German Empire

German Empire
Deutsches Reich
Gott mit uns
"God with us"
Germany on the eve of World War I, in 1914
States of the German Empire (Prussia shown in blue)
Capital Berlin
52°31′N 13°24′E / 52.517°N 13.400°E / 52.517; 13.400Coordinates: 52°31′N 13°24′E / 52.517°N 13.400°E / 52.517; 13.400
Languages Official:
Religion Whitaker's data for 1890[1]
62.8% Protestant (Lutheran, Reformed, Prussian United)
Government Federal semi-constitutional monarchy
(until August 1916)
Federal semi-constitutional monarchy under a military dictatorship
(August 1916 to October 1918)
Federal parliamentary semi-constitutional monarchy under a military dictatorship
(October 1918 to November 1918)
 •  1871–1888 Wilhelm I
 •  1888 Frederick III
 •  1888–1918 Wilhelm II
 •  1871–1890 Otto von Bismarck (first)
 •  1918 Max von Baden (last)
Legislature Reichstag
 •  Federal Council Bundesrat
Historical era New Imperialism/First World War
 •  Unification 18 January 1871
 •  Constitution adopted 16 April 1871
 •  First World War 28 July 1914
 •  German Revolution 3 November 1918
 •  Armistice declared 11 November 1918
 •  Abdication of Wilhelm II[2] 28 November 1918
 •  Treaty of Versailles 28 June 1919
 •  1900 540,857.54 km2 (208,826.26 sq mi)
 •  1871 est. 40,050,792 
 •  1900 est. 52,279,915 
     Density 97/km2 (250/sq mi)
 •  1910 est. 64,925,993 
Currency Vereinsthaler,
South German gulden, Bremen thaler,
Hamburg mark,
French franc,
(until 1873, together)
German gold mark,
German Papiermark
Preceded by
Succeeded by
North German Confederation
Kingdom of Bavaria
Kingdom of Württemberg
Grand Duchy of Baden
Grand Duchy of Hesse
Weimar Republic
Second Polish Republic
Saar Basin
Free City of Danzig
Republic of Lithuania
First Czechoslovak Republic
Today part of  Germany
Area and population not including colonial possessions
Area source:[3] Population source:[4][not in citation given]

The German Empire (German: Deutsches Kaiserreich, officially Deutsches Reich)[5][6][7][8] was the German nation state[9] that existed from the Unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.

It was founded in 1871 when Wilhelm I, King of Prussia from the Hohenzollern dynasty was proclaimed the German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Berlin became its capital with the Berlin Palace as the Emperor's official residence. Its constitution then entered into force, and Otto von Bismarck became the first Chancellor. As these events occurred, the Prussian-led North German Confederation and its southern German allies were still engaged in the Franco-Prussian War. The state was founded with the notable exclusion of Austria, and as such, represented the so-called Lesser German solution (Kleindeutsche Lösung).

The German Empire consisted of 26 constituent territories, most of them ruled by royal families. They included four kingdoms, six grand duchies, five duchies (six before 1876), seven principalities, three free Hanseatic cities, and one imperial territory. Although Prussia became one of several kingdoms in the new realm, it contained most of Germany's population and territory, thus remaining a powerhouse with the major say in imperial affairs. Its influence also helped define modern German culture.

After 1850, the states of Germany had rapidly become industrialized, with particular strengths in coal, iron (and later steel), chemicals, and railways. In 1871, Germany had a population of 41 million people; by 1913, this had increased to 68 million. A heavily rural collection of states in 1815, the now united Germany became predominantly urban.[10] During its 47 years of existence, the German Empire was an industrial, technological, and scientific giant, gaining more Nobel Prizes in science than any other country.[11] By 1900, Germany was the largest economy in Europe, surpassing the United Kingdom, as well as the second-largest in the world, behind only the United States.[12]

Until 1879, Otto von Bismarck's tenure was marked by relative liberalism, but it became more conservative afterwards. Broad reforms and the Kulturkampf marked his period in the office. Late in Bismarck's chancellorship and in spite of his personal opposition, Germany became involved in colonialism. Claiming much of the left-over territory that was yet unclaimed in the Scramble for Africa, it managed to build the third-largest colonial empire after the British and the French ones.[13] As a colonial state, it sometimes clashed with other European powers, especially the British Empire.

