Germany in 1914

Germany in 1914

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In 1862 Otto von Bismarck became President of Prussia. Over the next few years Bismarck helped to reorganize Germany under Prussia's leadership. In 1870 Bismarck ordered the Prussian Army into France. As a result of the Franco-Prussian War, France lost Alsace and Lorraine, Strasburg and the great fortress of Metz to Germany.

By 1880 Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had unified Germany into a federation of 22 central European kingdoms or principalities. The largest of these states was Prussia. The King of Prussia, Wilhelm II, was also the German Emperor (Kaiser). The kaiser was extremely powerful and controlled ministerial appointments, foreign policy and the armed forces. Wilhelm II was jealous of Otto von Bismarck, and in 1890 was able to force him from power.

Germany's empire was small compared to the British Empire. However in the 19th century Germany claimed three areas of Africa: German South-West Africa, the Cameroons & Togoland and German East Africa. Other territory controlled by Germany included Northern New Guinea, Samoa and the Chinese province of Shandong.

Germany's industrial development was the fastest in the world. Between 1880 and 1913 coal production had increased by 400 per cent. Other industries such as steel, chemicals, engineering and armaments had also grown rapidly. In a thirty year period Germany's international trade had quadrupled.

The German upper house, the Bundestrat, comprised of representatives from the states and cities. Its voting system gave Prussia an absolute veto over decision-making. Members of he lower-house, the Reichstag, were elected by universal manhood suffrage.

The German government believed the country might be attacked by either France in the west and Russia in the east. In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary agreed to form a Dual Alliance. This became the Triple Alliance when in 1882 it was expanded to include Italy. The three countries agreed to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia.

The Triple Alliance was renewed at five-yearly intervals. The formation of the Triple Entente in 1907 by Britain, France and Russia, reinforced the belief that they needed a military alliance.

Between 1870 and 1910 the population of Germany had increased from 24 million to 65 million. However, the 35 per cent still working in agriculture ensured that Germany could produce enough food for its people.

By the beginning of the twentieth century Germany was recognised as having the most efficient army in the world. Its structure included universal mass conscription for short-term military service followed by a longer period in reserve. In 1914 the regular German Army comprised 25 corps (700,000 men).

The German Navy was the second largest in the world in 1914. It had 17 dreadnoughts, 20 battleships, 5 battlecruisers, 7 modern light cruisers and 18 older cruisers. Germany also had 30 petrol-powered submarines and 10 diesel-powered U-boats, with 17 more under construction.

The German Army Air Service (GAAS) had been formed in 1912. Germany had been slow to see the potential of aircraft and the GAAS was considered to be inferior to the Aéronautique Militaire in France. In 1914 Germany had 246 aircraft and 11 airships.

Germany in 1914

Situated in Central Europe, the German Empire was one of the Central Powers in the First World War. The Empire had been established in 1871 following the unification of the German states under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Germany rapidly expanded its navy and army and in 1914 planned to defeat both France and Russia in a show of military strength. The strategy relied on a quick and decisive victory but the war on the western front soon became a stalemate. The allied blockade of German ports began to result in shortages of food. The arrival of American troops in 1917 compounded Germany’s difficulties.

Germany wins WW1 in 1914

This has been some great input, thanks everybody. I'm going to continue to ask leading questions in hopes of getting more opinions.

You're Germany. You just walloped the French like it was no big deal. How would a brilliant tactician win the rest of the war at this point? Obviously you would have to make nice with Britain and Belgium or risk a protracted naval battle. So what happens, annex a little bit of France, offer Belgium compensation and sign a treaty with the British, all while keeping the Russians at bay? It might have been a brief colonial style war on the western front if the chance to dig in and make it a war of attrition was bypassed. Then let another ten or fifteen years of alternate history pass where there is no war, no German Revolution, no Weimar Republic, and an entirely different dictator rising to power, and see where it goes?


David S Poepoe

The only way, from my understanding of things, for Germany to have won WWI and taken France, is this:

-The Willy-Nicky telegrams actually manage to avert conflict between Germany and Russia, even if Russia decides to mobilize against the Austrians over Serbia.
-The Schleiffen Plan goes as it should have. This means that the Germans are more aggressive in Liege, they invest Antwerp to busy the Belgians, but not to the extent they did OTL. Also, when the armies move closer to Paris, the wide left hook is taken as necessary to strike at Paris from the south, instead of the tight hook used to bring about the battle on the Marne.


Bill Garvin

I think that's absolutely correct the problem with the Schlieffen plan was that it demanded a level of operational mobility that an infantry army simply didn't have. Remember, in those days, infantry armies were just that, they walked around, using horses to pull guns and supply wagons. In the original memoranda outlining the plan, Schlieffen himself had considered the likelyhood of success to be slim, with three main problems unsolved - how to neutralise the very strong fortifications and garrison of Paris, the inability of the transport network to take the number of troops his plan required, and an unsolvable shortage of troops even after full mobilisation. IIRC the main problem was that the Belgian road network was incapable of handling a movement of this size leaving the plan with the position that the plan needed more troops to be completed but the roads couldn't even handle the ones originally assigned. This leads to speculation that the subsequent watering down of the Schlieffen Plan was really intended to bring it within the realms of the troop movements that were actually possible.

Also, the Schlieffen Plan was conceived at a time when Russia was extremely weak after the Russo-Japanese War so by 1914 when Russia had largely recovered, many of its elements were obsolete. So, the idea of a rapid Schlieffen Plan victory isn't really on.

The best way to get a rapid end to WW1 is to somehow make sure Russia doesn't invade East Prussia - preferably Russia stays neutral but a plausible way of doing that is hard to conceive - and that France caves in after losing most of the North East. Again, thinking of a rationale for that defies plausibility. Anyway, don't you think that the "Germany becomes a superpower" meme has been done to death?

Bill Garvin


Sorry about going off-topic:

I have been planning to look into pre-WW I military spending for some time, but I only did a quick google some time ago .

I am esp. interested in Japan, AH and Russia. Data on Italy and the US would be a bonus.

A more detailed source/compilation would be appreciated.

Bill Garvin

This is a very valuable point the Germasn had made themselves very unpopular before the war begun and rapidly made themselves a lot more so, For example

By the way, after an international effort to rebuild the library and its collection, in 1940, the Germans repeated the atrocity and burned the library and its contents to ashes again.

The reason why atrocity propaganda in 1914 was so widely accepted was that the Germans seem to have gone out of their way to provide validation for said propaganda. I'd suggest that the degree of hatred you refer to would have made any compromise peace - had it even been possible in the first place given German intransigence - impossible. What that would mean for a Germany that survived WW1 is predictable and has no good outcome.


The common misconception is think that averting the crisis of the Battle of the Marne was averted, then the Schlieffen Plan works. There is an ancillary error that assumes the primary goal of the Schlieffen Plan was to take Paris. Actually destroying most of the French Army was primary---taking Paris was secondary. That plan was going to fail eventually for a number of reasons not the least of which was logistics.

There is also a complementary misconception that all the Russians needed to do was to avoid Tannenberg and lo and behold they would've been in Berlin and game over.


Sorry about going off-topic:

I have been planning to look into pre-WW I military spending for some time, but I only did a quick google some time ago .

I am esp. interested in Japan, AH and Russia. Data on Italy and the US would be a bonus.

A more detailed source/compilation would be appreciated.

The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War by David G. Herrmann answers most of those questions.


Bill, the RN is plenty powerful enough to contain the HSF unless a change of geography forces them to split their forces. If the Germans held Cap Griz Nez they could create a safe coastal shipping lane by using guns and mines so that their own warships could transit into the Channel. Light warships could attack through and cross Channel shipping that came within range, and could scuttle back to the safety of the minefeilds and coastal guns. They did this on a limited scale IOTL from the forward bases in Belgium.

Where would the RN get the forces to cover this sudden threat, stripping cruisers and desrtoyers from the GF? And what about the possibility of a major warship or three slipping into the Channel, would the GF be weakened to cover this? How many ships can the GF lose before it becomes vulnerable to an undiminished HSF?

David S Poepoe

Bill, the RN is plenty powerful enough to contain the HSF unless a change of geography forces them to split their forces. If the Germans held Cap Griz Nez they could create a safe coastal shipping lane by using guns and mines so that their own warships could transit into the Channel. Light warships could attack through and cross Channel shipping that came within range, and could scuttle back to the safety of the minefeilds and coastal guns. They did this on a limited scale IOTL from the forward bases in Belgium.

Where would the RN get the forces to cover this sudden threat, stripping cruisers and desrtoyers from the GF? And what about the possibility of a major warship or three slipping into the Channel, would the GF be weakened to cover this? How many ships can the GF lose before it becomes vulnerable to an undiminished HSF?


