's ideas initially met with unanimous rejection in the senior civil servants and 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 that advocated protectionist policy, play an important role in softening this position . The associations successfully promoted 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 group and a minority of 27 national liberal MPs joined the demands. The implementation of the program proved difficult, as the National Liberals made their approval dependent on substantial constitutional concessions. The same goes for the Center Party. Their price was the so-called " Franckenstein clause ": the customs revenue did not remain entirely with the Reich, but should flow to the federal states above a certain level. Bismarck was able to choose between the center and the national liberals, but in any case had to make substantial cuts in his program to “protect national labor”. He chose the center for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, the center's demands did not amount to further parliamentarization . Bismarck's speech in the Reichstag in July 1879 sealed the end of the liberal era. In it, the Chancellor clearly rejected the goal of a bourgeois-liberal state with a long-term parliamentary character in favor of a system that is still constitutional, but clearly authoritarian and monarchical.

Introduction of social security

With the industrial revolution and the transition to high industrialization , the focus of the social question had shifted from the pauperized rural lower classes to the urban working-class population. There had been various approaches to this at the municipal level, such as the Elberfeld system of poor relief . During the German Empire, a new form of state social policy set in, which at the same time was an essential part of the emergence of the modern intervention state. Within bourgeois society - also for fear of a revolutionary workers 'movement - the necessity of a solution to the workers' question was not disputed. The means and, above all, the role of the state were controversial. The liberals in particular initially relied on social solutions, for example in the form of self-help institutions for workers. From circles of the social reformers , especially from the environment of the Verein für Socialpolitik , there were calls for greater state involvement in this question.

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

Bismarck and the government he led had long hesitated between the two positions before deciding on stronger state intervention. A role for this decision was played by the fact that social solutions such as those envisaged by the liberals were evidently not able to cope with the dynamics of industrial development in practice. In addition, there was another motive: Bismarck hoped with the help of a state social policy to bind the workers to the state and thus also to remove the severity of the repressive policy of the Socialist Law. The government's original concept was for compulsory insurance paid for by the state and financed by taxes .

The legislative process was long. During the deliberations, the parties, the ministerial bureaucracy and the interest groups brought about considerable 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-administration and their financing did not come primarily from taxes, but from the contributions of the labor market parties or the employers. In addition, they did not follow the principle of the needs of those affected, but were based on wages and contributions.

The introduction of social security is seen as a great achievement by Bismarck, even if the result did not turn out 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 developments to the free play of market laws . The result was stagnating real wages despite a significant increase in national income, and the social gap widened. The social historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler therefore speaks of a “cementing of inequality” in Germany.

Limits of the Bismarck System

Center politician Ludwig Windthorst

The goals of the conservative turn of 1878/1879 were the blockade of further liberalization of the empire and beyond that a development in the conservative sense. Bismarck was largely successful with the first goal, the second could not be implemented because there was no permanent majority in parliament for such a program. A conservative reorganization of the empire always met with resistance from the Reichstag. The Chancellor tried to achieve a permanent majority, but failed. In the early 1880s, the center essentially defied the Chancellor's plans. As long as the Kulturkampf was not yet over, the party, under the leadership of Ludwig Windthorst , pursued an emphatically constitutional course that secured the rights of parliament and refused to cooperate closely with the government. Although a new septnate was passed in 1880 and the Socialist Law was extended, other government bills, such as a tobacco monopoly, failed. The problems worsened 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. In contrast, the Social Democrats and the Center gained slightly, while the Liberal Association and the Progress Party were the actual winners. Together, the left-wing liberals gained 80 seats.

With the weakening of parliamentary support, Bismarck intensified his course of confrontation with the Reichstag and tried to strengthen the government's weight in the political system. In this context, considerations included setting up a German National Economic Council made up of representatives of the interest groups as a kind of subsidiary parliament. Similar plans were behind the creation of professional associations to provide accident insurance. Rumors about the amendment of the Reichstag electoral law and a repeal of the constitution were launched again and again. Bismarck was not successful with any of his anti-parliamentary advances. They contributed to the further hardening of the fronts and reinforced the public impression that the Chancellor was increasingly lacking political concepts.

Cartel parties and conservative majority

Mandates in the German Reichstag 1871–1887
1871 1874 1877 1878 1881 1884 1887
conservative 57 22nd 40 59 50 78 80
Free Conservatives 37 33 38 57 28 28 41
National Liberals 125 155 128 99 47 51 99
Progress party 46 49 35 26 60 - -
Liberal Association - - - - 46 - -
Freedom - - - - - 67 32
center 63 91 93 94 100 99 98
Social democrats 2 9 12th 9 12th 24 11
Minorities 21 34 34 40 45 43 33
Others 31 4th 17th 13th 9 7th 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 Bennigsen's resignation, the rise of Johannes Miquel and the growing influence of agricultural interests. With its Heidelberg Declaration of 1884, the party backed the Reich Chancellor on the main issues and distinguished itself from the left-wing liberals. This also led indirectly 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 reduction in the opposition of the center. After the Reichstag election of 1884 , which ended with losses for the left-wing liberals and significant gains for the conservative parties, as well as slight gains for the national liberals, a right-wing coalition seemed possible. In fact, these parties worked together on the Germanization policy in the Prussian eastern provinces.

The plan of a right majority was pushed in 1886 in connection with a deep foreign policy crisis. Bismarck then demanded an increase in the army’s peace presence, which was strictly rejected by the center and the free spirit. The consequence was another dissolution of the Reichstag. During the election campaign, the government did everything to label left-wing liberals, the center and social democrats as enemies of the Reich. In addition, conservatives and national liberals formed an electoral alliance - the so-called cartel . The election of 1887 , which took place under the sign of a possible war with France, brought the cartel parties (especially the National Liberals) profits that were at the expense of the left-wing liberals and the Social Democrats. The cartel parties had an absolute majority with 220 of 397 MPs.

Bismarck has had a strong majority since then, but at the same time he was also dependent on the continued existence of the coalition. In the beginning, the cartel and the government worked together quite smoothly. The controversial military bill was passed along with laws in the interests of agriculture. The Socialist Law was also extended again until 1890. After that, however, tensions increased significantly. The National Liberals did not agree to a peace law to end the Kulturkampf, and part of their parliamentary group also refused to raise the agricultural protective tariffs again. This law only came into being with the help of the center. The continuation of the Socialist Law, colonial policy and social legislation also met with criticism from the National Liberals. The social laws only came about with the help of the center. In the conservative camp there were increasing voices calling for long-term cooperation with the center.

Alliances and Foreign Policy

The empire owed its origin in the war against France to the benevolent neutrality of England and Russia. However, this relatively favorable diplomatic overall weather situation did not last. The main structural problem was that with the establishment of the empire a new great power had emerged in Europe, which first had to find its place in the system of powers. Although Bismarck repeatedly asserted the saturation of the new nation, Germany's policy appeared to the other states to be unpredictable. Overall, the foreign policy situation appeared to be relatively open. Fixed points, however, were on the one hand the Franco-German conflict and on the other hand the competition from Great Britain and Russia ( The Great Game ). There were various theoretical options for German foreign policy to integrate into the existing state system. Although Bismarck initially kept all alternatives up to and including a preventive war open, he ultimately decided on a defensive variant as an "honest broker" between the powers.

Alliance systems until the beginning of the 1880s

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

The decision to pursue 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 the newly strengthened France. This made it clear that the attempt to achieve a hegemonic position carried the danger of a European war.

The decision to pursue 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. In doing so, however, there was a risk of losing support from Austria-Hungary and Russia. Therefore, Bismarck avoided everything in order to have to choose between the two sides. The aim was to bring about a constellation, as the Chancellor had stated in his Kissinger Dictation of 1877, in which all powers except France need us and are prevented from coalitions against us by their relationships with one another if possible .

Berlin Congress (painting by Anton von Werner , 1881, 3.60 × 6.15 m in the Berlin City Hall )
Pictured (from left to right): by Haymerle , Károlyi , de Launay , Gortschakow , Waddington , Disraeli , von Radowitz , zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst , Corti , Graf de Moun, d'Oubril, de Saint-Vallier, Desprey , Andrássy , Bucher , Otto von Bismarck , von Holstein , Busch, Herbert von Bismarck , Pjotr ​​Andrejewitsch 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 endeavored to play the role of an “honest broker” and to achieve a balance between the great powers. However, this was in contrast to the hope of the Russian government, which had expected the Congress to provide diplomatic confirmation of the military successes achieved in the Balkans. In this respect, the result, which allowed Austria in particular to have more influence without having made military sacrifices, was viewed by Russia as a diplomatic defeat. After the congress, relations between the tsarist empire and Germany deteriorated considerably, making it increasingly difficult to maintain an alliance between these two states.

Bismarck therefore sought even more clearly than before to join forces with Austria-Hungary. This culminated on October 7, 1879 in the so-called “ two-tier ”. With the alliance, the role of the German Reich as an unbound mediator between the powers came to an end. As a result, the establishment of the Bismarck alliance system began , first to the east, then to the west and south. In 1881 the three emperors' alliance with Austria-Hungary and Russia was concluded. In terms of content, the powers undertook to change the status quo in the Balkans only in consultation and, in the event of war, to maintain benevolent neutrality with a fourth power. This provision referred primarily to a new war between France and Germany and Britain and Russia. However, as tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Balkans soon increased again, the three-emperor policy failed in the long term.

Towards the south, the twin alliance with Italy was expanded to form a 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, as there had been repeated disputes over the border with Italy.

The empire was therefore at the center of two alliance systems at the beginning of the 1880s. The maintenance was complicated, marked by contradictions, and unstable. On this unstable basis, the status quo was established for some time.

