Deutschland – Germany – a Brief History


A region named Germania, inhabited by several Germanic peoples, was documented before AD 100.
During the Migration Age, the Germanic tribes expanded southward, and established successor kingdoms throughout much of Europe.

The Germanic tribes are thought to date from the Nordic Bronze Age or the Pre-Roman Iron Age.

From southern Scandinavia and north Germany, they expanded south, east and west from the 1st century BC, coming into contact with the Celtic tribes of Gaul as well as Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe.

Under Augustus (see right), the Roman General Publius Quinctilius Varus began to invade Germania (an area extending roughly from the Rhine to the Ural Mountains). In AD 9, three Roman legions led by Varus were defeated by the Cheruscan leader Arminius (see below left).
Arminius, also known as Armin or Hermann (18 BC/17 BC – 21 AD) was a chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
Arminius’s influence held an allied coalition of Germanic tribes together in opposition to the Romans but after defeats by the Roman general Germanicus, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius, his influence waned and Arminius was assassinated on the orders of rival Germanic chiefs.
Arminius’s decimation of the Roman legions in the Teutoburg forest had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic peoples and on the Roman Empire.
The Romans were to make no more concerted attempts to conquer and permanently hold Germania beyond the river Rhine.
By AD 100, when Tacitus wrote Germania, Germanic tribes had settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of the area of modern Germany; Austria, southern Bavaria and the western Rhineland, however, were Roman provinces.
In the 3rd century a number of large West Germanic tribes emerged: Alamanni, Franks, Chatti, Saxons, Frisii, Sicambri, and Thuringii.
Around 260, the Germanic peoples broke into Roman-controlled lands.
After the invasion of the Huns in 375, and with the decline of Rome from 395, Germanic tribes moved further south-west.
Simultaneously several large tribes formed in what is now Germany and displaced the smaller Germanic tribes.
Large areas (known since the Merovingian period as Austrasia) were occupied by the Franks, and Northern Germany was ruled by the Saxons and Slavs.

A great step forward in the establishing of the German identity was the founding of the Teutonic Knights.
The Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem (Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem – Latin: Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum), commonly the Teutonic Order or the Deutscher Orden, also Deutschherren- or Deutschritterorden), is a German medieval military order. 
It was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals. Its members have commonly been known as the Teutonic Knights, since they also served as a crusading military order in the Middle Ages.
The military membership was always small, with volunteers and mercenaries augmenting the force as needed.
In 1224 the Knights petitioned Pope Honorius III to be placed directly under the authority of the Papal See.

In 1346, the Duchy of Estonia was sold, by the King of Denmar, for 19,000 Köln marks, to the Teutonic Order.
The Teutonic lands in Prussia were split in two after the Peace of Thorn in 1466.

The western part of Teutonic Prussia was converted into Royal Prussia.
The monastic state in the east was secularized in 1525 during the Protestant Reformation when it was replaced by the Duchy of Prussia, a Polish fief governed by the House of Hohenzollern.
In old texts and in Latin the term Prut(h)enia refers to “Teutonic Prussia”, “Royal Prussia” and ‘”Ducal Prussia” alike.
In battle the Knights were the tip of a crusading invasion of the pagan lands of the Baltic.
They ravaged and conquered Courland and Prussia and parts of Poland and western Russia, waging ruthless campaigns against ‘‘the northern Saracens.’’
They settled in conquered lands as the new aristocracy, enserfing native populations.
The legacy of the ‘‘Drang nach Osten’’ (‘‘Drive to the East’’) of the ‘‘Sword Brethren’’ was the Christianization and enfeoffment of Prussia by force of arms and merciless war with Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and Muscovy.
The northern crusades, especially the long forest-ambush campaigns of the 14th century against animist Lithuanians, were among the most ferocious of the entire Middle Ages.
On July 15, 1410 the Teutonic Knights were beaten decisively and with huge losses by a Polish-Lithuanian army at Tannenberg.
That ended their Baltic crusade and accelerated a terminal military decline.
After he defeat of the Teutonic Knights the emphasis of German identity fell on the Holy Roman Empire.