Bill Garvin

All of which depends on the Grand Fleet co-operating in its own destruction which is why David called it balderdash. Your whole concept depends on the British doing exactly what you want them to do and ignores any other posisble event. Lets look at a few likely countermeasures.

Coastal defense guns on Cape Griz Nez - sure, but the UK can install them as well, in Kent and along the South Coast. They did so historically and their heavy naval gun production is greater than that of the Germans. The British build more guns and bigger guns (14 and 15 inch by 1914 as opposed to 12 inch) and if needed they have an 18 inch gun coming down the pike. So in any cross-channel artillery duel, the British have a great advantage. By the way, the idea of such duels is not implausible - they happened regularly in WW2.

The British can lay mines as well - and they many more assets to do the minelaying with. They are not going to allow the Germans to lay their minefields undisturbed - nor are they going to leave those mines unswept. Also, minefields are declining assets, they require regular maintenance and "topping up" (mines get swept away by tides, moved by currents, they snap their cables and drift away). British mine technology is way in advance of German the British were laying magnetic mines off Flanders in 1917. The British have vastly more minelaying resources than the Germans, in WW1 the minelayers were trawlers and Britain had the biggest fishing fleet in the world. So, for every mine the Germans lay to keep the British out the British lay dozens to keep them in. Its Britain's doorstep remember.

And what makes you think that if the High Seas Fleet slips a few major warships into the Channel, they won't get sunk? We've already established that the UK can - and historically did - establish long-range gun batteries along the south coast. So, your major ships run into the British minefields and start getting pounded by shore batteries. We have an example of what happens when navies try that in the Dardanelles,. In this case, its the Germans who start losing ships, to mines, gunfire, submarine attack. If you look at a map, the southern coast of the UK is studded with naval bases (heavily defended ones at that) that could be used for submarine and destroyer bases.

How many ships can the HSF lose before it becomes hopelessly outclassed by an undiminished GF?

Sorry, but David's right when he is dismissive of your suggested "plan". It just isn't realistic.

Why were the British so afraid of this?

This declaration was a huge threat to British-Asia. Britain had about 60 to 100 million Muslim subjects. In fact, the British used to call themselves the world’s greatest Muslim power at that point. But the British were terrified that these mostly Sunni Muslims would rise up, obey the Sultans’ call and launch a series of revolts in the wider empire.

They feared they would then have to divert troops away from the Western Front – away from the place where they would ultimately defeat the Germans. They would have to divert troops away to fight wars in the Empire.

In fact, the British used to call themselves the world’s greatest Muslim power at that point.

Britain had spent the last 200 or 300 years desperately trying to keep the Ottoman Empire together. It had spent a huge amount of time trying to protect and stabilise the Ottoman Empire, and even in 1914 they still had a naval mission advising the Ottomans on how to modernise their navy.

The British didn’t fully give up on the Ottomans until the very last moment, but there had been signs earlier on that they were beginning to change their position.

The Ottomans went bankrupt in 1875, and in response, Britain took control of Cyprus and seized Egypt in 1882.

These were signs that British policy towards the Ottoman Empire was changing, and that Britain was looking with a more acquisitive eye towards the Ottoman Empire by the beginning of the First World War.

___ Outline of Germany's History

Medieval Germany
Medieval Germany was marked by division. As France and England began their centuries-long evolution into united nation-states, Germany was racked by a ceaseless series of wars among local rulers. The Habsburg Dynasty's long monopoly of the crown of the Holy Roman Empire provided only the semblance of German unity. Within the empire, German princes warred against one another as before. The Protestant Reformation deprived Germany of even its religious unity, leaving its population Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist. These religious divisions gave military strife an added ferocity in the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), during which Germany was ravaged to a degree not seen again until World War II.

Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 left German-speaking Europe divided into hundreds of states. During the next two centuries, the two largest of these states—Prussia and Austria—jockeyed for dominance. The smaller states sought to retain their independence by allying themselves with one, then the other, depending on local conditions. From the mid-1790s until Prussia, Austria, and Russia defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and drove him out of German territory, much of the area was occupied by French troops. Napoleon's officials abolished numerous small states as a result, in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, German territory consisted of only about 40 states.

Revolutions for Unification and Democracy
During the next half-century, pressures for German unification grew. Scholars, bureaucrats, students, journalists, and businessmen agitated for a united Germany that would bring with it uniform laws and a single currency and that would replace the benighted absolutism of petty German states with democracy. The revolutions of 1848 seemed at first likely to realize this dream of unity and freedom, but the monarch who was offered the crown of a united Germany, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, rejected it. The king, like the other rulers of Germany's kingdoms, opposed German unity because he saw it as a threat to his power.

Otto von Bismarck
Despite the opposition of conservative forces, German unification came more than two decades later, in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, when Germany was unified and transformed into an empire under Emperor Wilhelm I, king of Prussia. Unification was brought about not by revolutionary or liberal forces but rather by a conservative Prussian aristocrat, Otto von Bismarck. Sensing the power of nationalism, Bismarck sought to use it for his own aims, the preservation of a feudal social order and the triumph of his country, Prussia, in the long contest with Austria for preeminence in Germany. By a series of masterful diplomatic maneuvers and three brief and dazzlingly successful military campaigns, Bismarck achieved a united Germany without Austria. He brought together the so-called "small Germany," consisting of Prussia and the remaining German states, some of which had been subdued by Prussian armies before they became part of a Germany ruled by a Prussian emperor.

Prussian hegemony
Although united Germany had a parliament, the Reichstag, elected through universal male suffrage, supreme power rested with the emperor and his ministers, who were not responsible to the Reichstag. The Reichstag could contest the government's decisions, but in the end the emperor could largely govern as he saw fit. Supporting the emperor were the nobility, large rural landowners, business and financial elites, the civil service, the Protestant clergy, and the military. The military, which had made unification possible, enjoyed tremendous prestige. These groups were pitted against the Roman Catholic Center Party, the Socialist Party, and a variety of liberal and regional political groups opposed to Prussia's hegemony over Germany. In the long term, Bismarck and his successors were not able to subjugate this opposition. By 1912 the Socialists had come to have the largest number of representatives in the Reichstag. They and the Center Party made governing increasingly difficult for the empire's conservative leadership.

The World Wars
In World War I (1914–18), Germany’s aims were annexationist in nature and foresaw an enlarged Germany, with Belgium and Poland as vassal states and with colonies in Africa. However, Germany’s military strategy, involving a two-front war in France and Belgium in the west and Russia in the east, ultimately failed. Germany’s defeat in 1918 meant the end of the German Empire. The Treaty of Versailles, the peace settlement negotiated by the victors (Britain, France, and the United States) in 1919, imposed punitive conditions on Germany, including the loss of territory, financial reparations, and a diminished military. These conditions set the stage for World War II.

Weimar Republic
A republic, the Weimar Republic (1919–33), was established with a constitution that provided for a parliamentary democracy in which the government was ultimately responsible to the people. The new republic's first president and prime minister were convinced democrats, and Germany seemed ready at last to join the community of democratic nations. But the Weimar Republic ultimately disappointed those who had hoped it would introduce democracy to Germany. By mid-1933 it had been destroyed by Adolf Hitler, its declared enemy since his first days in the public arena. Hitler was a psychopath who sensed and exploited the worries and resentments of many Germans, knew when to act, and possessed a sure instinct for power. His greatest weapon in his quest for political power, however, was the disdain many Germans felt for the new republic.

Many Germans held the Weimar Republic responsible for Germany's defeat in World War I. At the war's end, no foreign troops stood on German soil, and military victory still seemed likely. Instead of victory, however, in the view of many, the republic's Socialist politicians arranged a humiliating peace. Many Germans also were affronted by the spectacle of parliamentary politics. The republic's numerous small parties made forming stable and coherent coalition governments very difficult. Frequent elections failed to yield effective governments. Government policies also often failed to solve pressing social and economic problems.

Hitler as chancellor
A modest economic recovery from 1924 to 1929 gave the Weimar Republic a brief respite. The severe social stress engendered by the Great Depression, however, swelled the vote received by extreme antidemocratic parties in the election of 1930 and the two elections of 1932. The government ruled by emergency decree. In January 1933, leading conservative politicians formed a new government with Hitler as chancellor. They intended to harness him and his party (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis), now the country's largest, to realize their own aim of replacing the republic with an authoritarian government. Within a few months, however, Hitler had outmaneuvered them and established a totalitarian regime. Only in 1945 did a military alliance of dozens of nations succeed in deposing him, and only after his regime and the nation it ruled had committed crimes of unparalleled enormity known as the Holocaust.