Beginning of German imperialism

German colonial ruler in Togo (approx. 1885)

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

Initially, the expansion overseas was carried out by private entrepreneurs. State support soon came about, but following the British model, these were still within the framework of the establishment of an “informal empire” (that is, the control of an area without official state occupation). Reasons for a commitment overseas were, on the one hand, the emergence of a powerful colonial movement in Germany, which saw colonies as an opportunity to overcome the start-up crisis and to slow down the increase in population. But the possession of colonies was also seen as a question of national prestige. Organizations such as the German Colonial Association or the Society for German Colonization soon emerged as colonial propagandists . Both later merged to form the German Colonial Society .

The reasons why Bismarck gave in to the pressure of the colonial movement and began to establish a formal empire are disputed in scholarship. One argument is that the Chancellor took advantage of Great Britain's problems in Afghanistan and Sudan, among others, to seek rapprochement with France through anti-English policies. The climax of this development was the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884/85, when Germany and France came together to oppose England's Central Africa policy. Other interpretations refer primarily to domestic political reasons. The acquisition of colonies should then bring party-political relief for the government and, in the Reichstag elections of 1884, bring votes for parties close to the government. A third thesis interprets the turn as social imperialism. According to this, colonies should to a certain extent cover up the social and economic difficulties and reduce legitimacy deficits. Recent research sees a mixture of different causes and additionally emphasizes the inherent dynamics in the later colonies. The year 1884 then marked the actual beginning of German colonial policy, when in April the so-called " Lüderitzland " was placed under the protection of the German Empire as the nucleus of what would later become German South West Africa . In German East Africa , Togo , Cameroon and the Pacific, too , informal rule gave way to formal rule. Although the colonial policy remained episode under Bismarck, the expansion ended in 1885, but this was a start for further expansion as well as for conflicts with Great Britain.

Overview of the German colonies ("German Protected Areas")
  • The German Imperium
  • German Colonial Empire (1914)
  • German colonies 1910 (contemporary maps)
    1. German New Guinea since 1885, acquired by Otto Finsch on behalf of the New Guinea Company ; this included: Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land (today 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, Carolines ( Micronesia ) since 1899, Nauru since 1888
    2. German East Africa (today Tanzania , Rwanda , Burundi , Mozambique - Kionga triangle ) since 1885, acquired by 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 by Gustav Hörnecke , Claus von Anderten and Karl Ludwig Jühlke
    5. German South West Africa (today Namibia , Botswana - southern edge of the Caprivi Point) since 1884, acquired by Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz
    6. Deutsch-Witu (today southern Kenya ), 1885–1890, acquired by the Denhardt brothers from Zeitz
    7. Cameroon since 1884, (today Cameroon , Nigeria - eastern part, Chad - southwest part, western part of the Central African Republic , northeast part of the Republic of the Congo , Gabon - northern part) acquired by Gustav Nachtigal
    8. Kapitaï and Koba (today Guinea ) 1884–1885, acquired by Friedrich Colin
    9. Kiautschou since 1898 ( China , leased for 99 years)
    10. Mahinland (today Nigeria ) March to October 1885, acquired by Gottlieb Leonhard Gaiser
    11. Togo since 1884, (today Togo , Ghana -Western part) acquired by Gustav Nachtigal

    Double foreign policy crisis of 1885/1886

    "We Germans fear God, no one 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, based not least on General Georges Ernest Boulanger , a nationalist collection movement emerged 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 political 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 tightening of the tone against France served to cover up the foreign policy difficulties in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. There, the Bulgarian crisis had intensified the differences between Austria-Hungary and Russia and the de facto breakup of the three emperors' alliance. Germany's relationship with Russia also deteriorated, not least because of the protective tariff policy. Concern about a two-front war grew among the German government as Russia and France apparently came closer to one another. Domestically, Bismarck came under pressure in the face of the double crisis, as critics accused him of having his foreign policy outdated. Some military personnel, such as General Alfred von Waldersee , but also German conservatives and even Social Democrats, demanded a sharp approach towards Russia, including a preventive war. Bismarck tried to dampen the nationalist wave that he had partly triggered and to settle the crisis diplomatically. This was achieved with efforts that made it clear that Germany's political leeway had been reduced considerably since the establishment of the empire. 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 involved, it became part of an anti-Russian coalition through its allies.

    In the same year, instead of the three emperor agreement, the reinsurance treaty was concluded with Russia on June 18 . Both states committed 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 Balkan and Bosporus policy. In doing so, Germany entered into commitments that were contrary to the alliances and treaties with other states. At this point, it was obviously more important to Bismarck to prevent a possible alliance between France and Russia.

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

    Three Emperor's year 1888

    Friedrich III.

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

    During the anti-Semitism controversy , he had publicly opposed the “anti-Semitism”. The liberals in particular, especially Bamberger , Forckenbeck and von Stauffenberg , were close to the emperor. Due to his illness, however, he was barely able to influence politics. Only the dismissal of the highly conservative Prussian Interior Minister von Puttkamer was a sign in the expected direction. Just 99 days after taking office, on June 15, 1888, Friedrich III died. of throat cancer. Due to the short term in office, he is also known 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

    During the Wilhelmine era, politicians were under even more pressure than at the time of Bismarck to adapt to changes in the economy and society and to find answers to the most urgent 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 handicrafts 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 form an alliance with Great Britain in 1889, but failed with this project. A final point under the social legislation was the old age and disability insurance, which came into force on May 23rd.

    The Punch caricature " Dropping the Pilot " (dt. Most "The pilot leaves the ship" ) by Sir John Tenniel for dismissal of Bismarck in 1890

    Conflicts soon arose between Wilhelm II and Bismarck. In addition to the generation gap, Wilhelm's desire to shape politics himself played an important role. This limited Bismarck's room for maneuver considerably. The emperor was encouraged by his closest circle, such as Philipp zu Eulenburg . In public too, criticism of the authoritarian rule of the Chancellor - some even referred to it as the Chancellor's dictatorship - and of domestic political rigidity increased. Last but not least, the emperor and the chancellor were at odds on the labor question. While Bismarck adhered to his course of repression, Wilhelm spoke out in favor of an end to the 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 . In contrast, Bismarck submitted the draft for a now unlimited socialist law. The majority of the Reichstag rejected the law, however, and the cartel of right-wing parties broke up. These suffered heavy losses in the Reichstag elections in 1890 , while the center, the left-wing liberals and the social democrats were able to gain. The parliamentary majority for Bismarck's policy was no longer there. The renewed threats of a coup d'état came to nothing. As a result, the conflicts between Wilhelm II and Bismarck intensified again and the Chancellor gradually fell politically sidelined. Bismarck was forced to resign from all his offices on March 18, 1890 by Wilhelm II.

    “The new course” and the term of office of Leo von Caprivi

    Leo von Caprivi became the new Chancellor . In contrast to Bismarck, who had pursued a policy of confrontation at home, the new Chancellor relied on a more balancing and conciliatory policy. Above all, reforms should alleviate the social conflicts and counteract the creeping loss of legitimacy of the last Bismarck years. In foreign policy, on the advice of Friedrich August von Holstein , the emperor refused to extend the reinsurance treaty with Russia, which forced Russia to come to terms with France.

    From 1890 onwards - mainly supported by the Prussian Trade Minister Hans Hermann von Berlepsch and his colleague Theodor Lohmann - a new push for social policy began. In doing so, he focused primarily on the expansion of occupational health and safety and a reform of labor law . In the February 1890 imperial edicts , these plans were made an official government program. The amendment to the trade regulations actually implemented parts of it in 1891. This included the ban on Sunday work , a further restriction on factory work for women and children, and regulations for work in companies that are hazardous to health. The improvement of the labor inspectorate should control the implementation of the measures. The continuation of the program failed on the one hand because of poor economic conditions and on the other hand because of 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 impending tariff wars, but also improved sales opportunities for German products. However, this was only available for the price of lower agricultural tariffs. Under Caprivi, economic policy shifted from agriculture to export-oriented industry. In Prussia, Caprivi, who like Bismarck was also Prime Minister of Prussia, had only partial success in reforming the rural community order, which was ultimately watered down by the resistance of the conservatives. The financial reform of the Prussian Finance Minister Miquel, which led to the levying of an at least slightly progressive income tax in 1891, was a success, however . A wealth tax followed in 1893 . Property, building and business taxes have been municipal taxes ever since. However, the concessions to the large landowners also showed the limits of the ability to reform. Efforts to reform the three-class suffrage 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. One problem was also the loss of friction at the top of the state. Above all, the divergence of politics in the Reich and in Prussia was momentous. While the Chancellor opened up to the center and the left-wing liberals in the Reichstag, Miquel, as a strong man in Prussia, pursued cooperation between conservatives and national liberals. In 1892 Caprivi had to hand over the office of Prime Minister to Count Botho zu Eulenburg . This weakened the position of the Reich Chancellor, who in any case did not succeed in gaining a permanent majority in the Reichstag. Above all, a new army proposal, which would have meant a strong armament boost, met resistance not only from the Social Democrats and Liberals, but also from the center, which had previously mostly supported the Chancellor's policy. This led to the dissolution of the Reichstag and new elections in 1893 . The SPD won, but the left-wing liberals , who split up into the Liberal Association and the Liberal People's Party via the military bill, lost seats, as did the Center.

