Deutsches Kaiserreich

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Kaiserreich is the German term for a monarchical empire.
Literally a Kaiser’s Reich, an emperor’s domain or realm.
Proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor

When the proper term is used without disambiguation, it is assumed in Germany to refer to the German Empire of 1871-1918, during which the large majority of historically-independent German states (with the significant exception of Austria) were unified under a single Kaiser.

Deutsches Kaiserreich is the common name given to the state officially named Deutsches Reich, designating Germany from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic, after defeat in World War I, and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.
In a France defeated and invaded after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Chancellor Bismarck proclaimed the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors.
This was Germany’s revenge for the humiliations imposed by Louis XIV and Napoléon I.
On 19 July 1870, France declared war on Prussia.
It capitulated at Sedan on 2 September. Prussia then invaded France.
On 19 September, it besieged Paris and the first Prussian troops arrived in Versailles.
On 5 October, William I and Bismarck moved into the town to prepare the proclamation of the German Empire from the Château.
Since the mid-1860s, Prussia had emerged enlarged and fortified from its campaigns against Austria and Denmark.
It now extended from the Rhine to Russia.
Bismarck, its Chancellor, attempted to federate the other German states around Prussia in order to create an empire at the expense of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, its rival.
He wanted Germany to become the new power of central Europe, between France and Russia.
He had managed to constitute the Confederation of Northern Germany which united all the states except those of the south.
Hesse and Baden, followed by Bavaria and Wurtemberg finally joined in November 1870.

Otto von Bismark
König Ludwig II. von Bayern

At the request of Prussian Minister President Otto von Bismarck (and in exchange for certain financial concessions), Ludwig wrote a letter (the so-called ‘Kaiserbrie’) in December 1870 endorsing the creation of the German Empire.
With the creation of the Empire, Bavaria lost its status as an independent kingdom, and became another state in the empire.
Ludwig attempted to protest these alterations by refusing to attend the ceremony where Wilhelm I was proclaimed the new empire’s first emperor.

Was this also out of love of the place and Louis XIV?
Whatever the reason, his brother Otto negotiated in his place.
However the Bavarian delegation under Prime Minister Count Otto von Bray-Steinburg had secured a privileged status of the Kingdom of Bavaria within the German Empire (Reservatrechte).
Within the Empire the Kingdom of Bavaria was even able to retain its own diplomatic body, and its own army, which would fall under Prussian command only in times of war.

.Prinz Otto von Bayern
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After the creation of the greater Germany, Ludwig increasingly withdrew from politics, and devoted himself to his personal creative projects, most famously his castles, where he personally approved every detail of the architecture, decoration and furnishing.

And so the proclamation of German unity could be made.
The proclamation of the Empire was fixed for 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors.
An altar was set up here for the religious ceremony.
A stage was installed along the side next to the Salon of War, facing the spot where the throne of Louis XIV stood.
600 officers and all the German princes were present except Ludwig II of Bavaria.
After the Te Deum, Bismarck, in his cuirassier’s uniform, read out the proclamation.
When he had finished, the Grand-Duke of Baden shouted “Long live his Majesty the Emperor William!” The room rocked with the assembly’s “hurrahs!”.
The Chancellor had finally made his dream come true under the paintings of Le Brun glorifying the victories of Louis XIV on the Rhine.
He had also achieved his revenge for the defeat of Iena in 1806.
The Germans soon left Versailles to the elected representatives of defeated France.
Wappen des Königreichs Preußen
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The German Empire consisted of 27 constituent territories (most of them ruled by royal families).
While the Kingdom of Prussia contained most of the population and most of the territory of the Reich, the Prussian leadership became supplanted by German leaders and Prussia itself played a lesser role.
Prussia’s “political and cultural influence had diminished considerably” by the 1890s.
Its three largest neighbours were rivals Imperial Russia to the east, France to the west, and ally Austria-Hungary to the south.
After 1850, Germany industrialized rapidly, with a foundation in coal, iron (and later steel), chemicals and railways.
From a population of 41 million people in 1871, it grew to 68 million in 1913.
From a heavily rural nation in 1815, it was now predominantly urban.
During its 47 years of existence, the German Empire operated as an industrial, technological and scientific giant, receiving more Nobel Prizes in science than Britain, France, Russia and the United States combined.

Dropping the Pilot

It became a great power, boasting a rapidly growing economy and the world’s strongest army and its navy went from being negligible to second only behind the Royal Navy in less than a decade.
After the removal of the powerful Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1890 following the death of Emperor Wilhelm I, the young Emperor Wilhelm II engaged in increasingly reckless foreign policies that left the Empire politically isolated.
Its network of small colonies in Africa and the Pacific paled in comparison to the British and French empires.
When the great crisis of 1914 arrived, it had only two weak allies (Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empire) left.
In World War I its plans to quickly capture Paris in 1914 failed and the Western Front (against Britain and France) became a stalemate.
The Allied naval blockade made for increasing shortages of food.
The Empire collapsed overnight in the November 1918 Revolution as all the royals abdicated and a republic took over.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

On 10 December 1870 the North German Confederation Reichstag renamed the Confederation as the German Empire and gave the title of German Emperor to the King of Prussia as President of the Confederation.

König Wilhelm I von Preußen

During the Siege of Paris on 18 January 1871, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
The 1871 German Constitution was adopted by the Reichstag on 14 April 1871 and proclaimed by the Emperor on 16 April, which was substantially based upon Bismarck’s North German Constitution.
Germany acquired some democratic features.
The new empire had a parliament called the Reichstag, which was elected by universal male suffrage, however, the original constituencies drawn in 1871 were never redrawn to reflect the growth of urban areas.
As a result, by the time of the great expansion of German cities in the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century, rural areas were grossly overrepresented.
Legislation also required the consent of the Bundesrat, the federal council of deputies from the states. Executive power was vested in the emperor, or Kaiser, who was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him.
The emperor was given extensive powers by the constitution.
He alone appointed and dismissed the chancellor, was supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and final arbiter of all foreign affairs.
Officially, the chancellor was a one-man cabinet and was responsible for the conduct of all state affairs; in practice, the State Secretaries (bureaucratic top officials in charge of such fields as finance, war, foreign affairs, etc.) acted as unofficial portfolio ministers.


The Reichstag had the power to pass, amend or reject bills and to initiate legislation.
Although nominally a league of equals, in practice the empire was dominated by the largest and most powerful state, Prussia.
It stretched across the northern two thirds of the new Reich, and contained three fifths of its population.
The imperial crown was hereditary in the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling house of Prussia.
With the exception of the years 1872–1873 and 1892–1894, the chancellor was always simultaneously the prime minister of Prussia.
With 17 out of 58 votes in the Bundesrat, Berlin needed only a few votes from the small states to exercise effective control.
The other states retained their own governments, but had only limited aspects of sovereignty.
For example, both postage stamps and currency were issued for the empire as a whole.
Coins through one mark was also minted in the name of the empire, while higher valued pieces were issued by the states, but these larger gold and silver issues were virtually commemorative coins and had limited circulation.
While the states issued their own decorations, and some had their own armies, the military forces of the smaller ones were put under Prussian control.
Those of the larger states, such as the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Saxony, were coordinated along Prussian principles and would in wartime be controlled by the federal government.
The evolution of the German Empire is somewhat in line with parallel developments in Italy which became a united nation state shortly before the German Empire.

Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire
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Some key elements of the German Empire’s authoritarian political structure were also the basis for conservative modernization in Imperial Japan under Meiji and the preservation of an authoritarian political structure under the Tsars in the Russian Empire.
One factor in the social anatomy of these governments had been the retention of a very substantial share in political power by the landed elite, the Junkers, resulting from the absence of a revolutionary breakthrough by the peasants in combination with urban areas.
Although authoritarian in many respects, the empire permitted the development of political parties. Bismarck’s intention was to create a constitutional façade which would mask the continuation of authoritarian policies.
In the process, he created a system with a serious flaw.
There was a significant disparity between the Prussian and German electoral systems.
Prussia used a highly restrictive three-class voting system in which the richest third of the population could choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring a conservative majority.
As mentioned above, the king and (with two exceptions) the prime minister of Prussia were also the emperor and chancellor of the empire – meaning that the same rulers had to seek majorities from legislatures elected from completely different franchises.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Before unification, German territory was made up of 27 constituent states.
These states consisted of kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities, free Hanseatic cities and one imperial territory.
The Kingdom of Prussia was the largest of the constituent states, covering some 60% of the territory of the German Empire.
Several of these states had gained sovereignty following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.
Others were created as sovereign states after the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Territories were not necessarily contiguous – many existed in several parts, as a result of historical acquisition, or, in several cases, divisions of the ruling family trees.
Some of the existing states, in particular Hanover, were abolished and annexed by Prussia as a result of the war of 1866.
Each component of the German Empire sent representatives to the Federal Council (Bundesrat) and, via single member districts, the Imperial Diet (Reichstag).
Relations between the Imperial centre and the Empire’s components were somewhat fluid, and were developed on an ongoing basis.
The extent to which the Emperor could, for example, intervene on occasions of disputed or unclear succession was much debated on occasion – for example with the Lippe-Detmold inheritance crisis.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013


München Hauptbahnhof

Lacking a technological base at first, the Germans imported their engineering and hardware from Britain, but quickly learned the skills needed to operate and expand the railways.
In many cities, the new railway shops were the centres of technological awareness and training, so that by 1850, Germany was self-sufficient in meeting the demands of railroad construction, and the railways were a major impetus for the growth of the new steel industry, however, German unification in 1870 stimulated consolidation, nationalisation into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth.