The Postwar Era and Unification
In the aftermath of World War II (1939–45) and following occupation by the victorious powers (the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France), Germany came to consist of two states. One, East Germany, never attained real legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, fell farther and farther behind economically, and had to use force to prevent its population from fleeing to the West. The other, West Germany, was resoundingly successful. Within two decades of defeat, it had become one of the world's richest nations, with a prosperity that extended to all segments of the population. The economy performed so successfully that eventually several million foreigners came to West Germany to work as well. West German and foreign workers alike were protected from need arising from sickness, accidents, and old age by an extensive, mostly nongovernment welfare system. In 1990 German unification overcame the geographic separation of the two German states, including an infamous wall between West Berlin and East Berlin, but economic integration still has not been achieved satisfactorily. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the forces of globalization are posing a renewed challenge to the social-market economy in place throughout the nation.

Source: Library of Congress

History of the Federal Republic of Germany
History outline beginning from the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany until today.

Map of Germany
Political Map of Germany.
Administrative Map of Germany
Map of the federal states of Germany.
Google Map Germany
Searchable map of Germany.

A Brief History of Germany

About 55 BC Julius Caesar conquered the Roman province of Gaul. He made the Rhine the frontier of the new province. It was a natural defensive barrier. Later the Romans also chose the Danube as a frontier. They also created a ditch and earth bank with a wooden palisade on top from the Rhine to the Danube.

In 9 AD the people who lived beyond the Rhine inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman army in a battle at the Teutoburg Forest. The Romans lost about 20,000 men and their leader committed suicide. The battle ensured that the Romans never conquered Germany beyond the Rhine.

However, the Romans occupied southern and western Germany. They founded a number of towns that still survive (Augsburg, Cologne, Mainz, Regensburg, and Trier).

In the late 5th century a Germanic people called the Franks carved out an empire in what is now France. (They gave the country its name). In 496 Clovis, the leader of the Franks became a Christian and his people followed. In 771 Charlemagne became king of the Franks. In 772 he attacked the Saxons. After a battle in 782 more than 4,000 Saxon captives were beheaded. Charlemagne also annexed Bavaria. In 800 he was crowned emperor.

However, Charlemagne’s empire did not long survive his death. In 843 it was divided into three kingdoms, west, middle, and east. In time the eastern kingdom, East Francia, was divided further into 5 duchies. In the early 10th century fierce Magyars from Eastern Europe attacked them.


Then in 911 Conrad, Duke of Franconia was elected king of Germany. He died in 918 and was replaced by Duke Henry of Saxony. In 933 Henry defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Riade. Henry also fought the Slavs. When he died in 936 his son Otto became king of Germany. He is known as Otto the Great. In 955 Otto utterly defeated the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld, ending the threat to Germany forever. In 962 the Pope crowned Otto emperor. He died in 973.

The theologian Augustine claimed that God created the Roman Empire to bring law and order to mankind. The idea was that there should be one Church with the pope at its head and one secular empire. Otto and the following emperors claimed they were the successors of the ancient Roman Empire. So their Germanic empire was called the Roman Empire. In 1157 it was called the Holy Roman Empire.

Not surprisingly other European nations were not enthusiastic about the idea and in any case, the Holy Roman Empire was never a single united unit. In reality, the power of the emperors over the different areas of the empire was limited.

During the Middle Ages the original five duchies broke up and by 1500 the Holy Roman Empire was like a patchwork quilt of different units. It was made up of princely states, which were ruled by princes subordinate to the emperor. There were also bishoprics ruled by bishops and archbishops. They were called ecclesiastical princes. Imperial Knights who answered directly to the emperor ruled some areas. There were also some independent cities like Augsburg.

In Medieval Germany lords granted land to their vassals and in return the vassals swore to serve the Lord. Most of the population were peasants. Some were free but many were serfs, halfway between freemen and slaves. The serfs had to work on their lord’s land for certain days of the week.

Germany grew richer in the early middle ages and the population rose sharply (until the 14th century). Trade and commerce boomed and towns grew larger and more numerous. Yet life was still hard and rough for most people. They continued to live in small villages scattered across the forests.

Moreover, in the 11th century there was a conflict between the Pope and the emperor over who had the right to appoint bishops. It was important for the emperor to be able to appoint suitable bishops. In those days church and state were closely linked. Furthermore, the church was rich and powerful and the emperor was keen to have the bishops on his side. The pope, naturally, resented this interference in church affairs. The argument was only settled by the Concordat of Worms in 1122. From 1220 to 1250 Frederick II was emperor. He was known as stupor Mundi (wonder of the world) because of his brilliant mind.

However, in 1254 central authority broke down completely. From 1254 to 1273 there was no emperor. This period was called the Great Interregnum. It ended when Rudolph of Habsburg was elected emperor. In 1356 Karl IV issued a document called the ‘golden bull’, which lay down the rules for electing emperors.

In the early 14th century conditions in Germany deteriorated. The climate grew colder and there were several famines. Worse, the black death struck Germany in 1349 and it killed about one-third of the population. Jews were treated as scapegoats and many were massacred at that time. In the late 14th and 15th centuries, there was a series of peasant uprisings in Germany. Furthermore, impoverished noblemen called robber barons roamed the countryside.

However, a number of universities were founded in Germany at that time. Heidelberg was founded in 1386. It was followed by Leipzig in 1409, Tubingen in 1477, and Wittenberg in 1502.


In the Middle Ages divisions between nations were vague. In the 16th century, they became more clearly defined. One sign of this came in 1512 when the empire’s title changed to the ‘Holy Roman Empire of the German nation’. Then in 1517 the great Christian scholar Martin Luther started the Reformation when he wrote his theses in Wittenberg. In 1521 the heads of the various German states met in an Imperial Diet at Worms. Martin Luther was called to account and he stood by his views.

The Reformation split Germany, with some states accepting his teachings and others rejecting them. In 1531 the Protestant princes formed the alliance of Schmalkalden to defend the Reformation by force if necessary. The emperor fought a war with them in 1546-47. Although he was victorious he could not turn the clock back and Protestantism could not be eradicated. Then in 1555, the Diet of Augsburg met. The peace of Augsburg declared that princes could decide the religion of their state. Anyone who disagreed with their ruler could emigrate.

Meanwhile, Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522 and the Old Testament in 1534.

Furthermore, in the early 16th century, there were a series of peasant uprisings across Germany, as the peasants, dissatisfied with their lot, demanded economic and social change. The unrest culminated in the Peasants War of 1525. However, the princes easily crushed the rebellion and tens of thousands of peasants were killed. However, the late 16th century was a time of relative peace and stability in Germany.


In the early 17th century the uneasy peace between Protestants and Catholics broke down. The Protestants formed a military alliance in 1608. In response, the Catholics formed the Catholic League in 1609. At that time Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic) was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Protestant nobles in Bohemia had gained certain privileges. When Ferdinand II became King of Bohemia in 1617 he tried to undo them. In protest on 23 May 1618 Protestants threw royal officials out of a window in Prague. This event became known as the defenestration of Prague.

The Bohemians rebelled and appealed to German Protestants to help them. However, the emperor led a force of Catholics and defeated the Protestants at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Nevertheless, a long series of wars between Catholic and Protestant states began. Other European powers became involved. The Swedes joined the Protestants in 1630 under their king Gustavus Adolphus (although he was killed at the battle of Lutzen in 1632). France joined the Protestant side in 1635. The wars dragged on until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The Thirty Years War was a disaster for Germany. The population fell significantly and much of the country was devastated. Germany took decades to recover from the destruction. The war had another effect. It weakened the power of the emperor and increased the power of the princes and kings.


The main development in Germany during the 18th century was the rise of Prussia. In the 17th century, the Hohenzollern family ruled both Brandenburg and East Prussia. In 1701 the ruler of both was Elector Frederick III. In that year he crowned himself King of Prussia. Soon the whole realm was called Prussia.

However, at first, Prussia was an economically backward area. It only rose to greatness under Frederick II ‘The Great’, who became king in 1740. Frederick had a very large army and he was a capable general, which allowed him to fight successful wars. In 1740 Prussia invaded Silesia (an Austrian possession).

On 10 April 1741, the Prussians defeated the Austrians at the battle of Mollwitz. At first, the battle went well for the Austrians. Their cavalry defeated the Prussian cavalry and Frederick fled from the battle. However, the Prussian infantry stood and fought. They overcame both the Austrian cavalry and the Austrian infantry. As a result, Prussia won the battle. Austria made peace in 1742 but the peace did not last long.