Beginning in the 10th century, German territories formed a central part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (see right).
The Heiliges Römisches Reich (Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum), was a realm (Reich) that existed from 962–1806 in Central Europe. It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor.
Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes.
In its last centuries, its character became quite close to a union of territories.
The empire’s territory was centred on the Kingdom of Germany, and included neighbouring territories, which at its peak included the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Burgundy.
For much of its history, the Empire consisted of hundreds of smaller sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties, Free Imperial Cities and other domains.
Otto I (see left) was crowned King of Germany in 962, but he is nevertheless considered to have been the first Römisch-Deutscher Kaiser (Holy Roman Emperor) in retrospect.
Otto was the first emperor of the realm who was not a member of the earlier Carolingian dynasty.
The last Holy Roman Emperor was Francis II, who abdicated and dissolved the Empire in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. 
In a decree following the 1512 Diet of Cologne, the name was officially changed to the Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation (the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) (Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum Nationis Germanicæ).
The territories and dominion of the Holy Roman Empire in terms of present-day states comprised Germany (except Southern Schleswig), Austria (except Burgenland), the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovenia (except Prekmurje), besides significant parts of eastern France (mainly Artois, Alsace, Franche-Comté, Savoy and Lorraine), northern Italy (mainly Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Trentino and South Tyrol), and western Poland (mainly Silesia, Pomerania and Neumark).
The Holy Roman Empire was the First Reich.

During the 16th century, northern German regions became the centre of the Protestant Reformation which had been inaugurated by the German monk Martin (Luther see left), while southern and western parts remained dominated by Roman Catholic denominations, with the two factions clashing in the Thirty Years’ War.

Unleashed in the early sixteenth century, the Reformation put an abrupt end to the relative unity that had existed for the previous thousand years in Western Christendom under the Roman Catholic Church.
The Reformation, which began in Germany but spread quickly throughout Europe, was initiated in response to the growing sense of corruption and administrative abuse in the church.
It expressed an alternate vision of Christian practice, and led to the creation and rise of Protestantism, with all its individual branches.
Though rooted in a broad dissatisfaction with the church, the birth of the Reformation can be traced to the protests of one man, the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483–1546)
The German territories were occupied during the Napoleonic Wars.
The subsequent defeat of Napoleon enabled conservative and reactionary regimes such as those of the Kingdom of Prussia, the Austrian Empire and Tsarist Russia to survive, laying the groundwork for the Congress of Vienna and the alliance that strove to oppose radical demands for change ushered in by the French Revolution.
The Great Powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 aimed to restore Europe (as far as possible) to its pre-war conditions by combating both liberalism and nationalism and by creating barriers around France.
With Austria’s position on the continent now intact and ostensibly secure under its reactionary premier Klemens von Metternich, the Habsburg empire would serve as a barrier to contain the emergence of Italian and German nation-states as well, in addition to containing France. But this reactionary balance of power, aimed at blocking German and Italian nationalism on the continent, was precarious.
After Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, the surviving member states of the defunct Holy Roman Empire joined to form the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) — a rather loose organization, especially because the two great rivals, the Austrian Empire and the Prussian kingdom, each feared domination by the other.
In Prussia the Hohenzollern rulers forged a centralized state.
By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Prussia was a socially and institutionally backward state, grounded in the virtues of its established military aristocracy (the Junkers), stratified by rigid hierarchical lines.

After 1815, Prussia’s defeats by Napoleonic France highlighted the need for administrative, economic, and social reforms to improve the efficiency of the bureaucracy and encourage practical merit-based education. Inspired by the Napoleonic organization of German and Italian principalities, the reforms of Karl August von Hardenberg (see left) and Count Stein were conservative, enacted to preserve aristocratic privilege while modernizing institutions.
Outside Prussia, industrialization progressed slowly, and was held back because of political disunity, conflicts of interest between the nobility and merchants, and the continued existence of the guild system, which discouraged competition and innovation.
While this kept the middle class small, affording the old order a measure of stability not seen in France, Prussia’s vulnerability to Napoleon’s military proved to many among the old order that a fragile, divided, and backward Germany would be easy prey for its cohesive and industrializing neighbour.

The reforms laid the foundation for Prussia’s future military might by professionalizing the military and decreeing universal military conscription.
In order to industrialize Prussia, working within the framework provided by the old aristocratic institutions, land reforms were enacted to break the monopoly of the Junkers on landownership, thereby also abolishing, among other things, the feudal practice of serfdom.