German Railways

Unlike the situation in France, the goal was support of industrialisation, and so heavy lines crisscrossed the Ruhr and other industrial districts, and provided good connections to the major ports of Hamburg and Bremen.
By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight, and forged ahead of France.


Germany before 1800 was heavily rural, with some urban trade centers.
In the 19th century it began a stage of rapid economic growth and modernization, led by heavy industry.
By 1900 it had the largest economy in Europe.

Before 1850 Germany lagged far behind the leaders in industrial development, Britain, France and Belgium. By mid-century  however, the German states were catching up, and by 1900 Germany was a world leader in industrialization, along with Britain and the United States.
In 1800, Germany’s social structure was poorly suited to entrepreneurship or economic development. Domination by France during the era of the French Revolution (1790s to 1815), produced important institutional reforms, including the abolition of feudal restrictions on the sale of large landed estates, the reduction of the power of the guilds in the cities, and the introduction of a new, more efficient commercial law.
Nevertheless, traditionalism remained strong in most of Germany.
Until midcentury, the guilds, the landed aristocracy, the churches, and the government bureaucracies had so many rules and restrictions that entrepreneurship was held in low esteem, and given little opportunity to develop.
From the 1830s and 1840s, Prussia, Saxony, and other states reorganized agriculture, introducing sugar beets, turnips, and potatoes, yielding a higher level of food production that enabled a surplus rural population to move to industrial areas.
The beginnings of the industrial revolution in Germany came in the textile industry, and was facilitated by eliminating tariff barriers through the Zollverein, starting in 1834.
The take-off stage of economic development came with the railroad revolution in the 1840s, which opened up new markets for local products, created a pool of middle manager, increased the demand for engineers, architects and skilled machinists and stimulated investments in coal and iron.
The political decisions about the economy of Prussia (and after 1871 all Germany) were largely controlled by a coalition of “rye and iron”, that is the Junker landowners of the east and the heavy industry of the west.
Industrialization progressed dynamically in Germany and German manufacturers began to capture domestic markets from British imports, and also to compete with British industry abroad, particularly in the U.S.
The German textiles and metal industries had by 1870 surpassed those of Britain in organization and technical efficiency and superseded British manufacturers in the domestic market.
Germany became the dominant economic power on the continent and was the second largest exporting nation after Britain.

Banks and Cartels

German banks played central roles in financing German industry.
Different banks formed cartels in different industries.
Cartel contracts were accepted as legal and binding by German courts although they were held to be illegal in Britain and the United States.
The process of cartelization began slowly, but the cartel movement took hold after 1873 in the economic depression that followed the postunification speculative bubble.
It began in heavy industry and spread throughout other industries.
By 1900 there were 275 cartels in operation; by 1908, over 500.
By some estimates, different cartel arrangements may have numbered in the thousands at different times, but many German companies stayed outside the cartels because they did not welcome the restrictions that membership imposed.
The government played a powerful role in the industrialization of the German Empire.
It supported not only heavy industry but also crafts and trades because it wanted to maintain prosperity in all parts of the empire.
Even where the national government did not act, the highly autonomous regional and local governments supported their own industries.
Each state tried to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Despite the several ups and downs of prosperity and depression that marked the first decades of the German Empire, the ultimate wealth of the empire proved immense.
German aristocrats, landowners, bankers, and producers created what might be termed the first German economic miracle, the turn-of-the-century surge in German industry and commerce during which bankers, industrialists, mercantilists, the military, and the monarchy joined forces.


Technological progress during German industrialization occurred in four waves: the railway wave (1877–86), the dye wave (1887–96), the chemical wave (1897–1902), and the wave of electrical engineering (1903–18).
Since Germany industrialized later than Britain, it was able to model its factories after those of Britain, thus making more efficient use of its capital and avoiding legacy methods in its leap to the envelope of technology. Germany invested more heavily than the British in research, especially in chemistry, motors and electricity. Germany’s dominance in physics and chemistry was such that one-third of all Nobel Prizes went to German inventors and researchers.
The German cartel system (known as Konzerne), being significantly concentrated, was able to make more efficient use of capital.
Germany was not weighted down with an expensive worldwide empire that needed defense.
Following Germany’s annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, it absorbed parts of what had been France’s industrial base.

BASF Ludwigschafen Works

By 1900, the German chemical industry dominated the world market for synthetic dyes.
The three major firms BASF, Bayer and Hoechst produced several hundred different dyes, along with the five smaller firms.
In 1913, these eight firms produced almost 90% of the world supply of dyestuffs and sold about 80% of their production abroad.
The three major firms had also integrated upstream into the production of essential raw materials and they began to expand into other areas of chemistry such as pharmaceuticals, photographic film, agricultural chemicals and electrochemicals.
Top-level decision-making was in the hands of professional salaried managers; leading Chandler to call the German dye companies “the world’s first truly managerial industrial enterprises”.
There were many spin-offs from research—such as the pharmaceutical industry, which emerged from chemical research.
By the start of World War I (1914–1918), German industry switched to war production.
The heaviest demands were on coal and steel for artillery and shell production, and on chemicals for the synthetization of materials that were subject to import restrictions and for chemical weapons and war supplies.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Germany’s middle class, based in the cities, grew exponentially, but it never gained the political power it had in France, Britain or the United States.

The Association of German Women’s Organizations (BDF) was established in 1894 to encompass the proliferating women’s organizations that had sprung up since the 1860s.
From the beginning the BDF was a bourgeois organization, its members working toward equality with men in such areas as education, financial opportunities, and political life.
Working-class women were not welcome; they were organized by the Socialists.

German City Street Scene

Bismarck built on a tradition of welfare programs in Prussia and Saxony that began as early as in the 1840s.
In the 1880s he introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance that formed the basis of the modern European welfare state.
His paternalistic programs won the support of German industry because its goals were to win the support of the working classes for the Empire and reduce the outflow of immigrants to America, where wages were higher, but welfare did not exist.
Bismarck further won the support of both industry and skilled workers by his high tariff policies, which protected profits and wages from American competition, although they alienated the liberal intellectuals who wanted free trade.
After achieving formal unification in 1871, Bismarck devoted much of his attention to the cause of national unity under the ideology of Prussianism.
He opposed conservative Catholic activism and emancipation, especially the powers of the Vatican under Pope Pius IX, and working class radicalism, represented by the emerging Social Democratic Party.


Prussia in 1871 included 16,000,000 Protestants, both Reformed and Lutheran, and 8,000,000 Catholics. Most people were generally segregated into their own religious worlds, living in rural districts or city neighborhoods that were overwhelmingly of the same religion, and sending their children to separate public schools where their religion was taught.
There was little interaction or intermarriage.
On the whole, the Protestants had a higher social status, and the Catholics were more likely to be peasant farmers or unskilled or semiskilled industrial workers.

Pope Pius IX

In 1870, the Catholics formed their own political party, the Centre Party, which generally supported unification and most of Bismarck’s policies, however, Bismarck distrusted parliamentary democracy in general and opposition parties in particular, especially when the Centre Party showed signs of gaining support among dissident elements such as the Polish Catholics in Silesia.
A powerful intellectual force of the time was anti-Catholicism, led by the liberal intellectuals who formed a vital part of Bismarck’s coalition.
They saw the Catholic Church as a powerful force of reaction and anti-modernity, especially after the proclamation of papal infallibility in 1870, and the tightening control of the Vatican over the local bishops.
The Kulturkampf launched by Bismarck 1871–1880 affected Prussia; although there were similar movements in Baden and Hesse, the rest of Germany was not affected.
According to the new imperial constitution, the states were in charge of religious and educational affairs; they funded the Protestant and Catholic schools.