War began again in 1745. The Prussians won a series of battles at Hohenfriedberg on 4 June, at Soor on 30 September, and at Hennersdorf on 23 November. Frederick II ended the war in December 1745 with his territory enlarged.

In 1756 Prussia went to war again when Frederick invaded Saxony. However this time Frederick II was faced with a powerful coalition of enemies. Nevertheless, the Prussians won two victories at Rossbach in November 1757 and at Leuthen in December 1757. The Prussians also defeated the Russians at the Battle of Zorndorf in 1758.

However, the tide of war then turned against the Prussians and they were defeated at the battle of Minden in 1759. Fortunately, in January 1762, one of Frederick’s most powerful enemies, Elizabeth of Russia, died and her son made peace with the Treaty of St Petersburg. The war ended in 1763. Then in 1772 Prussia, Austria and Russia agreed to carve up part of Poland between them.

In 1792 Prussia and Austria went to war with Revolutionary France. However, the French won victories and Prussia made peace in 1795. Meanwhile, the Prussians and Russians divided up the remaining part of Poland in 1793. Austria made peace with France in 1797 but the war began again in 1799.


However, Austria was defeated and was forced to make peace in 1801. France defeated Austria again in 1805. As a result, some German states allied themselves with Napoleon. In July 1806 Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine, which was made up of 16 German states. The Holy Roman Empire officially ceased to exist on 6 August 1806.

Then in September 1806, Prussia went to war with France. However, Napoleon crushed the Prussians at Jena on 14 October 1806. However, in 1812 the French were utterly defeated in Russia. In 1813 Prussia joined Russia in the war against the French. Austria also joined and in October 1813 the combined armies defeated the French at the Battle of Leipzig.

After Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815 the Congress of Vienna met to decide the fate of Europe. A German Confederation was formed to replace the old Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of 38 states. An assembly called the Bundestag made up of delegates from the states was formed.

Prussia was the biggest winner of the peace. It gained the Rhineland and Westphalia. The population of Prussia increased and it gained valuable mineral resources. Prussia became increasingly important in German affairs. In 1834 the Prussians and other German states formed a customs union called the Zollverein. Furthermore, in the 1830s Germany began to industrialize. One sign of this was the opening of the first German railway in 1835 from Nuremberg and Furth. As Prussia industrialized, it grew stronger and stronger while its rival, Austria remained an agricultural country and so grew relatively weaker.

Meanwhile an Austrian minister named Metternich tried to prevent the ideas of the French Revolution spreading in Germany. In 1819 there were student bodies in German universities called Burschenschaften. On 23 March 1819 a member of one killed a writer called August von Kotzebue. Metternich used this as an excuse to introduce press censorship and strict supervision of universities. His measures were called the Karlsbad decrees.

However, it proved impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. In 1818 Baden and Bavaria introduced liberal constitutions. So did Wurttemberg in 1819 and Hessen-Darmstadt in 1820. Furthermore, in 1830 a revolution in France triggered riots in parts of Germany and some German rulers were forced to make concessions. In 1831 Brunswick, Hesse and Saxony all introduced new constitutions. However, in Prussia and Austria, all liberal movements were repressed.

Then, after 1845 there were a series of bad harvests. There was also a recession and high unemployment. Discontent erupted in revolution in 1848. In February 1848 another revolution in France triggered demonstrations and unrest across Europe, including Germany. At first, the rulers were so alarmed they backed down and made concessions.

However, they soon regained their nerve. In Prussia on 18 March 1848, the king announced he was willing to make some reforms. However Prussian troops fired at some demonstrators in Berlin and in the ensuing fighting many people were killed. Afraid of further unrest the king decided to appease the demonstrators. On 19 March 1848, he ordered the troops to leave Berlin. On 21 March 1848, he rode through Berlin dressed in revolutionary colors, red, gold and black.

Then in May 1848, an elected assembly representing all Germany met in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt parliament discussed German unity. However, the rulers soon regained their confidence and they began to crack down on the revolutionaries. On 2 April 1849, the Frankfurt parliament offered the King of Prussia the crown of Germany. However, he rejected the offer. The Frankfurt parliament gradually dispersed and its members went home. Meanwhile, in 1849 European rulers began to use their armies to put down rebellions. Soon the old order returned.


Then, in 1863 the Danish king tried to annex the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Both Prussia and Austria fought a short war against Denmark in 1864. As a result, Prussia and Austria were given joint administration of the two duchies. Disagreements with Austria over the duchies gave Prussia a pretext to start a war in 1866. It was over within a short period. On 3 July 1866 Prussia won a great victory over the Austrians at Koniggratz. Afterward, a peace treaty created the North German Federation dominated by Prussia. Austria was expelled from German affairs.

Bismarck, the German chancellor, then quarreled with France over the issue of who was to succeed to the Spanish throne. The French declared war on 19 July 1870. However, the French were utterly defeated at the battle of Sedan on 2 September 1870 and they made peace in February 1871.

Meanwhile the southern German states agreed to become part of a new German Empire with the Prussian king as emperor. William I was proclaimed emperor on 18 January 1871. In the late 19th century Germany industrialized rapidly. By the end of the century, it rivaled Britain as an industrial power. In 1879 Germany signed the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary. The two powers agreed to come to each other’s aid in the event of a war with Russia.

Bismarck, the German chancellor also campaigned against socialism. In the late 19th century it was a growing force in Germany. Bismarck tried to take the wind out of Socialism’s sails by introducing welfare measures. In 1883 he introduced sickness insurance. In 1884 he introduced accident insurance. Then in 1889, he introduced old-age pensions. However, socialism continued to grow in Germany and by 1914 the Social Democratic Party was the largest party in the Reichstag. Finally, Bismarck resigned in 1890.


Bismarck always pursued friendly relations with Britain but under his successors it was different. From 1898 under Admiral Tirpitz Germany began expanding its navy. Britain, the largest naval power, was alarmed. Furthermore, Europe became divided into two armed camps, with Germany and Austria-Hungary on one side and Britain, France, and Russia on the other.

The spark that ignited war came on 28 June 1914 when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. In August 1914 the German army overran Belgium and marched on Paris. However, they were defeated at the battle of the Marne in September. Both sides began a ‘race for the sea’. Both sides reached it at the same time. They then dug trenches and years of deadlock followed.

In the east the Germany was more successful. They crushed the Russians at the battle of Tannenberg. Russia gradually weakened and finally made peace by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Meanwhile, in 1917 Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare, which meant that ships from any nation trying to trade with the allies would be sunk. As a result, the USA declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917.

In March 1918 Germany launched a series of assaults on the British and French lines. However, they failed to break through, and on 8 August 1918, the British counter-attacked with tanks. Furthermore, in September, the Americans began an offensive against the Germans. Slowly the allies advanced and on 29 September 1918 General Hindenburg advised the government that the war could not be won. The Kaiser abdicated on 9 November and the Social Democrats formed a new government. On 11 November they were forced to sign an armistice with the allies.

However although the Kaiser went the ‘pillars’ of the old regime, the generals, civil servants and judges remained. A new constitution was drawn up but it had a fatal weakness. It used a system of complete proportional representation. So if a party won 2% of the vote it got 2% of the seats in the Reichstag. This meant there was a huge number of parties in the Reichstag, none of them ever had a majority of seats, and Germany was ruled by weak coalition governments. Worse, under Article 48 the President could ignore the Reichstag and pass laws of his own choosing. This was called rule by decree.

In 1919 the German government were forced to sign the Versailles Treaty. However, the vast majority of Germans bitterly resented the Versailles Treaty. Firstly the Germans were not consulted on the treaty and they resented being dictated to. They also resented the ‘war guilt’ clause, which blamed Germany and its allies for causing the war.

Worse under the treaty, Germany lost a significant part of its territory and its population. A section of land called the Polish corridor was given to Poland so East Prussia was cut off from the main part of Germany. Also, Memel was given to Lithuania. After a referendum, Eupen-Malmedy was given to Belgium. After another referendum, North Schleswig joined Denmark. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France.

Furthermore, the Rhineland was demilitarized (no German soldiers were allowed there). In any case, Germany was not allowed more than 100,000 soldiers. The Germans were not allowed submarines or battleships. They were not allowed an air force either. Worse still Germany was made to pay ‘reparations’ (a form of compensation for damage done by the war). The amount was set in 1921. It was the colossal figure of 6,600 million marks and Germany was forced to start paying.

From the start there were attempts to overthrow the government. In January 1919 a group of Communists called Spartacists led a rebellion in Berlin. The government fled to Weimar. As a result, the new regime was called the Weimar Republic. (Even though it soon returned to Berlin). The Communist uprising in Berlin was crushed by the Freikorps (free corps). They were ex-soldiers bearing arms.