    This made it possible to pass a modified version of the army bill, but Caprivi also had to reckon with resistance from the conservatives, who were particularly opposed to the turnaround in customs and trade policy. Above all, the newly founded Association of Farmers successfully raised the mood against the Chancellor. In the conservative party, there was also a clear turn to the right when the party overthrew the old leadership at the so-called Tivoli party congress in 1892, adopted an anti-Semitic program and leaned closely on the farmers' union. Caprivi also increasingly encountered resistance from Wilhelm II, who wanted to exert a greater influence on politics than his predecessors and to establish a "personal regiment". Even if we can only speak of this to a limited extent, the emperor exerted considerable direct and indirect influence. In many cases, this influence was evident in sudden and haphazard interventions in the decision-making processes. This concerned less domestic and more naval and foreign policy. Nevertheless, the emperor began to turn against the domestic "New Course" because it did not expand the legitimacy base as hoped, but had even reduced it with the threat of the conservatives turning away. Bismarck, who still had influence on parts of the press, also railed against the new course.

    While the emperor had shown a certain concession towards the social democrats at the beginning of his rule, this changed in the mid-1890s under pressure from industry (here headed by Carl Ferdinand von Stumm-Halberg ), parts of agriculture, the court, the Prussian Prime Minister and others. They called for a stricter course towards the Social Democrats. There was talk of new exceptional laws and again there were rumors of coup plans. When Wilhelm also turned against Caprivi, he could no longer be held and was dismissed in October 1894, as was the Prussian Prime Minister Eulenburg.

    Chancellor of transition and "personal regiment"

    Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (Portrait of Franz von Lenbach , 1896)

    Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst became Reich Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister on October 29, 1894. Already his age of more than 75 years makes him seem like a personal interim solution. Hohenlohe tried to avoid conflicts with the emperor as much as possible, but his term of office was characterized by partly latent and partly manifest differences of opinion between the emperor and the chancellor. These ranged up to a protracted government crisis.

    The new Chancellor consistently displayed a policy of hesitation, which, in view of the increasingly prominent imperial claim to a " personal regiment ", corresponded to an understanding of his limited influence. In particular, Wilhelm exerted a strong influence on personnel decisions. The exponents of the “New Course” were either dismissed or politically sidelined. Social policy began to falter from 1893. Personally, Hohenlohe was rather skeptical of the new exceptional laws against social democracy, but indicative of his weakness was that in the Reichstag in 1895 with the overthrow bill and later the prison bill of 1899 - the latter was also a reaction to the Hamburg port workers' strike of 1896/97 such laws were up for vote. It was characteristic of the pending political situation that neither could find a majority. The same fate suffered a “small socialist law” in Prussia. The Lex Arons 1898, which excluded social democrats from teaching at universities, was , of course, successful . During the time of the Chancellor of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst in 1896, after long preparatory work, the civil code was passed . This unified the civil law that had previously been different from region to region. The code of law came into force on January 1, 1900. It marked the end of the legal codification process that began after the founding of the Reich.

    Bülow era

    Collection Policy

    Not least the failures in the implementation of new exceptional laws reinforced thoughts of an anti-parliamentary coup in the emperor's circle. In 1897 Wilhelm II then 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 State Ministry, Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner as Head of the Reich Office of the Interior, Alfred von Tirpitz as Head of the Reich Naval Office and Bernhard von Bülow as Secretary of State. According to the will of the emperor, these should steer domestic politics in a conservative direction, force the development of a strong fleet and act in terms of world politics in terms of foreign policy. With this change, the emperor's direct intervention in politics initially subsided, as the new leadership was largely acting in the interests of Wilhelm anyway. The conflicts between the government and the emperor continued to decline after 1900 when Bernhard von Bülow moved to the Reich Chancellery.

    The catchphrase of the new leadership at the end of the 19th century was the rallying policy of “state-sustaining and productive forces” against social democracy. Customs policy, fleet building, world politics and empire should have a socially integrating effect and unite the middle class and the bourgeoisie against social democracy. Crafts 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 . In order to integrate agricultural and commercial interests, the government involved representatives from agricultural and industrial interest groups in the development of new customs tariffs, which were due to be adopted after the turn of the century. It was possible to bring the interests of agriculture and heavy industry into a certain agreement under the sign of the protective tariff. However, the export-oriented light industry and in particular the expanding chemical industry criticized this massively and founded the Federation of Industrialists in 1895 to achieve their anti-protectionist goals . Overall, the protective tariff turned out to be unsustainable for an alliance of agriculture and industry. There were also different interests in other areas. The possible increase in agricultural tariffs also led to protests by left-wing liberals and social democrats, who feared an increase in food prices. The planned construction of the Mittelland Canal was vehemently rejected by the East Elbe landowners. A compromise on the customs question was not reached until 1902 under Chancellor von Bülow. Even if moderately, this actually burdened the consumers and the Social Democrats were able to lead the Reichstag election campaign of 1903 with the slogan against “bread usury”.

    Fleet policy

    Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

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

    A mighty fleet was originally intended by Wilhelm II to protect trade and the coasts. A worldwide operating fleet called for bases overseas. This became an important motive for colonial policy, especially in the Pacific . However, this concept of a cruiser fleet was replaced 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. The idea of ​​risk was also behind the battle fleet. Any potential attacker should expect heavy losses. To serve as a deterrent weapon, the fleet had to be of considerable strength. This change in the doctrine of the fleet, which was clearly designed for a confrontation in the North Sea, had to reinforce the distrust of the German Empire, especially in England.

    In 1896 an enlargement of the fleet was refused. 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 center. In 1900 the building project was expanded again, which, if carried out, would have meant a ratio of 2: 3 compared to the British fleet. One consequence of the building policy was an arms race with Great Britain .

    The final approval of the Reichstag and the public for the fleet policy was not least the result of a modern-looking public relations work by Tirpitz . The message office of the Reichsmarineamte carried out regular advertising campaigns for the fleet. It worked closely with the fleet association founded in 1898. This mass movement, which ranged from the economic bourgeoisie to the lower middle class, had 270,000 members in 1900. Including corporate members, there were more than a million in 1908. Propaganda for enthusiasm for the fleet played an important role, but it met a long tradition of naval enthusiasm, especially among the bourgeoisie. In addition, the excessive nationalism in the fleet saw a symbol of the power of the empire. In addition, the economic interests of the industry also played a role in the construction of the fleet. The East Elbe manor owners, however, had reservations about the naval policy, who saw it as a modern competitor to the army. 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 Bismarck's policy in the 1880s, the character of foreign policy changed for good after 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 arms policy factors were also just as important. In spite of all the contradictions, including within the political leadership, various tendencies emerged. The empire initially tried 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 in this, even if a customs union with the Habsburg Empire did not materialize. In 1891 the Triple Alliance was extended and its content was refined. Another aim of the policy of the new course was to try to come to an understanding with Great Britain. One means of doing this was through colonial policy. In this context, still partially prepared by Bismarck, the exchange of claims on Zanzibar against the island of Helgoland in 1890 ( "Helgoland-Sansibar Treaty" ). This led to some violent protests in Germany, from which the right-wing Pan-German Association later emerged. The aim of the colonial acquisition of the 1890s, which was mainly operated by the Reichsmarineamt, was to build a global network of naval bases.

    Adoption of the German East Asia Expeditionary Force to put down the "Boxer Rebellion". - Kaiser Wilhelm II during his speech ("Huns Speech")

    The good relations with Great Britain made it possible to give up ties with Russia. The reinsurance contract expired in 1890 and was not extended by the German side. In the opinion of the Reich leadership, ties to Russia would have damaged ties to 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 division of 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 build better relations with Russia. Overall, Germany shuttled back and forth between England and Russia in the 1890s and didn't really look credible on either side. This mistrust intensified when Germany finally began to support the Ottoman Empire in its policy towards the Orient against Russia. In the south of Africa, on the other hand, there were conflicting interests with Great Britain.

    In the late 1890s, Germany's foreign policy finally shifted the framework of continental politics in favor of world politics; H. of imperialism, to leave. Bülow's demand for a place in the sun became a household word. World politics was not just an attempt to establish Germany as a great power, it 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 world politics met with broad approval. The example of Max Weber and Friedrich Naumann showed how far imperialist ideas reached into the liberal bourgeoisie . They promised themselves prosperity and the integration of workers from it. Even from the conservative side, imperialism was viewed 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 exporting to the industrialized countries. The imperialist policy was also characterized by the often counterproductive speeches of the emperor (such as the Huns speech of 1900), by their volatility aimed at approval in Germany and by threatening backdrops that were often built up. In view of a dynamic economy, a strong army and an ever larger fleet, this must appear threatening to the European powers.

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

    The global political claim was reflected in the acquisition of colonies. Compared to the high-pitched claims, the actual increase 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 suspicion in Great Britain and the United States. The construction of the Baghdad Railway fell into the realm of informal imperialism from 1899.

    The situation in Europe continued to play a central role in actual politics. At the turn of the century, the German-British rapprochement stalled, primarily due to the anti-English world power concept and the building of fleets. However, there was no serious confrontation, as Great Britain had a large number of conflicts with other states and was able to choose from different partners in terms of foreign policy. Therefore, in London, a rapprochement with Berlin was kept open. After the joint suppression of the Boxer Rebellion by the European powers, the USA and Japan, a rapprochement with Great Britain appeared temporarily. This favorable situation for Germany changed after 1902. Above all, the Entente cordiale of Great Britain with France from 1904 was of considerable importance. Germany's attempt to get closer to Russia again led to a trade treaty in 1904, but ultimately it was unsuccessful. Germany also shied away from a closer alliance here in order not to become the stooge 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. It turned against the French expansion in Morocco . Kaiser Wilhelm II landed demonstratively in Tangier in 1905 and called for an international conference. This also took place in Algeciras , but led to the fact that the distrust of Germany increased even further. This event, which went down in history as the first Moroccan crisis, not only solidified the cooperation between France and England, but also led to a British-Russian agreement on their interests in the Mediterranean. Overall, Germany's world political triumph had led to foreign policy isolation, as Germany entered into direct competition with England and France. This was reinforced by the armament of the fleet, especially in relation to Great Britain. The situation was also problematic because, although the Triple Alliance was renewed in 1902, Italy concluded a secret neutrality agreement with France a short time later. With that the alliance was de facto devalued and Germany had only one ally with Austria-Hungary.