German Junior School

In July 1871 Bismarck abolished the Catholic section of the Prussian Ministry of ecclesiastical and educational affairs, depriving Catholics of their voice at the highest level.
The system of strict government supervision of schools was applied only in Catholic areas; the Protestant schools were left alone.
Much more serious were the May laws of 1873.
One made the appointment of any priest dependent on his attendance at a German university, as opposed to the seminaries that the Catholics typically used.
Furthermore, all candidates for the ministry had to pass an examination in German culture before a state board which weeded out intransigent Catholics.
Another provision gave the government a veto power over most church activities.
A second law abolished the jurisdiction of the Vatican over the Catholic Church in Prussia; its authority was transferred to a government body controlled by Protestants.
Nearly all German bishops, clergy, and laymen rejected the legality of the new laws, and were defiant in the face of heavier and heavier penalties and imprisonments imposed by Bismarck’s government by 1876, all the Prussian bishops were imprisoned or in exile, and a third of the Catholic parishes were without a priest.
In the face of systematic defiance, the Bismarck government increased the penalties and its attacks, and were challenged in 1875 when a papal encyclical declared the whole ecclesiastical legislation of Prussia was invalid, and threatened to excommunicate any Catholic who obeyed.
There was no violence, but the Catholics mobilized their support, set up numerous civic organizations, raised money to pay fines, and rallied behind their church and the Centre Party.
The government had set up an “Old-Catholic Church,” which attracted only a few thousand members. Bismarck, a devout pietistic Protestant, realized his Kulturkampf was backfiring when secular and socialist elements used the opportunity to attack all religion.
In the long run, the most significant result was the mobilization of the Catholic voters, and their insistence on protecting their religious identity.
In the elections of 1874, the Centre party doubled its popular vote, and became the second-largest party in the national parliament—and remained a powerful force for the next 60 years, so that after Bismarck it became difficult to form a government without their support.

Social Reform

Bismarck built on a tradition of welfare programs in Prussia and Saxony that began as early as in the 1840s. In the 1880s he introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance that formed the basis of the modern European welfare state.
He came to realize that this sort of policy was very appealing, since it bound workers to the state, and also fit in very well with his authoritarian nature.
The social security systems installed by Bismarck (health care in 1883, accident insurance in 1884, invalidity and old-age insurance in 1889) at the time were the largest in the world and, to a degree, still exist in Germany today.
Bismarck’s paternalistic programs won the support of German industry because its goals were to win the support of the working classes for the Empire and reduce the outflow of immigrants to America, where wages were higher but welfare did not exist.
Bismarck further won the support of both industry and skilled workers by his high tariff policies, which protected profits and wages from American competition, although they alienated the liberal intellectuals who wanted free trade.


Rathaus Posen – 1900

One of the effects of the unification policies was the gradually increasing tendency to eliminate the use of non-German languages in public life, schools and academic settings with the intent of pressuring the non-German population to abandon their national identity in what was called “Germanization”.
These policies had often the reverse effect of stimulating resistance, usually in the form of home schooling and tighter unity in the minority groups, especially the Poles.
The Germanization policies were targeted particularly against the significant Polish minority of the empire, gained by Prussia in the Partitions of Poland.
Poles were treated as a ethnic minority even where they made up the majority, as in the Province of Posen, where a series of anti-Polish measures was enforced.
Numerous anti-Polish laws had no great effect especially in the province of Posen where the German-speaking population dropped from 42.8% in 1871 to 38.1% in 1905, despite all efforts.


Bismarck’s efforts also initiated the levelling of the enormous differences between the German states, which had been independent in their evolution for centuries, especially with legislation.
The completely different legal histories and judicial systems posed enormous complications, especially for national trade.
While a common trade code had already been introduced by the Confederation in 1861 (which was adapted for the Empire and, with great modifications, is still in effect today), there was little similarity in laws otherwise.
In 1871, a common Criminal Code (Reichsstrafgesetzbuch) was introduced; in 1877, common court procedures were established in the court system (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz), civil procedures (Zivilprozessordnung) and criminal procedures (Strafprozessordnung).
In 1873 the constitution was amended to allow the Empire to replace the various and greatly differing Civil Codes of the states (If they existed at all; for example, parts of Germany formerly occupied by Napoleon’s France had adopted the French Civil Code, while in Prussia the Allgemeines Preußisches Landrecht of 1794 was still in effect).
In 1881, a first commission was established to produce a common Civil Code for all of the Empire, an enormous effort that would produce the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB), possibly one of the most impressive legal works of the world; it was eventually put into effect on 1 January 1900.
It speaks volumes for the conceptual quality of these codifications that they all, albeit with many amendments, are still in effect today.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Kaiser Frederich III
Kaiser Wilhelm I

On 9 March 1888, Wilhelm I died shortly before his 91st birthday, leaving his son Frederick III as the new emperor.

Frederick was a liberal and an admirer of the British constitution, while his links to Britain strengthened further with his marriage to Princess Victoria, eldest child of Queen Victoria.
With his ascent to the throne, many hoped that Frederick’s reign would lead to a liberalisation of the Reich and an increase of parliament’s influence on the political process.
The dismissal of Robert von Puttkamer, the highly-conservative Prussian interior minister, on 8 June was a sign of the expected direction and a blow to Bismarck’s administration.
By the time of his accession, however, Frederick had developed incurable laryngeal cancer, which had been diagnosed in 1887.
He died on the 99th day of his rule, on 15 June 1888.

His son Wilhelm II became Kaiser.
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Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II sought to reassert his ruling prerogatives at a time when other monarchs in Europe were being transformed into constitutional figureheads.

This decision led the ambitious Kaiser into conflict with Bismarck.
The old chancellor had hoped to guide Wilhelm as he had guided his grandfather, but the emperor wanted to be the master in his own house and had many sycophants telling him that Frederick the Great would not have been great with a Bismarck at his side.
Otto Eduard Leopold Fürst von Bismarck
Herzog von Lauenburg

A key difference between Wilhelm II and Bismarck was their approaches to handling political crises, especially in 1889, when German coal miners went on strike in Upper Silesia.

Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a conservative German statesman who dominated European affairs from the 1860s to his dismissal in 1890. In 1871, after a series of short victorious wars, he unified most of the German states (whilst excluding some, most notably Austria) into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership.  This created a balance of power that preserved peace in Europe from 1871 until 1914.
As ‘Minister President of Prussia’ 1862–90, Bismarck provoked wars that made Prussia dominant over Austria and France, and lined up the smaller German states behind Prussia. In 1867 he also became Chancellor of the North German Confederation. Otto von Bismarck became the first Chancellor of a united Germany after the 1871 Treaty of Versailles and largely controlled its affairs until he was removed by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890. His diplomacy of Realpolitik and powerful rule gained him the nickname the “Iron Chancellor“. 

Bismarck demanded that the German Army be sent in to crush the strike, but Wilhelm II rejected this authoritarian measure, responding “I do not wish to stain my reign with the blood of my subjects.

Instead of condoning repression, Wilhelm had the government negotiate with a delegation from the coal miners, which brought the strike to an end without violence.
The fractious relationship ended in March 1890, after Wilhelm II and Bismarck quarrelled, and the chancellor resigned days later.
Bismarck’s last few years had seen power slip from his hands as he grew older, more irritable, more authoritarian, and less focused.
German politics had become progressively more chaotic, and the chancellor understood this better than anyone, but unlike Wilhelm II and his generation, Bismarck knew well that an ungovernable country with an adventurous foreign policy was a recipe for disaster.
With Bismarck’s departure, Wilhelm II became the dominant ruler of Germany.

Walther Rathenau

Unlike his grandfather, Wilhelm I, who had been largely content to leave government affairs to the chancellor, Wilhelm II wanted to be fully informed and actively involved in running Germany, not an ornamental figurehead.

Wilhelm allowed politician Walther Rathenau to tutor him in European economics and industrial and financial realities in Europe.

Walther Rathenau (September 29, 1867 – June 24, 1922) was a German industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated on June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, 1922.

Bismarkean foreign policy “was too sedate for the reckless Kaiser.”
Wilhelm became internationally notorious for his aggressive stance on foreign policy and his strategic blunders (such as the Tangier Crisis), which pushed the German Empire into growing political isolation.



‘William I Departs for the Front, July 31, 1870’
Adolph Menzel


Biedermeier Style

‘Biedermeier’ refers to a style in literature, music, the visual arts and interior design in the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the revolutions of 1848.
Biedermeier art appealed to the prosperous middle classes by detailed but polished realism, often celebrating domestic virtues, and came to dominate over French-leaning aristocratic tastes, as well as the yearnings of Romanticism. Carl Spitzweg was a leading German artist in the style.

‘Eisenwalzwerk – Ironworks’
Adolph Menzel

This style continued to be popular throughout the Kaiserreich and Wilhelmine period.
In the second half of the 19th century a number of styles developed, paralleling trends in other European counties, though the lack of a dominant capital city probably contributed to even more diversity of styles than in other countries.
Adolph Menzel enjoyed enormous popularity both among the German public and officialdom; at his funeral Kaiser Wilhelm II walked behind his coffin.
He dramaticised past and contemporary Prussian military successes both in paintings and brilliant wood engravings illustrating books, yet his domestic subjects are intimate and touching.