In April 1919 more communists seized power in Bavaria. Again the Freikorps crushed them. Then in March 1920 a group of Freikorps led by Dr. Kapp tried to take control of Berlin. The army refused to put down the rebellion but the trade unions in Berlin ordered a general strike. As a result, the Kapp putsch was defeated.

The early 1920s were years of hardship and near-starvation for many people in Germany. Worse a myth began that Germany had been ‘stabbed in the back’ in 1918. Some people said that Germany could have fought on and won the war. That was nonsense but it was a powerful myth. The people who agreed to the armistice in 1918 were called ‘November criminals’. Extreme right-wingers assassinated some of the so-called November criminals. Matthias Erzberger, who signed the armistice was shot in 1921. Walter Rathenau the foreign minister was shot in 1922.

Meanwhile in January 1919 Anton Drexler formed the German Workers Party in Munich. In September 1919 an Austrian named Adolf Hitler joined. (He did not become a German citizen until 1932). The party believed the myth that Germany was stabbed in the back in 1918. They also wanted all Germans to live together in one Greater Germany. The party was also unashamedly racist and anti-Semitic.

In 1920 the party’s name was changed to the National Socialist German Workers Party or NAZI party. In 1921 Adolf Hitler became the leader. In 1921 Hitler formed a paramilitary organization called the Sturmabteilung or SA. They were also called brown shirts because of their brown uniforms.

In 1923 Hitler and his tiny party tried to take control of Germany. On 8 November a politician named Gustav von Kahr was the speaker at a beer hall in Bavaria. With him was General von Lossow. At 8.30 pm the SA surrounded the beer hall and Hitler entered with armed men. Kahr and the general were told they were under arrest.

However, Kahr agreed to lead Hitler’s attempt to take over Germany, and the two men were allowed to go. As soon as they went they took steps to stop Hitler. When Hitler and his supporters marched through Munich they were met by state troopers in the Odeonsplatz. In the skirmish that followed 4 troopers and 16 Nazis were killed. The Munich putsch promptly collapsed and Hitler fled the scene. He was arrested two days later.

The year 1923 was a very bad one for Weimar Germany. By then Germany had fallen behind with her reparations payments. In response in January 1923, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. German workers in the Ruhr went on strike. They also held huge demonstrations. The striking workers became heroes in Germany and the government printed money to pay them, which led to rapidly increasing inflation.

Furthermore, the production of goods in Germany fell drastically. As a result, the price of goods rose very quickly. These two factors, the printed money and the shortage of food caused inflation in Germany to go through the roof. Inflation became hyperinflation. In January 1923 a loaf of bread cost 250 marks but by September it cost 1.5 million marks.

Prices rose so fast that workers had to be paid twice a day and they had to bring baskets or suitcases to take their money home in. As a result of hyperinflation, people lost their life savings. The money they had in the bank became virtually worthless. On the other hand, anyone in debt saw their debts virtually disappear.

Finally in August 1923 Gustav Stresemann became chancellor of Germany. He issued a new currency the Rentenmark to replace the mark, which had become almost worthless. Stresemann lost the post of Chancellor in November 1923 but he became foreign minister instead. Germany began paying reparations again and in 1924 Stresemann negotiated the Dawes plan. Germany’s annual repayments were reduced and the USA agreed to lend Germany a huge sum of money to rebuild its economy.

In 1925 the French and Belgian troops left the Ruhr and the years from 1925 to 1929 were ones of n prosperity for Germany. In 1929 Stresemann negotiated the Strong Plan. The number of reparations was reduced to 1,850 million. Unfortunately, the good times in Germany ended with the Wall Street Crash in the USA in 1929.

The depression of the early 1930s was a disaster for Germany. Unemployment was already high in Germany in the 1920s. Even in the peak year of 1928, it was 8.4%. However, it soared from the end of 1929. By 1933 unemployment in Germany had risen to 33%. One effect of the depression was that the democratic parties lost support. Instead, people turned to radical parties like the Communists or the Nazis.

In 1928 the Nazis only gained 2.6% of the vote. By September 1930 they gained 18.3% of the vote. By 1932 they were the largest party in the Reichstag. On 30 January 1933, President Hindenburg asked Hitler to become Chancellor of Germany.

On 27 February the Reichstag burned down. A Dutchman called Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested and confessed to the crime. Hitler claimed that van der Lubbe did not act alone and that it was a Communist plot. The next day President Hindenburg was persuaded to sign ‘Presidential Decree for the Protection of the People and the State’, which allowed arbitrary arrest. As a result, all the leading Communists were arrested. The last election in Weimar Germany was held on 5 March 1933. The Nazis still failed to gain a majority of the vote.

However, on 23 March 1933, Hitler persuaded the Reichstag to pass the enabling law. This would give Hitler the power to pass new laws without the consent of the Reichstag. The new law meant changing Germany’s constitution and that would require votes by two-thirds of the Reichstag members. Some 80% of the Reichstag voted in favor of the law, only the Social Democrats voted against it.

Hitler wasted no time in introducing a tyrannical regime in Germany. After 1871 Germany was a federal state. It was made up of units called Lander, which had once been independent countries. A governor ruled each. However in April 1933 Hitler replace them with Reich governors, all of who were loyal Nazis. This helped to bring the country even more under Hitler’s control.

In May Hitler banned trade unions. To replace them he created the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front) under Robert Ley. It set levels of pay and hours of work. The Social Democratic Party was banned in June 1933. Later that summer other parties dissolved themselves, under pressure from the Nazis. On 14 July 1933 Hitler banned all parties except the Nazi party.

Finally Hitler consolidated his grip on power with a purge called the Night of the Long Knives on 30 June 1934. In 1934 the SA or brown shirts wanted to take over the army. The army was appalled by this idea and Hitler needed the army’s support.

Moreover, the SA had other enemies. In 1925 Hitler created the Schutzstaffel (protection squad) or SS as his bodyguard. Heinrich Himmler the head of the SS resented the fact that the SS was officially part of the SA. He wanted the SS to be a separate organization. He also wanted more power for himself. Himmler told Hitler that the SA was planning to overthrow him. Hitler himself arrested Rohm the leader of the SA. The SS arrested other important figures in the SA and other prominent critics of the regime. All of them were shot.

Then on 2 August 1934, President Hindenburg died. Hitler, the Chancellor took over the President’s powers and called himself Fuhrer (leader). The army was made to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler. (Previously they swore an oath of loyalty to Germany).

Furthermore, any opponents of the regime (mostly communists and socialists) could be arrested and sent to a concentration camp without trial. (At first, although prisoners were beaten and tortured concentration camps were designed as prisons rather than extermination camps).

The Nazis managed to eliminate unemployment in Germany. Partly they did this by rearming (even though this meant breaking the Versailles Treaty). In 1935 Hitler announced that Germany had an air force. He also introduced conscription. In 1936 German troops entered the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. Britain and France did nothing. Hitler also built roads called autobahns across Germany and he built great public buildings such as the Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. All this helped to reduce unemployment.

Although there was full employment workers were paid low wages (to keep the German industrialists happy). They also worked long hours. In the 1930s they worked an average of 49 hours a week. During the Second World War, this was increased to 60 hours a week or more. To try and keep the workers happy an organization was formed called (Strength Through Joy). Some workers went on cheap holidays to places like Norway and Italy. However, more often they organized cheap concerts and trips to the theater.

Hitler’s attitude to women was simple. They were to be mothers and housewives. Their role was summed up in the phrase kinder, kuche and kirche (children, kitchen, and church). In Nazi Germany, married women were encouraged to give up their jobs and they were encouraged to have children. Women who had four children were given a bronze medal. Women who had six were given a silver medal and women who had eight were given a gold medal. During the Second World War other nations conscripted women to work in industry but Hitler refused to do that.

Hitler hated Jews. In April 1933 he ordered a boycott of Jewish shops. Also in 1933 a law called ‘The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service’ banned Jews from working in government jobs. Then in 1935 Hitler passed the Nuremberg Laws. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor made it illegal for Jews to marry ‘Aryans’ (people of Germanic descent). The Reich Citizenship Law stated that Jews could not be German citizens.

Worse was to come. On 7 November 1938, a Polish Jew called Herschel Grynszpan shot a German official called Ernst vom Rath at the German embassy in Paris. In response, the Germans attacked Jews and Jewish property on 9 November 1938. Jewish homes and shops were attacked and so many windows were broken it was called Kristallnacht (crystal night). Thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps. The Nazis also decided that the rest of the Jews must pay a fine of 1,000 million marks and they were not eligible for insurance payments.