    Domestic politics after the turn of the century

    Reichstag session 1905 (painting by Georg Waltenberger )

    Domestically, too, it soon became apparent that fleet building and world politics could only cover up the problems for a short period of time, but that they only worsened in the medium term. The domestic political stabilization at the turn of the century was based on a short-lived political consensus among conservatives, national liberals and above all the center. The Reichstag elections of 1903 did little to change that at first. The left-wing liberals suffered slight losses, while the national liberals and social democrats gained. The Social Democrats rose to become the second largest group in the Reichstag. The center remained the strongest force and was able to maintain its key parliamentary position despite losses. The party initially remained the mainstay of the government. Because of this dependency, too, the Reich leadership came to terms with the center on a number of points. As one of the last relics of the Kulturkampf time, the Jesuit ban was lifted. The introduction of diets for members of the Reichstag in 1906 was also the result of demands from the center. The party also played a key role in determining the realm's domestic policy.

    In view of the good economic situation, the membership of the trade unions grew strongly at the turn of the century . In 1900 they were still 680,000, in 1906 there were already 1.6 million. At the same time, the number of labor disputes also increased. While there were only 806 registered strikes in 1900 , there were already 3059 strikes in 1906. Against this background, too, social policy was gradually resumed. After the final failure of anti-social democratic repression laws, the government once again hoped to be able to use social policy measures to limit the number of workers joining the SPD. However, there was also greater social pressure from the social reformers behind this. This was reflected in the founding of the Society for Social Reform around 1901. The original reform intentions of the Reich leadership were limited, however. It was about expanding the compulsory insurance of social security (expansion of accident insurance 1900), prohibiting child labor in the home industry or introducing commercial 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 working hours underground of 8½ hours and the introduction of workers' committees. There were no further reforms.

    In terms of military policy, the army's peace-keeping strength was increased by 10,000 men. In addition, a new fleet draft from 1905 envisaged the transition to the stronger but also more expensive battleships of the dreadnought type in addition to the construction of a number of cruisers . All of this aggravated the empire's financial problems considerably. Despite lengthy negotiations, there was no major tax reform as hoped, only a small reform was passed.

    It gradually became problematic for von Bülow that he lost the support of the emperor after various foreign policy failures. In addition, there was growing displeasure among the conservatives about the allegedly too hesitant approach to social democracy. The position of the center as the parliamentary pillar of the government became problematic mainly due to changes within the party. Within the center, supported by the Christian trade unions and the People's Association for Catholic Germany , a strong wing of workers rose. In addition, a small-town agrarian populism gained supporters. Both together - despite all the contrasts - 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 and new elections at the end of 1906.


    The election campaign was very emotional and the government and organizations such as the Reichsverband gegen die Sozialdemokratie accused the center and the SPD of national unreliability. Conservatives, national liberals and left-liberals concluded election agreements against both of them - this was the so-called Bülow bloc . The participation of the left-wing liberals was only possible because they had given up their reservations about colonialism after the death of Eugen Richter . The so-called “ Hottentot election ” ( August Bebel ) led to gains for the bloc parties, while the SPD lost almost half of its mandates. The center lost its key position despite the increase in mandates, as the liberals and the conservatives together had a majority.

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

    The Bülow bloc not only remained an electoral alliance, but von Bülow announced that he wanted to rely on these parties in the future. The change in policy was made clear by the replacement of Interior Secretary Posadowsky, who wanted to maintain a cooperation with the center, by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg . There was agreement in numerous areas of politics, compromises were possible in other areas, but within the Bülow bloc there were hardly any contradictions that could be bridged. A reform of the law of associations and assembly was carried out, which brought liberal progress, but also had considerable limits under pressure from the conservatives. Agricultural workers continued to have 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 people and the Poles. The left-wing liberals found it difficult to support this. Some like Theodor Barth refused to approve and left the free-thinking association. The Prussian right to vote also remained controversial. While the German Conservatives on the one hand defended the three-tier suffrage, the left-wing liberals on the other hand demanded the introduction of the democratic Reichstag suffrage. Another area of ​​conflict was the ever more pressing imperial financial reform. Bülow was able to bridge and moderate these differences for a while, but now he was not only dependent on the favor of the emperor, but also on a fragile government majority.

    The domestic political situation was made even more difficult by the Daily Telegraph affair in autumn 1908. A collection of statements by Wilhelm II during his visit to England documented a number of tactless and politically imprudent statements made by the Kaiser. In the political and journalistic public thereupon the criticism of the "personal regiment" increased. The empire lost a large part of its persuasiveness. Some publicists like Maximilian Harden even demanded the emperor's resignation, and even the conservatives felt compelled to recommend restraint to the emperor in the future. In fact, the imperial interference of Wilhelm II in daily politics has since become rarer. The Harden-Eulenburg affair , which was also smoldering from 1906 to 1909, grew into one of the greatest scandals in the empire and also attracted international attention. Since the Chancellor hardly defended the Emperor, who had been compromised by the two affairs, Bülow now completely lost support from Wilhelm II.

    In 1909 the question of the financial reform of the Reich became the fate of the Bulow Bloc. The situation of the imperial finances was desolate due to the construction of the navy and world politics. Spending exceeded income and the state's 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 a financial reform was not least due to general political reasons, as it was a question of clarifying which population group had to bear the burden of rearmament. While excise taxes would have burdened the low wage earners, property taxes would affect the wealthy. The government put forward a bill that endeavored to take into account the interests of the various bloc parties. It soon became apparent, however, that no agreement could be reached on the question of inheritance taxes. The Conservatives in particular wanted to avoid any encumbrance on property, while the Liberals saw an overdue necessity in higher taxation of land. After long internal debates, the center finally decided to vote with the Conservatives. Although the law looked a bit more moderate in the end, the large estates managed to enforce their interests again. A broad protest movement against this arose, which gathered in the Hansabund . Politically, the bloc on the financial reform was finally broken. In June 1909, this finally led to the dismissal of Bülows.

    Eve of the First World War

    Party constellation

    Within the conservative party, attempts 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 happened increasingly against the government and partly in cooperation with the new right. Despite this development, the center worked with the conservatives until around 1912/1913, not least to avoid falling into political isolation again. This was made easier by the weakening of the democratic wing within the center. The workers' wing, for example, was weakened by the so-called trade union and center dispute. Overall, the party moved more to the right. Conversely, the failure of the Bülow bloc led the National Liberals to sharply distance themselves from the conservatives and to a certain degree 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 hold the diverging forces together, while the left wing around Gustav Stresemann sought an alliance with the left-wing liberals. For the left-wing liberals, for their part, the experiences during the Bülow bloc in 1910 led to the merger of the Progressive People's Party. This party now resolutely opposed the right. An alliance with the SPD, for example based on the model of the large bloc in Baden, remained controversial. However, the development of the Social Democrats also played a role in this. In view of the strength of the party, the question of which direction the SPD would take arose ever more urgently. 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, pleaded for mass strikes , wanted to radicalize the workers and prepare for the revolution. The reformists around Eduard Bernstein , on the other hand, spoke out in favor of reforms and cooperation with the left liberals, but did not find a majority within the party for this course. The party leadership around August Bebel largely followed the centrist line with regard to the unity of the SPD.

    Beginnings of the Bethmann Hollweg government

    Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

    After von Bülow's chancellorship ended, the attempt to stabilize the empire through imperialist expansion and moderate domestic reforms had largely failed. The rupture of the Bülow Block had instead sharpened the contrast between the rural-agricultural and the urban-industrial world. However, the parties and the Reichstag gained influence, while the Kaiser and the Reich leadership were weakened. The new 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 avoided being tied to a party coalition in the long term and instead relied on changing majorities. In practice, however, the government initially relied on the support of the center and the conservatives. Due to the dependence on the conservatives, all reform approaches remained half-hearted. In case of doubt, decisions were postponed, as domestic political stabilization usually took precedence over solving technical problems. In financial policy this was successful because the government saved itself in a strict austerity course. In view of the pressure to change from the bourgeois and social democratic left, the government could hardly avoid attempting reforms, but at the same time tried to bring conservatives, the center and the national liberals closer together. This greatly narrowed the scope. This became evident, for example, in the face of the attempt to reform the Prussian three-class suffrage in 1910. The government's draft law went too far for the conservatives, while the liberals rejected it as insufficient. The Social Democrats demonstrated in mass rallies for a democratic right to vote, which, however, led to the “black-blue bloc” made up of the center and conservatives rejecting all reform approaches on this issue. A completely different fate befell the introduction of a constitution for the realm of Alsace-Lorraine . Instead of adopting the government proposal, the center, SPD and left-wing liberals took the initiative in the Reichstag and reformed the constitution in key points. In contrast, economic policy remained agriculture-friendly. In social policy, however, there was movement. This included the Reich Insurance Code around 1911 , which to a certain extent completed the establishment of social insurance. This also includes the introduction of employee insurance. This new facility had the not unwelcome consequence that the social differences between white-collar workers and blue-collar workers were emphasized and institutionalized.