‘Coronation of Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig of Hohenzollern
as King Wilhelm I of Prussia – Schlosskirche, Königsberg’
Adolph Menzel

His popularity in his native country, owing especially to politically propagandistic works, was such that few of his major paintings left Germany, as many were quickly acquired by museums in Berlin. Menzel’s graphic works and drawings were more widely disseminated; these, along with informal paintings not initially intended for display, have largely accounted for his posthumous reputation.

Franz von Lenbach

Karl von Piloty was a leading academic painter of history subjects in the latter part of the century who taught in Munich.
Among his more famous pupils were Hans Makart, Franz von Lenbach, Franz Defregger, Gabriel von Max and Eduard von Grützner.
The term “Munich school” is used both of German and of Greek painting, after Greeks like Georgios Jakobides studied under him.

‘Gekreuzigten Diebe’
(Crucified Thief) – 1893
Lovis Corinth
Lovis Corinth – ‘Self Portrait’

The ‘Berlin Secession’ was a group founded in 1898 by painters including Max Liebermann, who broadly shared the artistic approach of Manet and the French Impressionists, and Lovis Corinth then still painting in a naturalistic style.
The group survived until the 1930s, despite splits, and its regular exhibitions helped launch the next two generations of Berlin artists, without imposing a particular style.
Near the end of the century, the Benedictine Beuron Art School developed a style, mostly for religious murals, in rather muted colours, with a medievalist interest in pattern that drew from Les Nabis and in some ways looked forward to Art Nouveau or the Jugendstil (“Youth Style”) as it is known in German.

‘Das Heilige Herz Jesu’
(The Sacred Heart of Jesus)
Wuger Steiner

The Beuron art school was founded by a confederation of Benedictine monks in Germany in the late nineteenth century.
Beuronese art is principally known for its murals with “muted, tranquil and seemingly mysterious colouring”.

‘Sede Sapietiae’

Though several different principles were in competition to form the canon for the school, “the most significant principle or canon of the Beuronese school is the role which geometry played in determining proportions.” Lenz elaborated the philosophy and canon of a new artistic direction, which was based on the elements of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and early Christian art.
Beuronese art had a large influence on the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. In 1898, shortly after the beginning of the Vienna Secession, Father Desiderius Lenz had his book published – ‘Zur Aesthetic der Beuroner Schule’ (On the Aesthetics of the Beuron School). It is assumed that Klimt will have read Lenz’s work with enthusiasm and images of the Beuron Abbey, for instance, may show sections of the decorated ceiling which appear to have made quite a direct impact on Klimt’s decorative, golden paintings.

Franz von Stuck
‘Geist des Sieges’
(The Spirit of Victory)
Franz von Stuck
Two of the greatest artists of the Wilhelmine age were Franz von Stuck and Max Klinger – who today are often described as German Symbolists.
Franz Stuck (February 24, 1863 – August 30, 1928), ennobled as Franz Ritter von Stuck in 1906, was a German symbolist/Art Nouveau painter, sculptor, engraver, and architect.
Stuck’s subject matter was primarily from mythology, inspired by the work of Arnold Böcklin. Large forms dominate most of his paintings and indicate his proclivities for sculpture.
Franz von Stuck
His seductive female nudes are a prime example of popular Symbolist content.
Stuck paid much attention to the frames for his paintings and generally designed them himself with such careful use of panels, gilt carving and inscriptions that the frames must be considered as an integral part of the overall piece.
The number of Stuck’s pupils who achieved great success served to enhance the teacher’s own fame.
Yet by the time of his death, Stuck’s importance as an artist in his own right had lapsed.
Stuck’s reputation languished until the late 1960s when a renewed interest in Art Nouveau brought him to attention once more.
In 1968 the Villa Stuck was opened to the public; it is now a museum.

‘Der Arbend’
Max Klinger

Max Klinger (February 18, 1857 – July 5, 1920) was a German Symbolist painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer.
Klinger was born in Leipzig and studied in Karlsruhe.
An admirer of the etchings of Menzel and Goya, he shortly became a skilled and imaginative engraver in his own right.
He began creating sculptures in the early 1880s.
From 1883-1893 he lived in Rome, and became increasingly influenced by the Italian Renaissance and antiquity.
Ludwig Fahrenkrog is an example of the way that art, politics and religion became interwoven during the Wilhelmine period, leading up to the ‘Great war’.

Ludwig Fahrenkrog

Ludwig Fahrenkrog (20 October 1867 – 27 October 1952) was a German writer, playwright and artist.
He was born in Rendsburg, Prussia, in 1867.
He started his career as an artist in his youth, and attended the Berlin Royal Art Academy before being appointed a professor in 1913.
He taught at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bremen from 1898 to 1931.
He was also involved in the founding of a series of folkish religious groups in the early 20th century, as part of a movement to create what its adherents referred to as the Germanische Glaubens Gemeinschaft.

‘Die heilige Stunde’
(The Holy Hour)
Ludwig Fahrenkrog

Fahrenkrog was trained in the classical tradition, and had a successful artistic career.
His style, however, was more dependent on Art Nouveau and Symbolist influences than on the classical tradition, and he always stressed the religious nature and mission of art.
The “religious mission” in question is the revival of the pre-Christian Germanic faith and the rejection of Christianity, which is hinted at in paintings such as ‘Lucifer’s Lossage von Gott’ (Lucifer’s Renunciation of God, 1898).
While Fahrenkrog’s work can be seen in the context of contemporary art movements, it was also strongly influenced by his participation in the religious movement taking place at the same time.

‘Im walde – Des-Knaben Wunderhorn’
Moritz von Schwind
Moritz von Schwind

There was a tendency in the Kaiserreich to idealize the middle ages.
This tendancy is to be found in literature, architecture (Ludwig II), and the visual arts.
Moritz von Schwind, (January 21, 1804 – February 8, 1871) although technically an Austrian, produced works for the German market, including the Bavarian king Ludwig II.
In 1834 he was commissioned to decorate King Ludwig’s new palace with wall paintings illustrating the works of the poet Tieck.
He also found in the same place congenial sport for his fancy in a “Kinderfries”.
He was often busy working on almanacs, and on illustrating Goethe and other writers through which he gained considerable recognition and employment.
In the revival of art in Germany, Schwind held as his own the sphere of poetic fancy.

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Germany and Austria


Wotan und Brunhilde
Richard Wagner

Early in the 19th century, a composer by the name of Richard Wagner was born.
He was a “Musician of the Future” who disliked the strict traditionalist styles of music.
He is credited with developing leitmotivs which were simple recurring themes found in his operas.
His music changed the course of opera, and of music in general, forever.
Wagner’s use of ancient German mythology in his ‘Ring’ cycle was a considerable boot to the growing nationalism of the Kaiserreich, and his last work, the sacred music drama ‘Parsifal’, created a link between German nationalism and quasi-Christian sentiments.

Parsifal and the Flower Maidens

In general the music of Wagner provided a strong stimulus for the emerging and developing Völkisch movement which had become fashionable among the educated middle and upper classes in the Kaiserreich.
The later 19th century saw Vienna continue its elevated position in European classical music, as well as a burst of popularity with Viennese waltzes.
These were composed by people like Johann Strauss the Younger.
Other German composers from the period included Albert Lortzing, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Bruckner, Max Bruch, Gustav Mahler, and the great Richard Strauss.
These composers tended to mix classic and romantic elements.

Salome – Richard Strauss
von Stuck
Richard Strauss

Richard Georg Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras.
He is known for his operas, which include ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ and ‘Salome’; his lieder, especially his ‘Four Last Songs’; and his tone poems and other orchestral works, such as ‘Death and Transfiguration’, ‘Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks’, ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, ‘An Alpine Symphony’, Symphonia Domestica and ‘Metamorphosen’.
Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.
Strauss represents the great late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.


In architecture, Historicism (historismus), sometimes known as eclecticism, is an artistic and architectural style that draws inspiration from historic styles or craftmanship.
After the neo-classicist period (which could itself be considered a historicist movement), a new historicist phase emerged in the middle of the 19th century, marked by a return to a more ancient classicism, in particular in architecture and in the genre of history painting.

Gottfried Semper
Münchner Festspielhaus

An important architect of this period was Gottfried Semper, who built the gallery (1855) at the Zwinger Palace and the Semper Opera (1878) in Dresden.
The building has features derived from the Early Renaissance style, Baroque and even features Corinthian style pillars typical of classical Greece (classical revival).
There were regional variants of this style.
Examples are the resort architecture (especially on the German Baltic coast), the Hanover School of Architecture and the Nuremberg style.

 ‘Altes Museum’ – Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Karl Friedrich Schinkel (13 March 1781 – 9 October 1841) was a Prussian architect, city planner, and painter who also designed furniture and stage sets.
Schinkel was one of the most prominent architects of Germany and designed both neoclassical and neogothic buildings, and was a strong influence on building styles in the Kaiserreich.