The Nazis also detested Gypsies. In 1935 they were forbidden to marry ‘Aryans’. From 1939 onward German Gypsies were deported to Poland. Later, like the Jews, they were murdered in concentration camps.

In 1933 Josef Goebbels was made head of the ‘Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda’. Afterward, newspapers and books were strictly controlled. Nothing critical of the Nazis could be published. The Nazis also arranged for cheap radios to be made so as many people as possible could afford one. The Nazis realized that radio was an effective medium for propaganda. The Nazis also used the cinema. Many Nazi propaganda films were made.

The Nazis attacked modern art, which they called degenerate. They also banned music by Jewish composers. The Nazis also disliked jazz music, which they regarded as decadent. In 1933 the Nazis organized a book burning. They seized books in libraries they disapproved of and burned them on bonfires. Furthermore many writers, artists, film directors, and musicians fled from Nazi Germany.

The Nazis also controlled education. Children were indoctrinated with Nazi ideas at school. The Nazi version of history was taught and children were taught Nazi racial theories. To further influence young people the Nazis created the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth), which was an organization boys could join at the age of 14. They went camping and hiking but also learned Nazi ideas. In 1936 membership was effectively made compulsory. For girls, the Nazis created the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls).

However, not all German youth conformed to Nazi ideas. By the late 1930s, groups called Edelweiss Pirates emerged in western Germany (so-called because they wore an edelweiss flower). They often beat up members of the Hitler Youth. There was also the Swing-Jugend (Swing Youth). They liked jazz music (which the Nazis disapproved of).


On 1 September 1939, the German Army invaded Poland. On 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany. However, Poland was soon overrun. On 17 September the Russians invaded Poland from the east and by early October Polish resistance was crushed.

Then in April 1940, the Germans occupied Denmark and invaded Norway. They captured Norway in early June. Meanwhile, in May 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. The German army was astonishingly successful and France capitulated in late June. However, Britain fought on. In 1941 German troops were sent to fight the British in North Africa. Meanwhile, the German army conquered Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete. However in June 1941 Hitler in 1941 Hitler invaded Russia, a very stupid move. Worse on 11 December 1941, he declared war on the USA.

Then at the end of 1942 the British won the battle of El Alamein in Egypt. In November 1942 the Russian army surrounded the Germans at Stalingrad. Part of the German army there surrendered on 31 January 1943. The remaining part surrendered on 2 February. After this disaster, Germany was losing the war. Also, British and American bombing began to destroy German cities and industry. The German troops in North Africa surrendered in May 1943. In July 1943 the allies invaded Sicily and in September they invaded Italy. On 6 June 1944, the allies invaded Normandy and opened a second front.

That spelled Germany’s doom. By the autumn of 1944, they had liberated France and Belgium. The Germans counterattacked in December 1944 but failed. By January 1945 the Russians were poised to invade Germany. They had suffered terribly at the hands of the Germans and they wanted revenge. Civilians from East Prussia fled in terror. Then as the Russians entered Germany they committed terrible atrocities. Finally, on 2 May 1945, the Russians captured Berlin.

Meanwhile in late March the British and Americans crossed the Rhine. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945. His tyranny did not long outlast him Germany surrendered unconditionally at 11.01 pm on 8 May 1945. The Nazis brought Germany to ruins, its cities reduced to rubble, its industry mostly destroyed. Furthermore, Hitler’s cost millions of German lives. This was the legacy of Nazism.

The Nazis were, of course, responsible for murdering millions of innocent people. From 1940 Polish Jews were confined in ghettos. When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 the mass murder of Jews in the east began. At first, they were shot. Then at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 Nazi leaders decided to exterminate all Jews. So they were rounded up and deported to death camps. When they arrived some were selected for work (and worked to death), while others were gassed. Afterward, the bodies were burned. By the end of World War II, some 6 million Jews had been murdered.


Following the surrender Germany was divided into four zones, American, British, French and Russian. Berlin, although it was within the Russian area, was also divided into zones. Nazi war criminals were brought to trial at Nuremberg in November 1945.

Soon the Russians and the western powers drifted apart and it became clear that Germany was not going to be reunited. The Russians stripped East Germany of its resources but the Americans gave aid to West Germany and the rest of Western Europe. This aid was called the Marshall plan and it was paid from 1948 to 1952.

Meanwhile, in 1948 the three western powers introduced a new currency into their zones. The Russians responded by blocking all land routes to West Berlin (which was occupied by the western powers). The western allies flew in supplies for the next 11 months until the Russians relented.

In the west a new state called the Federal Republic of Germany was formed on 23 May 1949. At first, the new state had to cope with high unemployment. However, in the 1950s and 1960s, West Germany went through an ‘economic miracle’. The devastation caused by World War II was repaired and the economy boomed. However, by the mid-1970s the miracle had ended and Germany was mired in recession. Meanwhile, in 1955, West Germany was allowed to join NATO and rearm. Then, in 1957, West Germany was one of the founder members of the EEC (forerunner of the EU).

However, in East Germany things were very different. It was called the German Democratic Republic. Of course, it was anything but democratic and soon a full communist regime was imposed. In 1953 there was a wave of strikes in East Germany. The Russians responded by sending in tanks and killing many civilians.

Not surprisingly many people in East Germany fled to a better life in the west. In 1961, alarmed at the number of skilled workers leaving East Germany, the government built the Berlin Wall. Afterward, anyone who tried to leave was shot.

However, the communist tyranny collapsed in 1989. On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened. Following the collapse of communism, Germany was reunited on 3 October 1990. Germany then faced the task of raising living standards in the east to the same level as those in the west.

Germany joined the euro in 1999.


Today Germany is a wealthy country with a high standard of living. In 2005 Angela Merkel became the first woman Chancellor of Germany. In 2020 the population of Germany was 83 million. Last revised 2021

Germany in 1914 - History

German Samoa was a short-lived protectorate of the German Empire, lasting from 1900 until 1914. It consisted of four islands: Manono, Apolima, Savai’i, and Upolu, all of which are now part of the independent republic of Samoa. Unusually for a German Pacific possession, Samoa was not administered as part of German New Guinea. The territory was initially granted to Germany under the Tripartite Convention of 1899, and it was the last new German colony in the Pacific.

Background of German Samoa

In the latter part of the 19th century, German influence on Samoa increased considerably as a result of plantation activity. The most important crops were rubber, cacao, and coconut, while German companies also controlled most of the copra processing businesses.

Tensions rose as a result of the differing interests of these German firms and various American and British business interests. This culminated in the first Samoan Civil War, which was fought around 1890. Most of the combatants were Samoans, although Germany occasionally intervened – something opposed by the United States and Britain.

Dividing Samoa

After a second civil war in the late 1890s, the three powers agreed to divide Samoa between them. Germany was allocated those islands which stood to the west of the 171 degree line. Now that the German hold over the western islands was secure and universally accepted, the country further increased its plantation operations.

The largest companies not only operated enormous agricultural concerns, but they also ran fleets of ships and imported Chinese and Melanesian workers for the farms. Around 2,000 Chinese workers were present in Samoa by 1914.

Administration of Samoa

Wilhelm Solf, the first governor of the new colony, proved himself to be a thoughtful and careful administrator. He incorporated a number of traditional native customs into the territory’s government and took the trouble to learn Samoan culture, including details of many rituals and other customs.

He agreed to take kava, the local ceremonial drink, in an important show of etiquette. Nevertheless, Solf had his limits: He was not willing to tolerate the undermining of his authority by Samoan chiefs, and he was firm and clear in his insistence that German Samoa had “one government” under him.

Transforming Samoa

Solf and his subordinates worked hard to transform Samoa into what they saw as a modern state, training local women to act as nurses in the hospital whose building the governor sponsored. The country’s first system of public education was also set up, and an excellent network of roads was built.

By 1908, Samoa had become so successful that it no longer relied on handouts from Berlin. Solf returned to Germany two years later and was replaced by Erich Schultz, who had formerly been the protectorate’s chief justice.

Wartime Occupation

Because of the protectorate’s stability, Germany did not think it worth maintaining a standing army there, and the islands were protected by native police. The gunboat that was assigned to watch over the southern Pacific colonies never actually visited Samoa. As such, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was able to invade Samoa without resistance on August 29, 1914.

Vice Admiral von Spee hurried there with a pair of cruisers two weeks later, but quickly realized that a landing would make little long-term impression given Allied control of the sea. New Zealand remained the island’s administrator until 1962, when Samoa became an independent country.