Although the forces unleashed by the French Revolution were seemingly under control after the Vienna Congress, the conflict between conservative forces and liberal nationalists was only deferred at best.

The era until the failed 1848 revolution, in which these tensions built up, is commonly referred to as Vormärz (“pre-March”), in reference to the outbreak of riots in March 1848.
This conflict pitted the forces of the old order against those inspired by the French Revolution and the Rights of Man.
The sociological breakdown of the competition was, roughly, one side engaged mostly in commerce, trade and industry, and the other side associated with landowning aristocracy or military aristocracy (the Junker) in Prussia, the Habsburg monarchy in Austria, and the conservative notables of the small princely states and city-states in Germany.
Meanwhile, demands for change from below had been fomenting since the influence of the French Revolution.
Throughout the German Confederation, Austrian influence was paramount, drawing the ire of the nationalist movements.
Metternich considered nationalism, especially the nationalist youth movement, the most pressing danger: German nationalism might not only repudiate Austrian dominance of the Confederation, but also stimulate nationalist sentiment within the Austrian Empire itself.
In a multi-national polyglot state in which Slavs and Magyars outnumbered the Germans, the prospects of Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, Serb, or Croatian sentiment along with middle class liberalism was certainly horrifying.

The Vormärz era saw the rise of figures like August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Ludwig Uhland, Georg Herwegh, Heinrich Heine (see left) , Georg Büchner, Ludwig Börne and Bettina von Arnim. Father Friedrich Jahn’s gymnastic associations exposed middle class German youth to nationalist and democratic ideas, which took the form of the nationalistic and liberal democratic college fraternities known as the Burschenschaften.
The Wartburg Festival in 1817 celebrated Martin Luther as a proto-German nationalist, linking Lutheranism to German nationalism, and helping arouse religious sentiments for the cause of German nationhood.

The festival culminated in the burning of several books and other items that symbolized reactionary attitudes. One item was a book by August von Kotzebue.
In 1819, Kotzebue was accused of spying for Russia, and then murdered by a theological student, Karl Ludwig Sand, who was executed for the crime.
Sand belonged to a militant nationalist faction of the Burschenschaften.
Metternich (see right) used the murder as a pretext to issue the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, which dissolved the Burschenschaften, cracked down on the liberal press, and seriously restricted academic freedom.

German artists and intellectuals, heavily influenced by the French Revolution, turned to Romanticism.
At the universities, high-powered professors developed international reputations, especially in the humanities led by history and philology, which brought a new historical perspective to the study of political history, theology, philosophy, language, and literature.

With Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) in philosophy, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) in theology and Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) in history, the University of Berlin, founded in 1810, became the world’s leading university.
Von Ranke, for example, professionalized history and set the world standard for historiography. By the 1830s mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology had emerged with world class science, led by Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) in natural science and Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) in mathematics.
Young intellectuals often turned to politics, but their support for the failed Revolution of 1848 forced many into exile.

News of the 1848 Revolution in Paris quickly reached discontented bourgeois liberals, republicans and more radical workingmen.
The first revolutionary uprisings in Germany began in the state of Baden in March 1848.
Within a few days, there were revolutionary uprisings in other states including Austria, and finally in Prussia.
On 15 March 1848, the subjects of Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia vented their long-repressed political aspirations in violent rioting in Berlin, while barricades were erected in the streets of Paris.

King Louis-Philippe (see right) of France fled to Great Britain.
Friedrich Wilhelm gave in to the popular fury, and promised a constitution, a parliament, and support for German unification. But at least his regime was still standing.
On 18 May the Frankfurt Parliament (Frankfurt Assembly) opened its first session, with delegates from various German states.
It was immediately divided between those favoring a kleindeutsche (small German) or grossdeutsche (greater German) solution.
The former favored offering the imperial crown to Prussia.
The latter favored the Habsburg crown in Vienna, which would integrate Austria proper and Bohemia (but not Hungary) into the new Germany.
From May to December, the Assembly eloquently debated academic topics while conservatives swiftly moved against the reformers.
As in Austria and Russia, this middle-class assertion increased authoritarian and reactionary sentiments among the landed upper class, whose economic position was declining.
They turned to political levers to preserve their rule.
As the Prussian army proved loyal, and the peasants were uninterested, Friedrich Wilhelm regained his confidence.
The Assembly issued its Declaration of the Rights of the German people, a constitution was drawn up (excluding Austria which openly rejected the Assembly), and the leadership of the Reich was offered to Friedrich Wilhelm, who refused to “pick up a crown from the gutter”. Thousands of middle class liberals fled abroad, especially to the United States.
In 1849, Friedrich Wilhelm proposed his own constitution.