Neue Wache – Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Schinkel’s style, in his most productive period, is defined by a turn to Greek rather than Imperial Roman architecture, an attempt to turn away from the style that was linked to the recent French occupiers. (Thus, he is a noted proponent of the Greek Revival.)
His most famous buildings are found in and around Berlin.
These include Neue Wache (1816–1818),

The Neue Wache (“New Guard House”) is a building in Berlin. It is located on the north side of the ‘Unter den Linden’, a major east-west thoroughfare in the centre of the city.

Schauspielhaus – Berlin – 1821 – Karl Friedrich Schinkel 

Dating from 1816, the Neue Wache was designed by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and is a leading example of German neoclassicism. Originally built as a guardhouse for the troops of the Crown Prince of Prussia, the building has been used as a war memorial since 1931.

National Monument for the Liberation Wars (1818–1821), the Schauspielhaus (1819–1821) at the Gendarmenmarkt, which replaced the earlier theatre that was destroyed by fire in 1817, and the ‘Altes Museum’ (old museum) on Museum Island (1823–1830).
He also carried out improvements to the Crown Prince’s Palace.
Later, Schinkel moved away from classicism altogether, embracing the Neo-Gothic in his Friedrichswerder Church (1824–1831).

Schloss Neuschwanstein under Construction

The predilection for medieval buildings has its most famous exemplar in the castle of Neuschwanstein, which Ludwig II commissioned in 1869.

Neuschwanstein was designed by Christian Jank, a theatrical set designer, which possibly explains the fantastical nature of the resulting building.

Christian Jank (1833–1888), was a German sce­nic pain­ter no­ta­ble for his pa­lace de­signs for King Lud­wig II of Bavaria.

Christian Jank

Jank was born on 15 July 1833 in Munich, the Bavarian ca­pi­tal.
Here he ori­gi­nally worked as a scenic painter. Among other things he was in­vol­ved in the sce­nery for Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. His work pi­qued the in­te­rest of Lud­wig II, who com­mis­sio­ned him to create con­cepts for his ar­chi­tec­tu­ral pro­jects in­spi­red by Wag­ner. Jank’s historistic drafts were the basis for Neuschwanstein Castle, which was built star­ting in 1869 by Eduard Riedel and later Georg von Dollmann. Jank was also in­vol­ved in the in­te­rior of Linderhof Palace. His con­cepts for Falkenstein Castle could not be rea­li­zed, as the pro­ject was aban­do­ned after the king’s death in 1886. Jank him­s­elf died in Mu­nich on 25 No­vem­ber 1888.

The architectural expertise, vital to a building in such a perilous site, was provided first by the Munich court architect Eduard Riedel and later by Georg Dollmann, son-in-law of Leo von Klenze.
There is also Ulm Cathedral, and at the end of the period the Reichstag building (1894) by Paul Wallot.

‘Jugend’ – January 1900

The Art Nouveau style is commonly known by its German name, Jugendstil.
Drawing from traditional German printmaking, the style uses precise and hard edges, an element that was rather different from the naturalistic style of the time.
The movement was centered in Hamburg
Within the field of Jugendstil art, there is a variety of different methods, applied by the various individual artists. Methods range from classic to romantic.
One feature that sets Jugendstil apart is the typography used, whose letter and image combination is unmistakable.

‘Der Kuss’ – Peter Behrens

The combination was used for covers of novels, advertisements, and exhibition posters.
Designers often used unique display typefaces that worked harmoniously with the image.
Henry Van de Velde, who worked most of his career in Germany, was a Belgian theorist who influenced many others to continue in this style of graphic art including Peter Behrens, Hermann Obrist, and Richard Riemerschmid.
August Endell is another notable Art Nouveau designer.
Magazines were important in spreading the visual idiom of Jugendstil, especially the graphical qualities. Besides Jugend, other important ones were the satirical Simplicissimus and Pan.

Young Germany (Junges Deutschland) was a loose group of Vormärz writers which existed from about 1830 to 1850.
It was essentially a youth movement (similar to those that had swept France and Ireland and originated in Italy).
Its main proponents were Karl Gutzkow, Heinrich Laube, Theodor Mundt and Ludolf Wienbarg; Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Börne and Georg Büchner were also considered part of the movement.
The wider circle included Willibald Alexis, Adolf Glassbrenner and Gustav Kühne.
The so-called Biedermeier poets reacted by withdrawing into the realm of the family and idyllic nature.

Heinrich Heine

This resignation was replaced in the poems of Heinrich Heine by new political directions and a realistic outlook.
Many writers had to go into exile after the revolution of 1848, among them Karl Marx and Carl Schurz. Throughout the 19th century the forms introduced by Goethe and Schiller prevailed: in poetry, the Lied derived from folksongs; in drama, the historical tragedy in blank verse; in prose, the novella, an artistically structured story centered on an extraordinary event.
Annette Elisabeth von Droste-Hulshoff and Eduard Morike were the leading poets; Franz Grillparzer and Christian Friedrich Hebbel, the dramatists; Jeremias Gotthelf, Gottfried Keller, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Wilhelm Raabe, Adalbert Stifter, and Theodor Storm, the storytellers.
Far ahead of his time was Georg Buchner, who rejected bourgeois values and wrote such plays as Woyzeck (1850; Eng. trans., 1957), in which he anticipated modern styles.

Georg Hegel

Literature in the Reich was not only restricted to poetry, novels and biography, however.
Germany became, during this period, a world leader in philosophy.
Hegel was the precursor of these great philosophers.
He was followed by Arthur Schopenhauer, and later Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher, and a major figure in German Idealism.
His historicist and idealist account of reality revolutionized European philosophy. He was considered to be the ‘official philosopher’ of the Prussian State.
Hegel developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or “system”, of Absolute idealism to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy.
In particular, he developed the concept that ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ manifested itself in a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united, without eliminating either pole or reducing one to the other. This concept is known as dialectic.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher best known for his book, ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’, in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction.
A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation of individual motivation. Before Schopenhauer, Hegel had popularized the concept of Zeitgeist, the idea that society consisted of a collective consciousness which moved in a distinct direction, dictating the actions of its members. Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, criticized their logical optimism and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason. Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben (“Will to Live”), which directed all of mankind.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist.
He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony, and aphorism.
Nietzsche’s key ideas include the “death of God,” the ‘Übermensch’, ‘the eternal recurrence’, ‘the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy’, ‘perspectivism’, and ‘der Wille zur Macht’ (the will to power).
Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation”, which involves questioning of all doctrines that drain life’s expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be.
His influence remains substantial within philosophy, notably in existentialism, post-modernism, and post-structuralism, as well as outside it.
His radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth has been the focus of extensive commentary, especially in the continental tradition.


Physics  –  The work of Albert Einstein and Max Planck was crucial to the foundation of modern physics, which Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger developed further.
They were preceded by such key physicists as Hermann von Helmholtz, Joseph von Fraunhofer, and Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, among others.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays, an accomplishment that made him the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 and eventually earned him an element name, roentgenium.
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s work in the domain of electromagnetic radiation were pivotal to the development of modern telecommunication.
Mathematical aerodynamics was developed in Germany, especially by Ludwig Prandtl.
At the start of the 20th century, Germany garnered fourteen of the first thirty-one Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, starting with Hermann Emil Fischer in 1901.
Numerous important mathematicians were born in Germany, including Gauss, Hilbert, Riemann, Weierstrass, Dirichlet and Weyl.
Germany has been the home of many famous inventors and engineers, such as Hans Geiger, the creator of the Geiger counter; and Konrad Zuse, who built the first computer.
German inventors, engineers and industrialists such as Zeppelin, Daimler, Diesel, Otto, and Benz helped shape modern automotive and air transportation technology including the beginnings of space travel.
Alexander von Humboldt’s (1769–1859) work as a natural scientist and explorer was foundational to biogeography.
Wladimir Köppen (1846–1940) was an eclectic Russian-born botanist and climatologist who synthesized global relationships between climate, vegetation and soil types into a classification system that is used, with some modifications, to this day.
Alfred Wegener (1880–1930), a similarly interdisciplinary scientist, was one of the first people to hypothesize the theory of continental drift which was later developed into the overarching geological theory of plate tectonics.
Wilhelm Wundt is credited with the establishment of psychology as an independent empirical science through his construction of the first laboratory at the University of Leipzig in 1879.
Sigmund Freud, who was in fact Austrian, was the inventor of the dream deutung.