Yes, Germany Could Have Won World War I (And Changed History Forever)

Imperial Germany was a nation too clever for its own good. Case in point: invading neutral Belgium. From a military perspective, advancing to Belgium was a brilliant move to sidestep north of the French armies and fortifications on the Franco-German border, and then turn south to capture Paris and encircle the French armies from the rear. It reflected the traditional German preference for mobile warfare (Bewegungskrieg), which favored superior German tactics, rather than a static war of attrition (Stellungskrieg) that could only favor their numerically superior opponents.

A strategic masterstroke? Indeed. It also may have lost Germany the war.

When it comes to alternative history, the Second World War is king. Dozens of books and wargames suggest how history would have changed if Hitler had invaded Britain or not invaded Russia. Want to know what happens when a Nimitz-class supercarrier goes back in time to battle the Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor? There's a movie for that. What would the world be like if Nazi Germany had won? Plenty of novels paint a dark portrait. Would the Third Reich have triumphed if it had developed jet fighters sooner? Such topics are like incendiary bombs on Internet chat forums.

Yet fascinating as these questions are, why are they any more fascinating than asking what would have happened if Imperial Germany had not invaded Belgium in 1914, if the Kaiser had built more U-boats, or if America had not entered the war? If it is plausible to imagine a historical timeline where Hitler won, then why not one in which the tsars still rule Russia, the British Empire was never exhausted by war, and the Ottoman Empire still controls the Middle East?

Perhaps it is the grim aura of fatalism that discourages speculative history of the Great War. The sense that no matter what, the conflict would have been one long, miserable slaughter, a four-year live performance of "Paths of Glory." But the combatants were not drones or sheep, and the conflict was more than mud, blood and barbed wire. There was mobile warfare in Russia and Poland, amphibious invasions in Turkey and guerrilla campaigns in East Africa.

It is also easy to assume that German defeat was inevitable at the hands of an Allied coalition richer in manpower, weapons and money. Yet Germany nearly captured Paris in 1914, crushed Serbia and Romania, bled the French Army until it mutinied, drove Russia out of the war, and then came oh-so-close to victory on the Western Front in 1918. Don't underestimate the power of Imperial Germany. Until the armistice was signed in a French railway carriage on November 11, 1918, Germany's enemies didn't.

Let's look at what might have been. Here are a few possibilities in which history could have been very different for Germany:

Avoiding a two-front war:

If twentieth-century Germany had a tombstone, it would say "This is What Happens to Those Who Fight on Two Fronts". Much as kung-fu movies make fighting multiple opponents look easy, it's generally better to defeat your enemies one at a time.

That was the idea behind Germany's Schlieffen plan, which called for concentrating on France in the opening days of the conflict while keeping weaker forces in the East. The key was to defeat France quickly while vast and underdeveloped Russia still mobilized, and then transfer forces by rail to settle accounts with the Tsar.

However, Russia did attack into East Prussia in August 1914, only to be surrounded and annihilated at the Battle of Tannenberg. They lost 170,000 men to just 12,000 Germans in one of history's most famous battles of encirclement. Yet the Russian advance also frightened German Army Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke into transferring three corps from France to East Prussia. They arrived too late for Tannenberg, while depriving the Western offensive of vital troops at Germany's best time to overcome France and possibly end the war.

From then on, Germany had to spread its forces between West and East, while supporting its Austro-Hungarian and Turkish allies. Just what Germany could have accomplished—had it been able to concentrate on just one front—became painfully clear in 1918. After forcing the new Soviet government to sue for peace, the Germans quickly transferred 500,000 troops to France. They also unleashed innovative new stosstruppen (stormtrooper) infiltration tactics—an early form of blitzkrieg without the tanks—that enabled them to break the trench-warfare deadlock.

Kaiserschlacht ("Kaiser's Battle") offensives shattered several British armies and compelled British commander Douglas Haig to warn his troops that their backs were "to the wall." After four years of unrelenting combat and economic blockade, Germany still had the strength to achieve more in weeks than four years of bloody Allied offensives at the Somme, Passchendaele and Chemin des Dames.

Ideally, Germany could have found diplomatic means to have fought against Russia alone without war with France, or vice-versa. Failing that, and given the shorter distances in the West, it would have been better to have temporarily conceded some East Prussian territory while concentrating on capturing Paris. It might not have been easy, but it would have been far easier than fighting on two fronts.

Not Invading Belgium:

Imperial Germany was a nation too clever for its own good. Case in point: invading neutral Belgium. From a military perspective, advancing to Belgium was a brilliant move to sidestep north of the French armies and fortifications on the Franco-German border, and then turn south to capture Paris and encircle the French armies from the rear. It reflected the traditional German preference for mobile warfare (Bewegungskrieg), which favored superior German tactics, rather than a static war of attrition (Stellungskrieg) that could only favor their numerically superior opponents.

A strategic masterstroke? Indeed. It also may have lost Germany the war.

Britain had guaranteed Belgium's neutrality. That "scrap of paper" had been derided by German leaders, but the parchment would cost Berlin dearly by giving London a casus belli to declare war. Now Germany faced not just France and Russia, but also the immense military and economic resources of the British Empire.

France had a population of 39 million in 1914, versus Germany's 67 million. Can anyone imagine France alone defeating Germany? It failed in 1870, and it would have failed in 1914. Russia could boast of a population of 167 million people, yet shortages of weapons, supplies and infrastructure rendered it a giant with feet of clay. Despite keeping much of their army in France, the Germans were still able to drive Russia out of the war by 1918. Without British support, even a Franco-Russian combination would probably have succumbed to German might.

The entry of Britain and her empire added nearly 9 million troops to the Allies. More importantly, it added the Royal Navy. The French battle fleet was half the size of Germany's and was deployed in the Mediterranean against Germany's Austro-Hungarian and Turkish partners. The Russian navy was negligible. It was Britain's Grand Fleet that made possible the blockade that starved Germany of raw materials and especially food, which starved 400,000 Germans to death and sapped civilian and military morale by late 1918.

It is quite possible that Britain might have declared war on Germany anyway, just to prevent a single power from dominating the Continent, and to preclude hostile naval bases so close to England. But if Germany had managed to stave off British entry for months or years, it would have enjoyed more time and more resources to defeat its enemies.

Don't Build a Big Surface Fleet

Imperial Germany's High Seas Fleet was the second most powerful navy in the world in 1914, behind Britain's Grand Fleet. It mustered fifteen dreadnoughts to Britain's twenty-two, and five battlecruisers to Britain's nine. German surface ships enjoyed better armor plating, guns, propellant and fire control systems than their British rivals.

And what did this powerful surface fleet accomplish? Not much. Its capital ships rarely left port, which also left the British blockade in place. If the German fleet could not break the British blockade, impose its own blockade of Britain, or enable a German amphibious invasion of England, then what was it good for?

It did have value as a classic "fleet in being", staying in port while waiting for an opportunity to pounce, and threatening the enemy just by its existence (Churchill described Royal Navy commander John Jellicoe as the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon). But its main contribution was provoking the British into regarding Germany as a threat even before the war began. Challenging the Royal Navy's maritime supremacy through a naval arms race was the one move guaranteed to arouse the British lion.

Despite ambitions of becoming a global colonial empire, Germany was still a Continental power in 1914. If it won the war, it would be through the immense power of its army, not its navy. What could Germany have bought with the money, material and manpower tied up in the High Seas Fleet? More divisions? More guns and aircraft? Or best of all, more U-boats, the one element of German naval strength that did inflict immense damage on the Allies.

Germany, Britain & the Coming of War in 1914

Richard Wilkinson explains what went wrong in Anglo-German relations before the First World War.

Just suppose that, every time a war broke out, all the diplomats and soldiers involved were hanged. Even more fancifully, suppose that diplomats, generals and heads of governments were gifted with second sight. If either of these scenarios had applied in August 1914, there would have been no World War One. The German, Austrian, Russian and Turkish empires would have survived at any rate in the short term, while in the longer term the British and French empires would have escaped the wounds inflicted by that terrible conflict. Millions of young men would have lived, millions of folk at home would have been spared bereavement. As for the economic damage caused by the War, who knows what benefits to mankind might otherwise have accrued?

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Germany in 1914 - History

Administration . Kaiser Wilhelm II. (1888-1918). Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (1909-1917), Gerg Michaelis (1917), Georg von Hertling (1917-1918), Prinz Max von Baden (1918). Chief of the OHL Helmuth von Moltke (1914), Erich von Falkenhayn (1914-1916), Hindenburg and Ludendorff (1916-1918), Hindenburg and Groener (1918).