    Political developments after the Reichstag election of 1912

    If governing the empire was already extremely difficult before the 1912 Reichstag elections , this became even more difficult afterwards. The dissatisfaction of the voters with the fluctuating government policy ultimately led to considerable losses for the conservatives, the center, but also the liberal parties. The clear winners were the Social Democrats, who became the strongest group for the first time. The consequence 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 around the Pan-German Association or the German Wehrverein gained popularity. Together with agrarian and industrial interest groups, the cartel of the creative classes came into being 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. Despite all the cooperation, differences remained in the right-wing camp, for example between the defenders of rural interests and ethnic groups. On the other hand, after the elections of 1912, reform approaches became apparent. In the center, the agrarian wing lost its weight, while the bourgeoisie gained influence. As a result, the party broke its ties to the Conservatives and sought cooperation with the National Liberals. Both together represented a nationalist and arms-friendly policy, but also called for greater democratization of the empire and more rights for parliament. The left-wing liberals supported this and tried to build bridges with the social democrats. However, there was still great resistance from the Center and the National Liberals to cooperation with the SPD. Conversely, the reservations of the Social Democrats were also considerable.

    Against the backdrop of the new majority situation, the government's position had become even more difficult than it already was. The procedure described by the Chancellor as the "politics of the diagonals" did not follow a concept, but tried to react depending on the situation. Overall, there had been a blockade of domestic politics since 1912. This was particularly evident in social policy. The great miners' strike of 1912 was an expression of a renewed increase in labor disputes and, although it led to new anti-union considerations, it did not lead to further development of social policy. On the other hand, the government had hardly any problems with the implementation of the naval and defense policy. In 1912, both a reinforcement of the army and an amendment to the naval laws could be decided. On June 30, 1913, the bourgeois parties approved a new defense bill, which, in view of the foreign policy tensions, meant the greatest expansion of the German army. When it came to financing the new armaments expenditure, Parliament did not follow the government's ideas, but decided on a one-off property tax and a progressive property tax with the so-called military contribution . For the first time, the center, liberals and social democrats voted together. This cooperation also worked to a limited extent with the extension of parliamentary rights as a whole. For example, votes of confidence or no confidence were introduced. This instrument was used in connection with the Zabern affair in 1913, when the emperor, government and military leadership covered the illegal actions of soldiers against civilians in Alsace-Lorraine. Subsequently, the Reichstag expressed mistrust against the votes of the conservatives in the government. Whether there was a real chance for parliamentarization at the end of the pre-war period is controversial. However, the inability to act of the Reichstag on the one hand and the government on the other contributed to seeing a possible war 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 World War I , 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 violent protests from Serbia, supported by Russia. Germany clearly sided with the dual monarchy and exerted massive diplomatic pressure on Russia. The Bosnian crisis was a short-term success of the Central Powers , but had long-term negative 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 massive rearmament.

    Von Bülow, still incumbent Chancellor, also recognized the danger of such a risk policy and now steered a more cautious course. Bethmann Hollweg followed up on this by shifting foreign policy back more clearly from world politics to Europe. In addition, the new chancellor tried to regain the confidence of the other powers through greater predictability. In doing so, he relied on a course of détente 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 issue and, in the event of a possible war, to receive assurance of British neutrality. This did not happen because, on the one hand, the emperor and the public in Germany were hardly prepared to compromise on armament and, on the other hand, the willingness in Great Britain to jeopardize good relations with France and Russia was limited.

    Panther jump to Agadir

    Germany lost a large part of the trust it had just regained in connection with the second Morocco crisis in 1911, which the Reich deliberately triggered. The cause was the military advance of France, which contradicted the international agreements. Under the direction of the new Foreign Secretary Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter , the Reich leadership set a tough course. Global political ambitions played a role again. The empire was only superficially interested in the independence of Morocco. The actual goal was to obtain the cession of French possessions in French Equatorial Africa in return for the recognition of French supremacy in Morocco . On July 1, the gunboat SMS Panther , which was on its way home from Cameroon, anchored off Agadir , which is far south of the French operational area . The process, dubbed “ Panther's Leap to Agadir ” in the contemporary press , caused a sensation, especially in Great Britain. When France was not impressed by this and England sided with France, so that a European war threatened, the empire finally had to give in. In the Morocco-Congo Treaty , Germany accepted French supremacy in Morocco and received parts of French equatorial Africa as compensation, which were annexed to the German colony of Cameroon (" Old Cameroon ") as " New Cameroon" . This gave Cameroon a narrow access to the Congo . Ultimately, however, the outcome of the second Morocco crisis meant a diplomatic defeat for the German Empire. The brisk " gunboat diplomacy " had not led to success, France was awarded Morocco, which is economically much more valuable than the Central African regions. At the international conference, the German demands met with general rejection and were only supported by Austria-Hungary, so that the increasing isolation of Germany became clear.

    Balkan Wars

    The willingness to conflict remained high in public opinion and in the Reichstag, while at the same time criticism of the government grew from the General Staff. However, with the consolidation of the Anglo-French Entente , the possibilities of German foreign policy were limited. There was also a disagreement about the course within the German leadership. While Tirpitz, in agreement with the emperor, wanted to initiate a further expansion of the fleet, Bethmann Hollweg tried to prevent this out of concern for relations with Great Britain. This succeeded only to a limited extent and therefore discussions with the British Minister of War Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane , in Berlin at the beginning of 1912 remained inconclusive. As a result, the arms race between Great Britain and Germany continued, even if the two governments remained in talks. In fact, there were signs of a beginning understanding, for example on colonial issues. Above all, however, both worked closely together during the Balkan Wars . During these wars between the new Balkan states against the Ottoman Empire in 1912 and 1913, the already unstable equilibrium 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.

    However, there were considerable disagreements and leadership problems in the German leadership during the Balkan crisis. In December 1912, Wilhelm II convened the council of war on December 8, 1912 with high military personnel. The civil Reich leadership was not invited. It is true that at this meeting, as had long been assumed, a decision was not made to steer a major war according to plan. Nonetheless, it became increasingly clear that the military considered a European war to be inevitable and were considering a pre-emptive strike. One consequence of the discussion was the intention to arm the army on a large scale, as the Reichstag decided in a defense bill in 1913.

    First World War

    July crisis 1914

    The murder of the Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 by the Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip ( assassination attempt in Sarajevo ) triggered hectic diplomatic activity among the powers that be, which resulted in a European war. Naturally, the warring parties had different views on guilt for the war, which after 1918 led to a war guilt debate that lasted for decades .

    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 unconditional support for the empire. Bethmann Hollweg knew when he issued this "blank check" that there was a risk of a major European war. The main reason for this decision was the concern that Russia would be militarily superior in the foreseeable future and that England and France would move closer together. Therefore, the empire was now even more tied than before to the only remaining ally. In view of the deadlocked domestic political situation, there was also the desire to appease the critics, especially those of the right, with successes in foreign policy. 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 decided on a "calculated risk" course. She hoped to avoid war, but she couldn't rule it out either. Ultimately, however, Germany gave up control because it all came down to 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, they were increasingly preparing for war. For domestic political reasons, it was important to make Russia appear as the 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. According to the Schlieffen Plan of 1905, the German army marched into neutral Belgium. The aim was to bypass the fortifications on the Franco-German border and to eliminate the French armies in an encircling battle through a rapid advance . A decisive weakness of the plan was that it overestimated the development of weapons technology at the time and thus the possibility of waging war on the move. Fast motorized formations were not yet available, the defenders were able to bind the attacker in a trench war, which ultimately became a war of attrition. The hope that England would accept the violation of Belgian neutrality was also not fulfilled. Instead, the invasion led to Great Britain and the entire Empire entering the war against the Central Powers .

    Course of war

    On August 18, the major German offensive to encircle the Allied armies began, advancing very quickly to Brussels . On September 4th, the Germans managed to cross the Marne . However, the advance on the western front was stopped by an Allied counter-offensive ( Marne battle ). After the defeat on the Marne, the German leadership tried to force a decision in Flanders . There it came to the nationalistically transfigured Battle of Langemarck . The war of movement then turned into a war of positions . The failure of the Schlieffen Plan meant that the Central Powers in the west, east and south had to wage war on multiple fronts. In the east, after the start of the war, the Russian army entered East Prussia unexpectedly early . The victory at Tannenberg at the end of August 1914 and further battles stopped the advance and established the political myth of the two generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff . Above all, the Austro-Hungarian army had a difficult position vis-à-vis Serbia and Russia at the beginning of the war. The first months of the war had shown that the forces were only sufficient to hope for a decisive victory on a front.

    For various reasons, the Eastern Front became more important than the Western Front in 1915. The German troops succeeded in saving Austria-Hungary from the impending collapse and establishing a land connection with the allied Ottoman Empire . The German offensive pushed the Russian troops back, Serbia was defeated after Bulgaria joined the Central Powers and Romania remained neutral. The offensive was then canceled. Another front arose in the south with the Italian declaration of war on May 23, 1915 against Austria-Hungary. Germany also supported its ally there with troops.

    Australian soldiers in the chateau forest near Ypres, 1917

    In 1916, the Western Front again became the focus of the German war effort. Given the trenches and fortifications, there were two options for action on either side. One was the breakthrough 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, no longer really relied on breaking the lines. Rather, the enemy army was to be worn down in a huge material battle with a calculated high number of victims. The battle cost over 600,000 dead and wounded on both sides. The Germans had not achieved their goal, rather the inhumanity of the battle also demoralized the German soldiers. In the counter-offensive on the Somme from July 1, 1916, the Allies also relied on a strategy of exhaustion. After enormous losses on both sides, this attempt was broken off at the end of November 1916.

    At the height of the fighting on the Western Front, it became increasingly clear that Germany was no longer able to cope with 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 the transition of Romania to the Allied camp. The situation forced the Germans to relocate strong units to the east again in order 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, the warfare began to radicalize in 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 the unrestricted submarine war was resumed against the will of the Chancellor under pressure from the army command, but also from the Reichstag and public opinion. The result was the United States' entry into the war on April 6, 1917 on the side of the Allies. In retrospect, this development was decisive for the war. However, the Americans could not perform massively until late summer 1918. In the west, a French offensive began on the Aisne in the spring of 1917 , as well as British offensives at Arras and from the end of July in Flanders . The attacks on the German western front, which were carried out at great expense, brought the Entente powers only small territorial gains with high losses.