Domestic Affairs

Under Wilhelm II, Germany no longer had long-ruling strong chancellors like Bismarck.
The new chancellors had difficulty in performing their roles, especially the additional role as Prime Minister of Prussia assigned to them in the German Constitution.
The reforms of Chancellor Leo von Caprivi, which liberalized trade, and so reduced unemployment, were supported by the Kaiser and most Germans except for Prussian landowners, who feared loss of land and power and launched several campaigns against the reforms.
While Prussian aristocrats challenged the demands of a united German state, in the 1890s several organizations were set up to challenge the authoritarian conservative Prussian militarism which was being imposed on the country.
Educators opposed to the German state-run schools, which emphasized military education, set up their own independent liberal schools, which encouraged individuality and freedom, however nearly all the schools in Imperial Germany had a very high standard and kept abreast with modern developments in knowledge.
Artists began experimental art in opposition to Kaiser Wilhelm’s support for traditional art, to which Wilhelm responded “art which transgresses the laws and limits laid down by me can no longer be called art.”
It was largely thanks to Wilhelm’s influence that most printed material in Germany used ‘blackletter’ (fraktur) instead of the Roman type used in the rest of Western Europe.
At the same time, a new generation of cultural creators emerged.
From the 1890s onwards, the most effective opposition to the monarchy came from the newly formed Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which advocated Marxism.
The threat of the SPD to the German monarchy and industrialists caused the state both to crack down on the party’s supporters and to implement its own programme of social reform to soothe discontent.
Germany’s large industries provided significant social welfare programmes and good care to their employees, as long as they were not identified as socialists or trade-union members.
The larger industrial firms provided pensions, sickness benefits and even housing to their employees.
Having learned from the failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, Wilhelm II maintained good relations with the Roman Catholic Church and concentrated on opposing socialism.
This policy failed when the Social Democrats won ⅓ of the votes in the 1912 elections to the Reichstag, and became the largest political party in Germany.

Feldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg
Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff

The government remained in the hands of a succession of conservative coalitions supported by right-wing liberals or Catholic clerics and heavily dependent on the Kaiser’s favour.
During World War I, the Kaiser increasingly devolved his powers to the leaders of the German High Command, particularly future President of Germany, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff.
Hindenburg took over the role of commander–in–chief from the Kaiser, while Ludendorff became de facto general chief of staff.
By 1916, Germany was effectively a military dictatorship run by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, with the Kaiser reduced to a mere figurehead.

Foreign Affairs

Wilhelm II wanted Germany to have her “place in the sun,” like Britain, which he constantly wished to emulate or rival.
With German traders and merchants already active worldwide, he encouraged colonial efforts in Africa and the Pacific (“new imperialism”), causing the German Empire to vie with other European powers for remaining “unclaimed” territories.
With the encouragement or at least the acquiescence of Britain, which at this stage saw Germany as a counterweight to her old rival France, Germany acquired German Southwest Africa (today Namibia), German Kamerun (Cameroon), Togoland and German East Africa (the mainland part of current Tanzania). Islands were gained in the Pacific through purchase and treaties and also a 99-year lease for the territory of Kiautschou in northeast China.
But of these German colonies only Togoland and German Samoa (after 1908) became self-sufficient and profitable; all the others required subsidies from the Berlin treasury for building infrastructure, school systems, hospitals and other institutions.
Bismarck had originally dismissed the agitation for colonies with contempt; he favoured a Eurocentric foreign policy, as the treaty arrangements made during his tenure in office show.
As a latecomer to colonization, Germany repeatedly came into conflict with the established colonial powers and also with the United States, which opposed German attempts at colonial expansion in both the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Native insurrections in German territories received prominent coverage in other countries, especially in Britain; the established powers had dealt with such uprisings decades earlier, often brutally, and had secured firm control of their colonies by then.
The Boxer Rising in China, which the Chinese government eventually sponsored, began in the Shandong province, in part because Germany, as colonizer at Kiautschou, was an untested power and had only been active there for two years.
Eight western nations, including the United States, mounted a joint relief force to rescue westerners caught up in the rebellion.
On two occasions, a French-German conflict over the fate of Morocco seemed inevitable.
Upon acquiring Southwest Africa, German settlers were encouraged to cultivate land held by the Herero and Nama. Herero and Nama tribal lands were used for a variety of exploitive goals (much as the British did before in Rhodesia), including farming, ranching, and mining for minerals and diamonds.
In 1904, the Herero and the Nama revolted against the colonists in Southwest Africa, killing farm families, their laborers and servants.
In response to the attacks, troops were dispatched to quell the uprising.

Middle East

Bismarck, and Wilhelm II after him, sought closer economic ties with the Ottoman Empire.
Under Wilhelm, with the financial backing of the Deutsche Bank, the Baghdad Railway was begun in 1900, although by 1914 it was still 500 km (310 mi) short of its destination in Baghdad.
In an interview with Wilhelm in 1899, Cecil Rhodes had tried “to convince the Kaiser that the future of the German empire abroad lay in the Middle East” and not in Africa; with a grand Middle-Eastern empire, Germany could afford to allow Britain the unhindered completion of the Cape-to-Cairo railway that Rhodes favoured.
Britain initially supported the Baghdad Railway; but by 1911 British statesmen came to fear it might be extended to Basra on the Persian Gulf, threatening Britain’s naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Accordingly they asked to have construction halted, to which Germany and the Ottoman Empire acquiesced.


Wilhelm II and his advisers committed a fatal diplomatic error when they allowed the “Reinsurance Treaty” that Bismarck had negotiated with Tsarist Russia to lapse.
Germany was left with no firm ally but Austria-Hungary, and her support for action in annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 further soured relations with Russia.
Wilhelm missed the opportunity to secure an alliance with Britain in the 1890s, when it was involved in colonial rivalries with France, and he alienated British statesmen further by openly supporting the Boers in the South African War and building a navy to rival Britain’s.
By 1911 Wilhelm had completely picked apart the careful power balance established by Bismarck and Britain turned to France in the Entente Cordiale.
Germany’s only other ally besides Austria was the Kingdom of Italy, but it remained an ally only pro forma. When war came, Italy saw more benefit in an alliance with Britain, France, and Russia, which, in the secret Treaty of London in 1915 promised it the frontier districts of Austria, where Italians formed the majority of the population, and also colonial concessions.
Germany did acquire a second ally that same year when the Ottoman Empire entered the war on its side, but in the long run supporting the Ottoman war effort only drained away German resources from the main fronts.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
The causes of World War I, which began in central Europe in late July 1914, included intertwined factors, such as the conflicts and hostility of the four decades leading up to the war. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism played major roles in the conflict as well.
The immediate origins of the war, however, lay in the decisions taken by statesmen and generals during the Crisis of 1914, ‘casus belli’ for which was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by Gavrilo Princip, an irredentist Serb.
The crisis came after a long and difficult series of diplomatic clashes between the Great Powers (Italy, France, Germany, the British Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Russia) over European and colonial issues in the decade before 1914 that had left tensions high.
In turn these diplomatic clashes can be traced to changes in the balance of power in Europe since 1867.
The more immediate cause for the war was tensions over territory in the Balkans.
Austria-Hungary competed with Serbia and Russia for territory and influence in the region, and they pulled the rest of the Great Powers into the conflict through their various alliances and treaties.