Foreign Policy
A.) Military Strategies . The German Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, Army High Command) had anticipated a war in which Germany and Austria-Hungary would face France and Russia this constellation had been obvious ever since the German-Russian Treaty of mutual aid was not prolonged in 1891. The OHL was concerned about Russia's rapidly growing population, which also meant a strengthening of it's army. It was expected that by 1916 the Russian army would gain a dangerous numerical superiority. France had established a tight chain of strong fortifications along it's border to Germany.
General Alfred Graf von Schlieffen (chief of staff 1891-1905 he died in 1913) authored a plan, according to which the German army, bypassing the French lines by marching either through Belgian or Swiss territory, would achieve a quick military victory in the West and then turn it's attention on the east - the Schlieffen Plan. In order to achieve victory in the west, two thirds of Germany's forces were to be stationed along the western front, while one third should hold back the invading Russian forces as long as possible, until reinforced by the forces from the west.
The German side hoped that Britain and the USA stayed out of the conflict Italy was regarded Germany's ally, Europe's minor states were given little attention in these plans.
B.) Political Goals . At the beginning of the war, Germany's political goals were ill-defined. The war was fought because the enemy was there and it was regarded opportune to do it now rather than later.
During the war, which demanded a high price both in effort and suffering, demands were defined in case of a German victory : Flanders, the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, and Courland (with it's dominating German minority) were to be annexed, as was the mineral-rich region around Longwy in French Lorraine (iron ore). Germany also expected colonial gains in the Congo basin region. Plans were to establish an economic zone in central and eastern Europe dominated by Germany. Russia was to be weakened by granting independence to Finland, Russian Poland, Ukraine etc., which were to become German satellites.
C.) The War . When Austria-Hungary declared War on Serbia on July 28th 1914 and Russia mobilized, the German OHL (Oberste Heeres-Leitung, Army High Command) had little doubt that the long anticipated situation had come, and the Schlieffen Plan immediately was put into action. Violating Belgian neutrality, German forces crossed Belgium and penetrated into northern France. Meanwhile, the Russians made more progress than expected in the east. Some forces had to be removed from the west to the east which might have made the difference. The German advance now was halted 40 km off Paris, and the French, aided by the British, made some ground until the frontline stabilized in what was called Trench Warfare.
German disregard of the neutrality of smaller countries had added to the numbers of German enemies (Belgium, later Portugal) and alienated others, which also chose sides against Germany (Britain, later the USA). The new strategy was to have the enemy bleed to death in Battles of Materiel. It worked against the Russians in the Battle of Tannenberg, where 40.000 Germans faced 160.000 Russians, of whom 60.000 fell, another 90.000 were taken prisoner the Russian commander committed suicide. It did not work on the western front in the Battle of Verdun, where both the Germans and French lost about 340.000 men each (the numbers include both wounded and killed) the Battles of the Somme, at Ypres and Langemarck were similarly bloody. Because the Germans failed to exhaust their French opponents, the battle was regarded lost.
Meanwhile, the British navy imposed a Blockade on Germany, which made little use of it's cherished fleet. A few vessels scattered over the world's oceans were hunted down by the British, the colonies, regarded indefensible, quickly lost (with the exception of German East Africa, where commander Lettow-Vorbeck did not surrender until 1918). Germany responded by declaring U-Boat Warfare, which strained Britain's imports, as the country lost considerable ship tonnage due to German submarines.
During the war, German diplomacy attempted to draw neutral countries into the war as German allies the Ottoman Empire (Oct. 1914) and Bulgaria (Oct. 1915) responded to the call.
Germany's allies, especially Austria-Hungary, were a mixed blessing. With German aid they managed to hold out, the Ottoman army, with German advisors, being able to repel a number of allied invasions.
In 1915 Russia's weakness became evident, and the OHL now hoped for a quick victory in the east, so that the eastern forces could be utilized in a last effort to force victory in the west. The strategy was to wear out the Russian forces German forces advanced only reluctantly into Russian territory. In 1917 Germany helped Lenin cross from Switzerland to neutral Sweden (from where he proceeded to St. Petersburg) and secretly financed the Bolsheviks with a credit of 40 million Gold Marks. On Dec. 9th 1917 Romania signed the Treaty of Focsany (armistice factual surrender). Germany and Lenin agreed that peace should be signed quickly the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3rd 1918. Now Germany's forces were transferred to the west and the Spring Offensive was launched, which failed to achieve it's goal to break through. Germany, running out of options, surrendered.

Domestic Policy . When World War I broke out, Germans of all political directions declared their solidarity with Emperor and government. This included the Social Democrats, which until the last moments had opposed militaristic policy and propagated international cooperation instead when the war started, the party majority had a change of heart and approved the war credits. The nation was grasped by a spirit of war enthusiasm. Volunteers signed up, the army having the option to select those regarded fit and mature enough. The war turned out to be much different from the wars which led to Germany's unification, a quick victory, much expected, proved unrealistic and the country had to adapt to a long confrontation.
A new government of national solidarity was formed, which included representatives of all political parties, including the SPD and the Zentrum, which hitherto constantly had opposed imperial policy.
During the war some came to realize that exaggerated nationalism would not be the answer, that a peaceful solution had to be sought.
Moderate politicians were willing to consider US President Woodrow Wilson's suggestion of a Peace without Victors (21. 12. 1916) however the German government could not agree on such peace conditions, and the war continued.
The SPD (Social Democratic Party) was a wide movement representing the nation's working class. It consisted of several wings the moderate Revisionists (Friedrich Ebert) supported the war effort, while radicals such as Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, began to openly agitate against the war and the Kaiserreich.

By 1917 the situation became tight. There was no movement on the fronts in the west, little movement in Italy and on the Russian front, but on both fronts the gains were not big enough to justify the effort. The government needed a victory, and it needed it fast. In 1918, with the Peace of Brest-Litowsk, the political goals in the east had been achieved and the OHL played it's last trump, attempting to penetrate the French frontline in the Spring Offensive. When this did not work and the Entente forces began a counteroffensive, Germany had no option but to surrender.
In the days preceding the surrender, the fleet was ordered to take to the sea, to fight a final battle. Germany's sailors mutinied, taking control of the harbour cities, establishing Workers' and Soldiers' Councils - the German Revolution had begun, quickly spreading from harbour cities to cities all over the Empire.

The War Economy . Walther Rathenau introduced the War Economy : Germany's supply of vital raw materials was placed under state administration, it was to be allocated according to priority industrial production was focussed on war essentials such as ammunition, army supplies etc. German research facilities were asked to find replacements for vital imports from overseas, such as rubber, salpeter, natural fertilizer, all of which now seized to arrive because of the British blockade. Germany's reserves of gunpowder in August 1914 lasted only 4 months. By the time it ran out, Germany's chemical industry produced Synthetic Gunpowder. Attempts to develop Synthetic Fertilizer on industrial scale did not result in satisfactory results until after the war.
The lack of fertilizer and the absence of a considerable part of the countryside workforce led to a significant drop in the nation's agricultural production. With insufficient food, as well as other vital consumer goods such as fuel (coal), clothing, shoes available, a Coupon Economy was introduced insuring that the scarce goods would not become unaffordable and that they were justly distributed. The system was called Wartime Socialism. Of course there was a Black Market those who frequented risked severe punishment.
As many men were wearing uniform, they left their workplace. In order for the economy to continue, many women had to be employed, in factories, offices etc. Many sources describe a Weiberwirtschaft (women's economy). The German administration attempted to deal with the lack of qualified labour by bringing in workers from occupied Belgium (Forced Labour).
Although the economy was streamlined in order to focus the nation's energy on the war effort, the farming sector was struggling to provide the nation with the food needed. Germany went through Hunger Winters. Flower gardens were turned into petty potato or vegetable fields to provide a little extra nutrition, people kept rabbits etc (Victory Gardens).

Demography . Jan Lahmeyer gives population estimates for Germany as 66.9 million in 1913, 67.1 million in 1914, 67.8 million in 1915, 67.5 million in 1916, 67.1 million in 1917, 64.5 million in 1918 the census of 1919 (in a smaller Germany) counted 60.3 million. The Wikipedia gives Germany's war casualties at 2,03 million military dead and 426,000 civilian dead.

Cultural History . The war enthusiasm, the widespread notion that the war has been forced upon Germany by a conspiracy of her enemies, blinded some intellectuals, while others turned silent in an environment where critical minds were ostracized as unpatriotic. On October 23th 1914, a Declaration of Professors of the German Reich was published, signed by 3100 university professors, refuting the blame for the war put on Prussian militarism.
Authors such as Stefan Zweig, at first packed by patriotic fever, came to realize that Germany did not defend itself against a host of malicious enemies, but was responsible, to a high extent, for the escalation of the war.

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