    In the east, the Russian October Revolution in 1917 , which followed the February Revolution with the overthrow of the Tsar, initially changed in favor of the Central Powers. The new rulers wanted peace outside in order to enforce their rule inside. An armistice was signed in mid-December 1917 and a separate peace was then negotiated. The Soviet government's hope for a mild peace was not fulfilled; instead, the German side pushed through a dictated peace in the peace treaty 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 war opponents, now with the support of American troops. From the summer of 1918, more and more German soldiers were taken prisoner by the Allies.

    Internal development during the war

    Social and Economic Development

    Economically, the conversion of production to the war economy began after the start of the war. After a short period of high unemployment, the high number of drafts soon led to a labor shortage. The companies tried to counteract this by deploying prisoners of war and by increasing the number of women employed. As the war continued, the lack of food imports and the lack of agricultural labor had a negative impact on the supply situation for the population. The result was considerable price increases and supply shortages. It was only inadequately possible to master this through management measures.

    Keepsake and national enthusiasm

    The domestic political problems of the empire moved into the background with the mobilization. The catchphrase invented by the Chancellor for the Kaiser, “I don't know any parties anymore, I only know Germans”, also 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 pensive voices, but ultimately the critics of the system rarely refused to show national solidarity. Even during the July crisis, the social democracy had successfully organized mass demonstrations against a possible impending war and sought cooperation with other international parties , but when the fatherland was to be protected against the “tsarist reaction”, the mood changed. The determined opponents of the war and class fighters, such as Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were isolated, while reformists such as Eduard David or Ludwig Frank were able to convince the Reichstag faction not only to wait but also to approve 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 social consensus, especially since it was generally expected that a war would only last a few weeks. The general commission of the free trade unions refrained from labor disputes for the duration of the war and the Reichstag decided to postpone all elections until the end of the war.

    By imposing martial law, executive power was passed to the commanding generals of the military districts. These were de jure subordinate to the emperor, but the emperor was unable and unable to control and coordinate the total of 24 military commanders. Wilhelm II, who was mostly in the main headquarters after the start of the war , was completely overwhelmed by the situation, hardly played a political role and lost authority. Instead, the Chief of the General Staff and the Quartermaster General, acting as his deputy, developed into independent, domestically important centers of power.

    The initial military successes and later the euphemistic censorship of the press led to high expectations of victory in the ultra-nationalist circles but also in the broad bourgeoisie. This led to sometimes extreme war objectives . Matthias Erzberger started with a memorandum dated September 2, 1914. He called for annexations in the west and in the east, the permanent domination of Belgium and the creation of German-friendly satellite states on the territory of Russia. The Chancellor's September program also envisaged the cession of territories in the West, the creation of a Central European economic area dominated by Germany and a large Central African colonial empire. A memorandum of the large economic associations from 1915 went even further. This provided for further acquisitions and 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, in particular for 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 wiggle despite the truce. This raised doubts about the chancellor's sincerity on both the right and the left.

    In the SPD, criticism came to light as early as December 1914, when Karl Liebknecht was initially the only member of the Reichstag to vote against further war credits. Otto Rühle joined him in March 1915 . This gradually developed into an (intra-party) opposition, which one year later already comprised 20 MPs. Liebknecht and Rühle left the parliamentary group and on March 24, 1916 the other dissenters were also expelled. From then on, these formed the so-called “ Social Democratic Working Group ”, which initially remained an internal party opposition.

    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 criticism from the right, supported by heavy industry, of the Reich Chancellor's attitude. Since 1915 these have been vehemently calling for the expansion of the submarine war against the British trade blockade. The Chancellor hoped to benefit from their popularity by replacing the less successful 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 pleaded for the resumption of unlimited submarine warfare and advocated territorial annexations. In parliament, too, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg increasingly lost support. It is true that the majority backed the Supreme Army Command (OHL) without a preliminary decision on a disguised military dictatorship having been made. 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 were postponed. With an imperial decree of November 4, 1916, the committee was upgraded to a main committee and has met almost permanently since then. The mobilization of all available labor required by the OHL for the war-important production in the form of the so-called auxiliary service law should also take place in coordination with parliament and the associations. While the OHL envisaged militarization of the entire population, the civil government of the Reich had achieved a restriction to a general duty to work. Parliament also pushed through the establishment of workers' committees in the factories concerned. In addition, unification offices with equal representation were set up by employers and employees.

    Peace resolution and domestic political radicalization

    Still, the power of the OHL was considerable. She succeeded in enforcing unlimited submarine warfare against the civilian imperial leadership . In the meantime, the blockade, the switch to production essential to the war effort, transport difficulties and other reasons had led to a social hardship that had been unknown since the early industrial period, including acute food shortages (" turnip winter " 1916/1917) and hunger riots. This also increased the political pressure. The left-wing liberals seized the opportunity in March 1917 to push for a parliamentarization of the Reich. This was joined by Stresemann for the National Liberal Party , Philipp Scheidemann on behalf of the SPD and the center. Bethmann Hollweg tried to adapt to the new situation. However, in his “Easter Message” of April 7, 1917, the emperor followed him only partially. Mass strikes began among the war-weary working-class population, 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 took the initiative from the center for a peace resolution of the Reichstag, which arose in discussions between representatives of the left and national liberals, the center and the SPD. The intergroup committee of left-wing liberals, the SPD and the center emerged from these meetings . Because of the mediating attitude of the Chancellor, the OHL began to turn against Bethmann Hollweg and to 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 counter the dictatorial efforts of the OHL. Since the military spoke out against it, the peace resolution of the Reichstag had just as little practical significance as the Pope's peace initiative of 1917 . The initiative of the Reichstag, which spoke out in favor of a mutual agreement without annexations, however, led to the formation of a new collection 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 support of the authorities for the Fatherland Party also cost the Reich Chancellor the confidence of Parliament. His successor was the former Bavarian Prime Minister Georg von Hertling (1843-1919). Under pressure from the parties, the latter had to make progress liberal Friedrich von Payer Vice Chancellor and commit himself to a program of the Reichstag. Hertling, however, remained an opponent of the parliamentarization of the Reich and avoided confrontations with the OHL. After the October Revolution, this enforced the military occupation of further areas in the east . In doing so, the military leadership also thwarted any possibility of reaching a mutual agreement with the opponents in the West.

    October reforms and the end of the monarchy in 1918

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

    After all, the alliance of the MSPD, left-wing liberals and the center remained as an antipole to the OHL. However, there was significant conflict between the parties. When, at the end of January 1918, hundreds of thousands of workers struck 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 aroused considerable criticism from the bourgeois parties. When, after the breakthrough of the Allies at Amiens on August 8, 1918, it became increasingly clear that the war would be lost, the parliamentary majority ultimately overthrew Hertling with the consent 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 forestall a revolution. As early as August 14, 1918, the OHL had classified the military situation as hopeless and on September 29th demanded that an armistice be drawn up. This should be done by a parliamentary government in order to be able to assign responsibility for the defeat to the parties. In view of this pressure from all sides, the emperor could only agree. A coalition was then formed from the MSPD, the Progressive People's Party and the Center, and Prince Max von Baden as Chancellor of the Reich. Even before the official appointment, the OHL enforced that the new government should apply to President Woodrow Wilson for a ceasefire immediately after taking office , in order to be able to save the army that was about to collapse. When the OHL withdrew at the end of October, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Ludendorff, while Hindenburg remained in office. On October 26, 1918, the Reichstag officially implemented the parliamentarization of the Reich through laws ( October reform ). On October 15, the Prussian House of Representatives had decided to end the three-class voting system.

    The reforms came too late to be able to save the empire. The naval order of October 24, 1918 to leave the fleet against the superior Royal Navy triggered a sailors' 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 . The revolution also hit Berlin on November 9th , where Chancellor Max von Baden, worried about a radical political upheaval, announced the emperor's abdication and transferred the chancellorship to the chairman of the SPD , Friedrich Ebert . In the afternoon of the same day, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the German Republic. Karl Liebknecht from the Spartakusbund proclaimed the Free Socialist Republic of Germany. Confidants urged the emperor to abdicate in order to defuse the situation and possibly save the monarchy. Wilhelm II, however, delayed this step. On November 10th he went into exile in the Netherlands . Most of the other German princes abdicated voluntarily. The last monarchical sub-state was the Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen with the royal seat of Sondershausen , whose Prince Günther Victor abdicated on November 25, 1918. The formal declaration of abdication of the former emperor Wilhelm II took place on November 28, 1918, just under three weeks after it was announced by Philipp Scheidemann.

    The Empire in Historiography

    Since its inception, the history of the empire has repeatedly been interpreted differently, not least against the background of the respective political situation. After the founding of the new empire, a Prussian-small German line of interpretation initially dominated. As early as 1871, the Basel historian Jacob Burckhardt feared that “the entire world history of Adam will be marked out in victory German and oriented towards 1870 to 1871.” In addition, the influential historians Heinrich von Sybel and Heinrich von Treitschke have seen previous German history approaching unification and emphasize the role of Prussia. In contrast to Johann Gustav Droysen , for example , the liberal-democratic hopes of these national-liberal interpreters took a back seat. Instead, the power of the nation state and the genius of Bismarck were highlighted. This interpretation remained at its core during the Wilhelmine Empire.