In November 1912, Russia was humiliated because of its inability to support Serbia during the Bosnian crisis of 1908 – also known as the ‘First Balkan War’, and announced a major reconstruction of its military.
On November 28, German Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow told the Reichstag, that “If Austria is forced, for whatever reason, to fight for its position as a Great Power, then we must stand by her.
As a result, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey responded by warning Prince Karl Lichnowsky, the Germany Ambassador in London, that if Germany offered Austria a “blank cheque” for war in the Balkans, then “the consequences of such a policy would be incalculable.”
To reinforce this point, R. B. Haldane, the Germanophile Lord Chancellor, met with Prince Lichnowsky to offer an explicit warning that if Germany were to attack France, Britain would intervene in France’s favor.
With the recently announced Russian military reconstruction and certain British communications, the possibility of war was a leading topic at the German Imperial War Council of 8 December 1912 in Berlin, an informal meeting of some of Germany’s top military leadership called on short notice by the Kaiser.
Attending the conference were Kaiser Wilhelm II, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz – the Naval State Secretary, Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller, the Chief of the German Imperial Naval Cabinet (Marinekabinett), General von Moltke – the Army’s Chief of Staff, Admiral August von Heeringen – the Chief of the Naval General Staff and General Moriz von Lyncker, the Chief of the German Imperial Military Cabinet.
The presence of the leaders of both the German Army and Navy at this War Council attests to its importance, however, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and General Josias von Heeringen, the Prussian Minister of War, were not invited.
Wilhelm II called British ‘balance of power’ concept “idiocy,” but agreed that Haldane’s statement was a “desirable clarification” of British policy.
His opinion was that Austria should attack that December and/ if “Russia supports the Serbs, which she evidently does…then war would be unavoidable for us, too,” and that would be better than going to war after Russia completed the massive modernization and expansion of their army that they had just begun. Moltke agreed.
In his professional military opinion “a war is unavoidable and the sooner the better“.
Moltke “wanted to launch an immediate attack“.
Both Wilhelm II and the Army leadership agreed that if a war were necessary it were best launched soon. Admiral Tirpitz, however, asked for a “postponement of the great fight for one and a half years” because the Navy was not ready for a general war that included Britain as an opponent.
He insisted that the completion of the construction of the U-boat base at Heligoland and the widening of the Kiel Canal were the Navy’s prerequisites for war.
The date for completion of the widening of the Kiel Canal was the summer of 1914.
Though Moltke objected to the postponement of the war as unacceptable, Wilhelm sided with Tirpitz. Moltke “agreed to a postponement only reluctantly.”
It should be noted that this War Council only showed the thinking and recommendations of those present, with no decisions taken.
Admiral Müller’s diary states: “That was the end of the conference. The result amounted to nothing.” Certainly the only decision taken was to do nothing.
With the November 1912 announcement of the Russian ‘Great Military Programme’, the leadership of the German Army began clamoring even more strongly for a “preventive war” against Russia.
Moltke declared that Germany could not win the arms race with France, Britain and Russia, which she herself had begun in 1911, because the financial structure of the German state, which gave the Reich government little power to tax, meant Germany would bankrupt herself in an arms race.
As such, Moltke from late 1912 onward was the leading advocate for a general war, and the sooner the better.
Throughout May and June 1914, Moltke engaged in an “almost ultimative” demand for a German “preventive war” against Russia in 1914.
The German Foreign Secretary, Gottlieb von Jagow, reported on a discussion with Moltke at the end of May 1914:
Moltke described to me his opinion of our military situation. The prospects of the future oppressed him heavily. In two or three years Russia would have completed her armaments. The military superiority of our enemies would then be so great that he did not know how he could overcome them. Today we would still be a match for them. In his opinion there was no alternative to making preventive war in order to defeat the enemy while we still had a chance of victory. The Chief of the General Staff therefore proposed that I should conduct a policy with the aim of provoking a war in the near future.”
The new French President Raymond Poincaré, who took office in 1913, was favourable to improving relations with Germany.
In January 1914 Poincaré became the first French President to dine at the German Embassy in Paris.
Poincaré was more interested in the idea of French expansion in the Middle East than a war of revenge to regain Alsace-Lorraine.
Had the Reich been interested in improved relations with France before August 1914, the opportunity was available, but the leadership of the Reich lacked such interests, and preferred a policy of war to destroy France.
Because of France’s smaller economy and population, by 1913 French leaders had largely accepted that France by itself could never defeat Germany.
In May 1914, Serbian politics were polarized between two factions, one headed by the Prime Minister Nikola Pašić, and the other by the radical nationalist chief of Military Intelligence, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, known by his codename Apis.
In that month, due to Colonel Dimitrigjevic’s intrigues, King Peter dismissed Pašić’s government.
The Russian Minister in Belgrade intervened to have Pašić’s government restored.
Pašić, though he often talked tough in public, knew that Serbia was near-bankrupt and, having suffered heavy casualties in the Balkan Wars and in the suppression of a December 1913 Albanian revolt in Kosovo, needed peace.
Since Russia also favoured peace in the Balkans, from the Russian viewpoint it was desirable to keep Pašić in power.
It was in the midst of this political crisis that politically powerful members of the Serbian military armed and trained three Bosnian students as assassins and sent them into Austria-Hungary.
Domestic Political Factors
German Domestic Politics  –  Left-wing parties, especially the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) made large gains in the 1912 German election.
German government at the time was still dominated by the Prussian Junkers who feared the rise of these left-wing parties.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Junker was an often pejorative designation for a member of the landed nobility in Prussia and eastern Germany.
Supporting monarchism and military traditions, they were seen as reactionary, anti-democratic and protectionist. This political class held tremendous power over industrial classes and government alike.
It is possible that the Junkers deliberately sought an external war to distract the population and whip up patriotic support for the government.
Russia was in the midst of a large-scale military build-up and reform that they completed in 1916–17.
It is also argued, however, that German conservatives were ambivalent about a war, worrying that losing a war would have disastrous consequences, and even a successful war might alienate the population if it were lengthy or difficult.
French Domestic Politics  –  The situation in France was quite different from that in Germany as going to war appeared to the majority of political and military leaders to be a potentially costly gamble.
It is undeniable that forty years after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine a vast number of French were still angered by the territorial loss, as well as by the humiliation of being compelled to pay a large reparation to Germany in 1870.
The diplomatic alienation of France orchestrated by Germany prior to World War I caused further resentment in France.
Nevertheless, the leaders of France recognized Germany’s strong military advantage against them, as Germany had nearly twice as much population and a better equipped army.
At the same time, the episodes of the Tangier Crisis in 1905 and the Agadir Crisis in 1911 had given France a strong indication that war with Germany could be inevitable if Germany continued to oppose French colonial expansionism.
More than a century after the French Revolution, there was still a fierce struggle between the left-wing French government and its right-wing opponents.


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In 1867, the Austrian Empire fundamentally changed its governmental structure, becoming the ‘Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary’.
For hundreds of years, the empire had been run in an essentially feudal manner, with a German-speaking aristocracy at its head, however, with the threat represented by an emergence of nationalism within the empire’s many component ethnicities, some elements, including Emperor Franz Joseph, decided that a compromise was required to preserve the power of the German aristocracy.
In 1867, the Ausgleich was agreed on, which made the Magyar (Hungarian) elite in Hungary almost equal partners in the government of Austria-Hungary.
This arrangement fostered a tremendous degree of dissatisfaction among many in the traditional German ruling classes.
Some of them considered the Ausgleich to have been a calamity, because it often frustrated their intentions in the governance of Austria-Hungary.
For example, it was extremely difficult for Austria-Hungary to form a coherent foreign policy that suited the interests of both the German and Magyar elite.
Throughout the fifty years from 1867 to 1914, it proved difficult to reach adequate compromises in the governance of Austria-Hungary.
At the same time, a form of social Darwinism became popular among many in the Austrian half of the government.
This thinking emphasised the primacy of armed struggle between nations, and the need for nations to arm themselves for an ultimate struggle for survival.
As a result, at least two distinct strains of thought advocated war with Serbia, often unified in the same people.
Some reasoned that dealing with political deadlock required that more Slavs be brought into Austria-Hungary to dilute the power of the Magyar elite.
With more Slavs, the South Slavs of Austria-Hungary could force a new political compromise in which the Germans could play the Magyars against the South Slavs.
Another fear was that the South Slavs, primarily under the leadership of Serbia, were organizing for a war against Austria-Hungary, and even all of Germanic civilization.
Some leaders, such as Conrad von Hötzendorf, argued that Serbia must be dealt with before it became too powerful to defeat militarily.
A powerful contingent within the Austro-Hungarian government was motivated by these thoughts and advocated war with Serbia long before the war began.
Prominent members of this group included Leopold von Berchtold, Alexander von Hoyos, and Johann von Forgách.
Although many other members of the government, notably Franz Ferdinand, Franz Joseph, and many Hungarian politicians did not believe that a violent struggle with Serbia would necessarily solve any of Austria-Hungary’s problems, the hawkish elements did exert a strong influence on government policy, holding key positions.
It is important to understand the central role of Austria-Hungary in starting the war.
Convinced Serbian nationalism and Russian Balkan ambitions were disintegrating the Empire, Austria-Hungary hoped for a limited war against Serbia and that strong German support would force Russia to keep out of the war and weaken its Balkan prestige.


Some attribute the start of the war to imperialism.
Countries such as the United Kingdom and France accumulated great wealth in the late 19th century through their control of trade in foreign resources, markets, territories, and people.
Other empires, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia all hoped to do so as well in economic advantage.
Their frustrated ambitions, and British policies of strategic exclusion created tensions.
In addition, the limits of natural resources in many European nations began to slowly alter trade balance, and make national industries seek new territories rich in natural resources.
Commercial interests contributed substantially to Anglo-German rivalry during the scramble for tropical Africa.
This was the scene of sharpest conflict between certain German and British commercial interests.
There have been two partitions of Africa.
One involved the actual imposition of political boundaries across the continent during the last quarter of the 19th century; the other, which actually commenced in the mid-19th century, consisted of the so-called ‘business’ partition.
In southern Africa the latter partition followed rapidly upon the discoveries of diamonds and gold in 1867 and 1886 respectively.
An integral part of this second partition was the expansion in the interior of British capital interests, primarily the British South Africa Company and mining companies such as De Beers.
After 1886 the Witwatersrand goldfields prompted feverish activity among European as well as British capitalists.
It was soon felt in Whitehall that German commercial penetration in particular constituted a direct threat to Britain’s continued economic and political hegemony south of the Limpopo.
Amid the expanding web of German business on the Rand, the most contentious operations were those of the German-financed N.Z.A.S.M. or Netherlands South African Railway Company, which possessed a railway monopoly in the Transvaal.
Rivalries for not just colonies, but colonial trade and trade routes developed between the emerging economic powers and the incumbent great powers.