Germany became a great power, boasting a rapidly developing rail network, the world's strongest army, and a fast-growing industrial base.[14] In less than a decade, its navy became second only to Britain's Royal Navy. After the removal of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck by Wilhelm II in 1890, the Empire embarked on a bellicose new course that ultimately contributed to the outbreak of World War I. In addition, Bismarck's successors were incapable of maintaining their predecessor's complex, shifting, and overlapping alliances which had kept Germany from being diplomatically isolated. This period was marked by various factors influencing the Emperor's decisions, which were often perceived as contradictory or unpredictable by the public. In 1879, the German Empire consolidated the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary, followed by the Triple Alliance with Italy in 1882. It also retained strong diplomatic ties to the Ottoman Empire. When the great crisis of 1914 arrived, Italy left the alliance and the Ottoman Empire formally joined.

In the First World War, German plans to capture Paris quickly in the autumn of 1914 failed. The war on the Western Front became a stalemate. The Allied naval blockade caused severe shortages of food. Germany was repeatedly forced to send troops to bolster Austria-Hungary and Turkey on other fronts. However, Germany had great success on the Eastern Front; it occupied large Eastern territories following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 was designed to strangle the British, but it failed because of the use of a trans-Atlantic convoy system. However, the declaration, along with the Zimmermann Telegram, did bring the United States into the war. Meanwhile, German civilians and soldiers had become war-weary and radicalised by the Russian Revolution.

The high command under Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff increasingly controlled the country, as they gambled on one last offensive in spring 1918 before the Americans could arrive in force, using large numbers of troops, aeroplanes, and artillery withdrawn from the Eastern Front. This offensive failed, and by October, the German armies were in retreat, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire had collapsed, Bulgaria had surrendered, and the German people had lost faith in their political system. After at first attempting to retain control, causing massive uprisings, the Empire collapsed in the November 1918 Revolution with the abdications of the Emperor and all other ruling monarchs. This left a postwar federal republic to manage a devastated and unsatisfied populace.

  1. ^ Whitaker's Almanak, 1897, by Joseph Whitaker; p. 548
  2. ^ Statement of Abdication of Wilhelm II
  3. ^ "German Empire: administrative subdivision and municipalities, 1900 to 1910" (in German). Retrieved 25 April 2007. 
  4. ^ "Population statistics of the German Empire, 1871" (in German). Retrieved 25 April 2007. 
  5. ^ "German constitution of 1871" (in German). German Wikisource. 16 March 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Herbert Tuttle wrote in September 1881 that the term "Reich" does not literally connote an empire as has been commonly assumed by English-speaking people. The term "Kaiserreich" literally denotes an empire – particularly a hereditary empire led by an emperor, although "Reich" has been used in German to denote the Roman Empire because it had a weak hereditary tradition. In the case of the German Empire, the official name was Deutsches Reich, which is properly translated as "German Empire" because the official position of head of state in the constitution of the German Empire was officially a "presidency" of a confederation of German states led by the King of Prussia who would assume "the title of German Emperor" as referring to the German people, but was not emperor of Germany as in an emperor of a state. — "The German Empire." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. vol. 63, issue 376, pp. 591–603; here p. 593.[neutrality is disputed]
  7. ^ World Book, Inc. The World Book dictionary, Volume 1. World Book, Inc., 2003. p. 572. States that Deutsches Reich translates as "German Realm" and was a former official name of Germany.
  8. ^ Joseph Whitaker. Whitaker's almanack, 1991. J Whitaker & Sons, 1990. Pp. 765. Refers to the term Deutsches Reich being translated into English as "German Realm", up to and including the Nazi period.
  9. ^ Kitchen 2011, p. 108.
  10. ^ J. H. Clapham, The Economic Development of France and Germany 1815–1914 (1936)
  11. ^ "Nobel Prizes by Country – Evolution of National Science Nobel Prize Shares in the 20th Century, by Citizenship (Juergen Schmidhuber, 2010)". Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Azar Gat (2008). War in Human Civilization. Oxford University Press. p. 517. ISBN 978-0-19-923663-3. 
  13. ^ Diese deutschen Wörter kennt man noch in der Südsee, von Matthias Heine "Einst hatten die Deutschen das drittgrößte Kolonialreich[...]"
  14. ^ Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987)

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