    Heinrich von Sybel

    Especially during the First World War, historians asserted the existence of a German special route , in which the Kaiserreich was described as a better alternative to both democracy and capitalism in the West and to the autocratic rule of the Tsar. Turned negatively, for example with references to German militarism and excessive nationalism , the special path thesis was accepted by the Allies.

    It was not until the Weimar Republic that the empire could be viewed as a closed 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 at the center. In addition to a dominant direction that spoke out against Germany's war guilt and continued to evaluate the empire positively, there was a minority who, like Johannes Ziekursch or Eckart Kehr , dealt critically with the empire. During the Third Reich had been confronted with a more traditional national conservative interpretation of the time since 1871. There were other hand by the funded by the regime Volkstumsgeschichte criticism of the "unfinished kingdom." A compromise interpretation of Erich Marcks interpreted the Bismarckian Empire as a first stage of nation-building that Adolf Hitler completed.

    After the Second World War , a line of continuity from Bismarck to Wilhelm II to Hitler was discussed. However, a rather conservative view initially dominated. Theodor Schieder cautiously admitted certain deficits of the state when he spoke of the fact that the empire as a nation state, as a constitutional state and as a cultural state would have been incomplete. Even Gerhard Ritter recognized some structural problems, such as the containment of militarism generally remained however but a more conservative lineage committed. Last but not least, the representations of the post-war period tried to embed Germany in a pan-European context and thus to reject the Sonderweg thesis. After the war, it was also discussed to what extent the small German solution of 1866 was inevitable.

    The German Empire experienced its boom as a research subject from the 1960s, when the war guilt debate came to the fore again with the Fischer controversy . The focus was not only on the people involved, but also - following on from the historical and scientific forerunners from the 1920s - on the empire's structural deficits. In the 1970s and early 1980s, this debate turned into the (negative) Sonderweg thesis, which the Bielefeld School took up again. Not least because of the compact study of the empire by Hans-Ulrich Wehler (1973), further questions emerged in the 1970s, for example about the establishment of the Inner Empire , Bismarck's colonial policy and finally about the modernity of the Wilhelmine Empire. Last but not least, a generation change in historical studies 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, westernized, intellectual socialization behind them than their predecessors.

    In the 1980s, the economy of research on the empire slowed down significantly. While the share of articles on the German Empire in the historical magazine from 1966–1977 was 27%, between 1986 and 1990 it fell to below 10%. In the magazine Geschichte und Gesellschaft between 1975 and 1979 the proportion was a third, between 1995 and 1999 it was only a quarter. Even the German reunification did not arouse increased interest in the subject. The debates about the Nazi era and developments after the Second World War became more important for social self-image. In the meantime, the German Empire has become a “normal” research area alongside numerous others, which, unlike in the 1960–1980s, no longer causes broad scientific or even social controversy. In doing so, however, the methodological approaches and subjects dealt with have expanded. In the 1990s, for example, there was a renewed interest in questions of political and cultural history. Comparative research, for example on the nobility and bourgeoisie, became more and more important, but research on nationalism was also intensified. In some cases, for example, in bourgeoisie research, earlier views were relativized. The regional differences in the empire and research into the “socio-moral milieus” also became increasingly important. Overall, unlike in the 1970s, the Kaiserreich plays a lesser role as the 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. In place of the Sonderweg theses, there was a tendency towards meaningful embedding in the pan-European context.

    See also


    Overview representations

    Bismarck era

    • Beate Althammer: The Bismarck Empire 1871-1890. 2nd, updated edition Paderborn 2017 (= seminar book history, utb volume no.2995)
    • Christoph Jahr: blood and iron. How Prussia forced 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 . Propylaen-Verlag, Berlin 1993 (= Propylaen 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