His document concentrated real power in the hands of the King and the upper classes, and called for a confederation of North German states (the Erfurt Union) (see left).
Austria and Russia, fearing a strong, Prussian-dominated Germany, responded by pressuring Saxony and Hanover to withdraw, and forced Prussia to abandon the scheme in a treaty dubbed the “humiliation of Olmütz”.

A new generation of statesmen responded to popular demands for national unity for their own ends, continuing Prussia’s tradition of autocracy and reform from above.
Germany found an able leader to accomplish the seemingly paradoxical task of conservative modernization.

Bismarck was appointed by Wilhelm IV of Prussia (the future Kaiser Wilhelm I) to circumvent the liberals in the Landtag who resisted Wilhelm’s autocratic militarism.
Bismarck told the Diet, “The great questions of the day are not decided by speeches and majority votes…but by blood and iron” –that is, by warfare and industrial might.
Prussia already had a great army; it was now augmented by rapid growth of economic power.
Gradually Bismarck won over the middle class, reacting to the revolutionary sentiments expressed in 1848 by providing them with the economic opportunities for which the urban middle sectors had been fighting.

Bismarck successfully waged war on Denmark in 1864.

The Second Schleswig War – (Deutsch-Dänischer Krieg) – was the second military conflict as a result of the Schleswig-Holstein Question.

It began on 1 February 1864, when Prussian forces crossed the border into Schleswig.
Denmark fought Prussia and Austria.
Like the First Schleswig War (1848–51), it was fought for control of the duchies because of succession disputes concerning the duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg when the Danish king died without an heir acceptable to the German Confederation.
Decisive controversy arose due to the passing of the November Constitution, which integrated the Duchy of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom in violation of the London Protocol.
Reasons for the war were the ethnic controversy in Schleswig and the co-existence of conflicting political systems within the Danish unitary state.
The war ended on 30 October 1864, when the Treaty of Vienna caused Denmark’s cession of the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Saxe-Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria.
It was the last victorious conflict of the Austrian Empire/Austria-Hungary in its history.

The Austro-Prussian War (in Germany known as the Seven Weeks War, or the Unification War,  was a war fought in 1866 between the German Confederation under the leadership of the Austrian Empire and its German allies on one side, and the Kingdom of Prussia with its German allies and Italy on the other, that resulted in Prussian dominance over the German states.
In the Italian unification process, this is called the Third Independence War.
In English it is also commonly known as the Seven Weeks’ War.

The major result of the war was a shift in power among the German states away from Austrian and towards Prussian hegemony, and impetus towards the unification of all of the northern German states in a Kleindeutschland that excluded Austria.
It saw the abolition of the German Confederation and its partial replacement by a North German Confederation that excluded Austria and the South German states.
The war also resulted in the Italian annexation of the Austrian province of Venetia.
Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 enabled Bismark to create the North German Federation (Norddeutscher Bund) and to exclude Austria, formerly the leading German state, from the federation’s affairs.

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871) was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria.

The complete Prussian and German victory brought about the final unification of Germany under King Wilhelm I of Prussia.
It also marked the downfall of Napoleon III and the end of the Second French Empire, which was replaced by the French Third Republic.
As part of the settlement, the territory of Alsace and part of Lorraine was taken by Prussia to become a part of Germany, which it would retain until the end of World War I when it was returned to France in the Treaty of Versailles.

After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire was proclaimed 1871 in Versailles (see left), uniting all scattered parts of Germany except Austria (Kleindeutschland, or “Lesser Germany”).
With almost two thirds of its territory and population, Prussia was the dominating constituent of the new state; the Hohenzollern King of Prussia ruled as its concurrent Emperor, and Berlin became its capital.
In the Gründerzeit period following the unification of Germany, Bismarck’s foreign policy as Chancellor of Germany under Emperor William I secured Germany’s position as a great nation by forging alliances, isolating France by diplomatic means, and avoiding war.
Unofficially, the transition of most of the German-speaking populations into a federated organization of states occurred over nearly a century of experimentation.
Unification exposed several glaring religious, linguistic, social, and cultural differences between and among the inhabitants of the new nation, suggesting that 1871 only represents one moment in a continuum of the larger unification processes.

Under Wilhelm II (see right), however, Germany, like other European powers, took an imperialistic course leading to friction with neighbouring countries.

As a result of the Berlin Conference in 1884 Germany claimed several colonies including German East Africa, German South-West Africa, Togo, and Cameroon.
Most alliances in which Germany had previously been involved were not renewed, and new alliances excluded the country.

Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert
Seine Kaiserliche und Königliche Majestät
der Deutsche Kaiser, König von Preußen
After his Abdication

Wilhelm II – Kaiser von Deutschland
und König von Preußen

Wilhelm II – (Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert;) (27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918.

He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe. Crowned in 1888, he dismissed the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1890 and launched Germany on a bellicose “New Course” in foreign affairs that culminated in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914 that led to World War I. Bombastic and impetuous, he sometimes made tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics without consulting his ministers, culminating in a disastrous Daily Telegraph interview that cost him most of his power in 1908. His generals dictated policy during World War I with little regard for the civilian government. An ineffective war leader, he lost the support of the army, abdicated in November 1918, and fled to exile in the Netherlands.

Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand
von Österreich

The assassination of the Arch-duke Franz Ferdinand (see left), Austria’s crown prince on 28 June 1914 triggered World War I.

Germany, as part of the Central Powers, suffered defeat against the Allies in one of the bloodiest conflicts of all time.
An estimated two million German soldiers died in World War I.
The German Revolution broke out in November 1918, and Emperor Wilhelm II and all German ruling princes abdicated.

An armistice ended the war on 11 November, and Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

The treaty, which placed all the blame for causing the war on Germany, along with crippling reparations, was perceived in Germany as a humiliating continuation of the war.

Karl Franz Joseph Ludwig Hubert Georg Otto Marie
Kaiserliche und Königliche Apostolische Majestät,
Karl I von Österreich
At the beginning of the German Revolution in November 1918, Germany was declared a republic.
In Austria the Kaiser Franz Joseph died in 1916 and was succeeded by Karl I (see right).
In 1917 Kaiser Karl I abdicated and Austria, like Germany was declared a republic.
In Germany the struggle for power continued, with radical-left communists seizing power in Bavaria.

The revolution came to an end on 11 August 1919, when the Weimar Constitution (see left) was signed by President Friedrich Ebert (see right).

Suffering from the Great Depression, the harsh peace conditions dictated by the Treaty of Versailles, and a long succession of unstable governments, Germans increasingly lacked identification with the government. 
This was exacerbated by a widespread right-wing Dolchstoßlegende, or stab-in-the-back myth, which argued that Germany had lost World War I because of those who wanted to overthrow the government.
The Weimar government was accused of betraying Germany by signing the Versailles Treaty. By 1932, the German Communist Party and the Nazi Party controlled the majority of parliament, fuelled by discontent with the Weimar government.

After a series of unsuccessful cabinets, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.

The national Socialist Government was known as the Third Reich.
On 27 February 1933 the Reichstag building went up in flames (see left), and a consequent emergency decree abrogated basic citizens’ rights.

An Enabling Act passed in parliament gave Hitler unrestricted legislative power.
Only the Social Democratic Party voted against it, while Communist MPs had already been imprisoned.

Using his powers to crush any actual or potential resistance, Adolf Hitler (see right) established a centralised state within months.

Industry was revitalised with a focus on military rearmament.
In 1935, Germany reacquired control of the Saar and in 1936 military control of the Rhineland, both of which had been lost in the Treaty of Versailles.
In 1938 the Anchluss took place, uniting Germany and the Ostmark, and 1939 Czechoslovakia were brought under German control, and the invasion of Poland was prepared through the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact and Operation Himmler.
On 1 September 1939 the German Wehrmacht launched a blitzkrieg on Poland, which was swiftly occupied by Germany and by the Soviet Red Army.
The UK and France declared war on Germany, marking the beginning of World War II.
After 1945, Germany was divided by allied occupation, and evolved into two states, East Germany and West Germany.
In 1990 Germany was reunified.

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