    Individual evidence

    1. On the controversy about the Reich as a constitutional monarchy, see Hans-Peter Ullmann , Politik im Deutschen Kaiserreich 1871–1918 , Munich 2005, pp. 65 f.
    2. Michael Kotulla : German constitutional history. From the Old Reich to Weimar (1495 to 1934). Springer, 2008, p. 522 .
    3. See Tim Ostermann , The constitutional position of the German emperor after the establishment of the empire 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'schen series, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-406-42106-8 , p. 50 ; Matthias Schwengelbeck: The Politics of the Ceremonial. Tribute celebrations in the long 19th century . Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2007, ISBN 978-3-593-38336-1 , p. 307 .
    4. Margaret Anderson, Sibylle Hirschfeld (trans.): Apprenticeship years of democracy - elections and political culture in the German Empire . Stuttgart 2009; Ute Planert: How capable of reform was the German Empire? A West European comparison from a gender historical perspective , in: Sven Oliver Müller / Cornelius Torp (eds.): The German Empire in the Controversy. Göttingen 2009, pp. 165-184; Hedwig Richter : The reform time around 1900 , in: LeMO, ed. from the German Historical Museum Berlin, 2019.
    5. In the English-speaking world, the term “Great War” has been retained 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. ^ Letter from Bismarck to Ludwig II of Bavaria (November 27, 1870) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    8. ^ Law on the Constitution of the German Empire of April 16, 1871.
    9. ↑ Register of municipalities in Germany 1900 .
    10. ^ Hubert Kiesewetter : Industrial Revolution in Germany. Regions as growth engines. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-515-08613-7 , p. 126.
    11. Statistical Yearbook for the German Reich 1911 .
    12. Hans-Dietrich Schultz: Germany's “natural” borders. “Central position” and “Central Europe” in the discussion of geographers since the beginning of the 19th century. In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 15 (1989), pp. 248–281; ders .: Country - People - State. The geographical share in the 'invention' of the nation. In: History in Science and Education 51 (2000), pp. 4–16.
    13. Hans-Dietrich Schultz: “What is the German Fatherland?” Geography and nation-state before the First World War. In: Geographische Rundschau 47 (1995), pp. 492-497.
    14. On the geopolitical aspect of the historians' dispute of the 1980s, Imanuel Geiss : Geography and center as historical categories. Notes on one aspect of the 'historians' dispute. In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft 10 (1991), pp. 979-994.
    15. Eric Hobsbawm : Mass-Producing Traditions. Europe, 1870-1914. In: Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger (Ed.): The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983, pp. 263-307, here p. 277, footnote 26 .
    16. Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 36, in detail on the role of the Federal Council: Nipperdey, Machtstaat vor der Demokratie , pp. 88–96.
    17. ^ Nipperdey, Power State before Democracy , pp. 98-102.
    18. ^ Nipperdey, Power State before Democracy , pp. 102-108.
    19. ^ Wehler, Gesellschaftgeschichte , Vol. 3, pp. 857–864.
    20. Bernhard von Bülow coined the term in a letter to Count Eulenburg in 1896, see also, Politische Korrespondenz (edited by John Röhl ), Vol. 3, p. 1714 (No. 1245).
    21. See John Röhl , Kaiser, Hof und Staat. Wilhelm II and German Politics , Munich 1988, as well as Wehler, Gesellschaftgeschichte Vol. 3 , pp. 854–857, 1016–1020; summarized for discussion by Frie, Kaiserreich , pp. 69–80.
    22. ^ Wehler, Gesellschaftgeschichte , Vol. 3, pp. 877 f.
    23. ^ Secret decree on the use of the military in civil unrest (1907) (on germanhistorydocs).
    24. ^ Wilhelm II. On the "nobility of convictions" in the officer corps (on germanhistorydocs ).
    25. ^ On the ideology of the officer corps (on germanhistorydocs).
    26. ^ Wilhelm I. on the ethos of the Prussian officers (on germanhistorydocs).
    27. Wehler, Gesellschaftgeschichte Vol. 3, pp. 873–885, 1109–1138; Nipperdey, Machtstaat , pp. 230–238.
    28. John Munro: German banking and commercial organization ( Memento from January 7, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (English; PDF; 215 kB).
    29. Note: before the railway was built, these goods were primarily transported by ship; The often low water levels in the Oder, Vistula or Warta rivers and their freezing in the winter months were a hindrance.
    30. Gerd Hohorst, Jürgen Kocka, Gerhard A. Ritter: Sozialgeschichtliches Arbeitsbuch Vol. 2: Materials for Statistics of the Empire 1870-1914 . Munich 1978, p. 66.
    31. This fundamentally Gerhard A. Ritter , Klaus Tenfelde : Workers at the German 1871-1914 Empire . Bonn 1992, ISBN 3-8012-0168-6 .
    32. ↑ on this Lüke, especially pp. 81-134 and 278-296.
    33. ^ So Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871–1918 , pp. 47–49.
    34. On the denominations in detail: Nipperdey: Arbeitswelt und Bürgergeist , pp. 428–531; Wehler: History of Society Vol. 3 , pp. 1171–1190.
    35. Figures for 1995, from: Prof. AL Hickmann's Geographical-Statistical Pocket Atlas of the German Reich (Part One), Verlag G. Freytag & Berndt, Leipzig / Vienna, 2nd edition 1896, plate No. 22.
    36. Numbers quoted from J. Schmidt-Liebich (Ed.): Deutsche Geschichte in Daten, Volume 2: 1770–1918 , Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981, ISBN 3-423-03195-6 , p. 314.
    37. On 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.
    38. Quoted from Volker Ullrich: The nervous great power. II.4: The spread of anti-Semitism. 2nd edition 1997.
    39. In 1909 about 10% of the private lecturers were of Jewish descent, but only 7% of the extraordinary and 2% of the full professorships. According to Ernest Hamburger : Jews in public life in Germany - members of government, civil servants and parliamentarians in the monarchical period 1848–1918. Chapter Personnel Policy from the Beginning of the Third Emancipation Period to 1914 . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 1968.
    40. Quoted from Hamburger, chapter Jews in government and administration .
    41. Dagmar Bussiek: “With God for King and Fatherland!” Die Neue Preussische Zeitung (Kreuzzeitung) 1848-1892. Lit, Münster 2002.
    42. ^ 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 .
    43. Foreign-language minorities in the German Empire . Retrieved January 20, 2010.
    44. Germany, section “Non-German population” . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 4, Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1885–1892, p. 817.
    45. Cf. fundamentally Martina G. Lüke: Between Tradition and Awakening. German lessons and reading books in the German Empire . Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-631-56408-0 .
    46. Wehler: Social History Vol. 3 , pp. 961–965; Nipperdey: Power State Before Democracy , pp. 266–285.
    47. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 129.
    48. Angelika Schaser : Opportunities for women to participate in politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries before women were granted the right to vote in Germany in 1918, in: Digitales Deutsches Frauenarchiv, published online on September 13, 2018.
    49. ^ Historical exhibition of the German Bundestag. Results of the Reichstag elections from 1871 to 1912. In: German Bundestag. German Bundestag, p. 2 , accessed on December 12, 2020 .
    50. ^ Results of the Reichstag elections from 1871–1912. In: Federal Agency for Civic Education. Federal Agency for Civic Education, accessed on December 13, 2020 (results of the Reichstag elections from 1884–1912).
    51. ^ 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 .
    52. 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 milieu formation see, for example, Ewald Frie: Das Deutsche Kaiserreich. Controversies about history , Darmstadt 2004, pp. 94–117.
    53. Memory of a Sedans celebration in the 1870s (on germanhistorydocs) and, regarding the education of young people, Lüke, pp. 82 f., 216–292 and 362 ff.
    54. Nipperdey: power state , pp 250-266; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , pp. 214–246.
    55. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 51 f., 58; Loth: Kaiserreich , p. 44.
    56. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 52–54; Loth: Kaiserreich , p. 46 f.
    57. Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 51.
    58. Winkler, Weg nach Westen , Vol. 1, p. 222; Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 51.
    59. Section 130 a of the Criminal Code (so-called pulpit paragraph) of December 10, 1871 .
    60. Law on the Prohibition of the Jesuit Order of July 4, 1872 .
    61. ^ Law on the Supervision of Education (March 11, 1872) .
    62. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 55–57; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , vol. 1., p. 224 f.
    63. Loth, Kaiserreich , p. 49.
    64. ^ Letter excerpt to Eduard Lasker from Karl Biedermann on the exceptional laws of 1872 .
    65. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 58 f .; Nipperdey, Machtstaat , p. 361; Loth. Empire , p. 49.
    66. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 60–68; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , p. 227.
    67. ^ Max von Forckenbeck to Franz von Stauffenberg on the necessity of a national liberal opposition (January 19, 1879) (on germanhistorydocs).
    68. ^ Declaration by the liberal secessionists (August 30, 1880) (on germanhistorydocs).
    69. Frie, Kaiserreich , pp. 32–38.
    70. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 70.
    71. On the swing of the Liberals about Winkler, Weg nach Westen , p. 240; Eduard Stephani to Rudolf von Bennigsen on national liberal motives for supporting Bismarck (July 14, 1878) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    72. August Bebel condemns the proposed anti-socialist legislation in the Reichstag (September 16, 1878) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    73. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 70–72; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , pp. 240–242.
    74. Winkler: Weg nach Westen , p. 238 f.
    75. Winkler: Weg nach Westen , pp. 242–244; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 73–76.
    76. On the emergence of Bismarck's social insurance, see the collection of sources on the history of German social policy 1867 to 1914 , Section I: From the time when the Empire was founded to the Imperial Social Message (1867–1881) , Volumes 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, Part 1 and 2; Volume 5 and 6.
    77. Nipperdey, Arbeitswelt und Bürgergeist , p. 341 ff .; Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 180 f.
    78. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The German Empire 1871-1918. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1977, p. 147 f.
    79. Ullmann, pp. 85-88.
    80. Numbers from Tormin: History of German Parties , p. 282 f.Notes: Social Democrats include the SDAP and the ADAV until 1874, minorities include: Welfen, Poles, Danes, Alsace-Lorraine, and others until 1878 (Old- ) Liberal, German People's Party, 1881 and 1884 only German People's Party, 1887 also 1 Abg. of the Christian Social Party and 2 other Abg.
    81. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 89–91.
    82. Quoted from Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 78.
    83. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 76–79.
    84. ^ Aims of the German colonial society (on germanhistorydocs).
    85. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 80–82.
    86. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 83, 85.
    87. Winkler, Weg nach Westen , p. 257.
    88. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 158.
    89. Winkler, Weg nach Westen , p. 259 f .; Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 91–93.
    90. Hans Hermann Freiherr von Berlepsch, "Why do we run social reform" (1903) (on germanhistory docs).
    91. ^ Program of the BdL (on germanhistorydocs ).
    92. Tivoli Program of the German Conservative Party (1892) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    93. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , pp. 138–145.
    94. Prison template (on germanhistorydocs)
    95. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 145–147; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , p. 269 f.
    96. Winkler: Weg nach Westen , pp. 270–272; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 147–149.
    97. The Fleet and German-English Relations: Letter from Rear Admiral Tirpitz to Admiral von Stosch (February 13, 1896) (on germanhistorydocs).
    98. ^ Tasks and activities of the news office (on germanhistorydocs).
    99. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 150 f .; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , pp. 272–274.
    100. ^ Treaty between Germany and England on the colonies and Heligoland (July 1, 1890) (on germanhistorydocs).
    101. Termination of the reinsurance contract (on germanhistorydocs ).
    102. von Bülows on the goals of foreign policy (1899) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    103. Bernhard von Bülow on Germany's "Place in the Sun" (1897) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    104. ^ Wilhelm II .: Speech of the Huns (on germanhistorydocs ).
    105. ^ Lease agreement between China and the German Empire (March 6, 1898) (on germanhistorydocs).
    106. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 154-163; Winkler: Weg nach Westen , pp. 274–277.
    107. Bernhard von Bülow dissolves the Reichstag due to the colonial issue (December 13, 1906) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    108. Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 115–123; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 163–167.
    109. "Sylvesterbrief" von Bülows (1906) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    110. Figures from Loth: Kaiserreich , p. 236. The left-wing liberals include the German-Frisian Party , from 1893 Liberal People's Party and Liberal Association , from 1910 Progressive People's Party .
    111. ^ Daily Telegraph affair (on germanhistorydocs ).
    112. ^ Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 123-131; Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 167–172.
    113. Ullmann, Kaiserreich pp. 204–206.
    114. ^ Report on the constitutional deliberations of the Reichstag Commission (on germanhistorydocs).
    115. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 206 f.
    116. ^ Chronicle 1913. Deutsches Historisches Museum , accessed on December 22, 2012 .
    117. Parliament debate Saverne Affair (on germanhistorydocs).
    118. Ullmann, Kaiserreich , p. 210 f.
    119. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 212-214.
    120. Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter on his foreign policy goals (1911) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    121. See on this Hans H. Hildebrand, Albert Röhr, Hans-Otto Steinmetz: Ship biographies from Lützow to 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.)
    122. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , p. 214 f.
    123. General Bernardi: The inevitability of the war (1912) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    124. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 216-219.
    125. ^ The "blank check": Count Ladislaus von Szögyény-Marich (Berlin) to Count Leopold von Berchtold (July 5, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    126. Intervention of the army on the occasion of the July crisis: Helmuth JL von Moltke to Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (July 29, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ) .
    127. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 219-227.
    128. Ullmann: Kaiserreich , pp. 228-234.
    129. Employment development men and women .
    130. ↑ Price increases 1913–1920 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    131. Overview of the principles of rationalization (on germanhistorydocs ).
    132. ↑ Despite all the criticism still fundamental: Jürgen Kocka: Klassengesellschaft im Krieg. German social history 1914–1918 . Göttingen 1978.
    133. The Kaiser speaks from the balcony of the royal palace (August 1, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    134. ^ The socialists support the war (August 4, 1914) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    135. Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 142–144.
    136. Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 144–147.
    137. The Hindenburg Plan (1916) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    138. ^ Auxiliary Service Act (December 1916) (on germanhistorydocs ) .
    139. Loth, pp. 147-149.
    140. Admiral von Holtzendorff on the objectives of unrestricted submarine warfare (on germanhistorydocs ).
    141. ^ Public mood March 1917 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    142. ^ Easter message from Wilhelm II April 1917 .
    143. USPD baselines (April 1917) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    144. Erich Ludendorff against Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (July 1917) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    145. Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 149–157.
    146. Fatherland Party 1917 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    147. Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 157-160.
    148. Quoted from Michalka and Niedhart (eds.): Deutsche Geschichte 1918–1933 , pp. 20 f.
    149. January Strikes 1918 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    150. Demands for parliamentarization October 1917 (on germanhistorydocs ).
    151. Erich Ludendorff admits the defeat: from the diary notes of Albrecht von Thaer (October 1, 1918) (on germanhistorydocs ).
    152. Loth: Kaiserreich , pp. 162–166.
    153. Quotation from Frie: Deutsches Kaiserreich , p. 3.
    154. Frie, German Empire , p. 3 f.
    155. ^ Frie: German Empire , p. 5.
    156. ^ Frie, German Empire , p. 119.
    157. Frie, German Empire , p. 5 f.
    158. ^ Loth: Kaiserreich , p. 205, Frie: Deutsches Kaiserreich , p. 6 f.
    159. ^ Loth: Kaiserreich , p. 204; Frie: German Empire , p. 10, p. 119.
    160. ^ Frie, German Empire , pp. 8-10, p. 120.
    161. ^ Frie: German Empire , p. 119 f.
    162. ^ 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 the Controversy - Problems and Perspectives .
    This article was added to the list of excellent articles on May 22, 2007 in this version .