Berlin-Baghdad Railway

This rivalry was illustrated in the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, which would have given German industry access to Iraqi oil, and German trade a southern port in the Persian Gulf.
A history of this railroad in the context of World War I has arrived to describe the German interests in countering the British Empire at a global level, and Turkey’s interest in countering their Russian rivals at a regional level.
It was felt in England that if, as Napoleon is said to have remarked, Antwerp in the hands of a great continental power was a pistol leveled at the English coast, Bagdad and the Persian Gulf in the hands of Germany (or any other strong power) would be a 42-centimetre gun pointed at India.’
On the other side, “Public opinion in Germany was feasting on visions of Cairo, Baghdad, and Tehran, and the possibility of evading the British blockade through outlets to the Indian Ocean.”
Britain’s initial strategic exclusion of others from northern access to a Persian Gulf port in the creation of Kuwait by treaty as a protected, subsidized client state showed political recognition of the importance of the issue.
If outcome is revealing, by the close of the war this political recognition was re-emphasized in the military effort to capture the railway itself, recounted with perspective in a contemporary history: “On the 26th Aleppo fell, and on the 28th we reached Muslimieh, that junction on the Baghdad railway on which longing eyes had been cast as the nodal point in the conflict of German and other ambitions in the East.”
The Treaty of Versailles explicitly removed all German ownership thereafter, which without Ottoman rule left access to Mesopotamian and Persian oil, and northern access to a southern port in British hands alone.

Otto von Bismarck

Rivalries among the great powers were exacerbated starting in the 1880s by the scramble for colonies, which brought much of Africa and Asia under European rule in the following quarter-century.
It also created great Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian tensions and crises that prevented a British alliance with either until the early 20th century.
Otto von Bismarck disliked the idea of an overseas empire, but pursued a colonial policy to court domestic political support.
This started Anglo-German tensions since German acquisitions in Africa and the Pacific threatened to impinge upon British strategic and commercial interests.
Bismarck supported French colonization in Africa because it diverted government attention and resources away from continental Europe and revanchism.
In spite of all of Bismarck’s deft diplomatic maneuvering, in 1890 he was forced to resign by the new Kaiser (Wilhelm II).
His successor, Leo von Caprivi, was the last German Chancellor who was successful in calming Anglo-German tensions.

Leo von Caprivi

After his loss of office in 1894, German policy led to greater conflicts with the other colonial powers.
The status of Morocco had been guaranteed by international agreement, and when France attempted to greatly expand its influence there without the assent of all the other signatories Germany opposed it prompting the ‘Moroccan Crise’s, the ‘Tangier Crisis’ of 1905 and the ‘Agadir Crisis’ of 1911.
The intent of German policy was to drive a wedge between the British and French, but in both cases produced the opposite effect, and Germany was isolated diplomatically, most notably lacking the support of Italy despite Italian membership in the Triple Alliance.
The French protectorate over Morocco was established officially in 1912.
In 1914, there were no outstanding colonial conflicts, Africa essentially having been claimed fully, apart from Ethiopia, for several years, however, the competitive mentality, as well as a fear of “being left behind” in the competition for the world’s resources may have played a role in the decisions to begin the conflict.

The Arms Race

A self-reinforcing cycle of heightened military preparedness…was an essential element in the conjuncture that led to disaster…The armaments race…was a necessary precondition for the outbreak of hostilities.
If Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated in 1904 or even in 1911, there might have been no war. It was…the armaments race…and the speculation about imminent or preventive wars  that made his death in 1914 the trigger for war.
Some historians see the German naval build-up as the principal cause of deteriorating Anglo-German relations.
The overwhelming British response, however, proved to Germany that its efforts were unlikely to equal the Royal Navy.
In 1900, the British had a 3.7:1 tonnage advantage over Germany; in 1910 the ratio was 2.3:1 and in 1914, 2.1:1.
So decisive was the British victory in the naval arms race that it is hard to regard it as in any meaningful sense a cause of the First World War.

This ignores the fact that the Kaiserliche Marine had narrowed the gap by nearly half, and that the Royal Navy had long intended to be stronger than any two potential opponents; the United States Navy was in a period of growth, making the German gains very ominous.
Technological changes, with oil- rather than coal-fuelled ships, decreasing refuelling time while increasing speed and range, and with superior armour and guns also would favour the growing, and newer, German fleet.
One of the aims of the ‘First Hague Conference’ of 1899, held at the suggestion of Russian Emperor Nicholas II, was to discuss disarmament.
The ‘Second Hague Conference’ was held in 1907.
All the signatories except for Germany supported disarmament.
Germany also did not want to agree to binding arbitration and mediation.
The Kaiser was concerned that the United States would propose disarmament measures, which he opposed.

Russian interests in Balkans and Ottoman Empire

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The main Russian goals included strengthening its role as the protector of Eastern Christians in the Balkans (such as the Serbians).
Although Russia enjoyed a booming economy, growing population, and large armed forces, its strategic position was threatened by an expanding Turkish military trained by German experts using the latest technology.
The start of the war renewed attention of old goals: expelling the Turks from Constantinople, extending Russian dominion into eastern Anatolia and Persian Azerbaijan, and annexing Galicia.
These conquests would assure Russian predominance in the Black Sea.

Over by Christmas

Field Marshal Lord
Horatio Herbert Kitchener 

Both sides believed, and publicly stated, that the war would end soon.

The Kaiser told his troops that they would be, “…home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” and one German officer said he expected to be in Paris by Sedantag, about six weeks away.
Germany only stockpiled enough potassium nitrate for gunpowder for six months.
Russian officers similarly expected to be in Berlin in six weeks, and those who suggested that the war would last for six months were considered pessimists.
Von Moltke and his French counterpart Joseph Joffre were among the few who expected a long war, but neither adjusted his nation’s military plans accordingly.
The new British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was the only leading official on either side to both expect a long war (“three years” or longer, he told an amazed colleague) and act accordingly, immediately building an army of millions of soldiers who would fight for years.

Schlieffen Plan

Alfred Graf von Schlieffen 

Germany’s strategic vulnerability, sandwiched between its allied rivals, led to the development of the audacious (and incredibly expensive) Schlieffen Plan.

It aimed to knock France instantly out of contention, before Russia had time to mobilize its gigantic human reserves.
It aimed to accomplish this task within 6 weeks.
Germany could then turn her full resources to meeting the Russian threat.
Although Count Alfred von Schlieffen initially conceived the plan before his retirement in 1906, Japan’s defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 exposed Russia’s organizational weakness and added greatly to the plan’s credibility.
The plan called for a rapid German mobilization, sweeping through the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium, into France.
Schlieffen called for overwhelming numbers on the far right flank, the northernmost spearhead of the force with only minimum troops making up the arm and axis of the formation as well as a minimum force stationed on the Russian eastern front.
Helmuth von Moltke

Schlieffen was replaced by Helmuth von Moltke, and in 1907–08 Moltke adjusted the plan, reducing the proportional distribution of the forces, lessening the crucial right wing in favor of a slightly more defensive strategy.

Also, judging Holland unlikely to grant permission to cross its borders, the plan was revised to make a direct move through Belgium, and an artillery assault on the Belgian city of Liège.
With the rail lines and the unprecedented firepower the German army brought, Moltke did not expect any significant defense of the fortress.
The significance of the Schlieffen Plan is that it forced German military planners to prepare for a pre-emptive strike when war was deemed unavoidable.
Otherwise Russia would have time to mobilize and crush Germany with its massive army.
On August 1, Kaiser Wilhelm II briefly became convinced that it might be possible to ensure French and British neutrality, and cancelled the plan despite the objections of the Chief of Staff that this could not be done, and resuming it only when the offer of a neutral France and Britain was withdrawn.
It appears that no war planners in any country had prepared effectively for the Schlieffen Plan.
The French were not concerned about such a move. They were confident their offensive (Plan XVII) would break the German center and cut off the German right wing moving through Belgium.
They also expected that an early Russian offensive in East Prussia would tie down German forces.

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six Bosnian Serb assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić.

The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s south-Slav provinces so they could be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia.
The assassins’ motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as ‘Young Bosnia’. Serbian military officers stood behind the attack.
At the top of these Serbian military conspirators was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, his righthand man Major Vojislav Tankosić, and Masterspy Rade Malobabić. Major Tankosić armed (with bombs and pistols) and trained the assassins, and the assassins were given access to the same clandestine tunnel of safe-houses and agents that Rade Malobabić used for the infiltration of weapons and operatives into Austria-Hungary.
The assassins, the key members of the clandestine tunnel, and the key Serbian military conspirators who were still alive were arrested, tried, convicted and punished.
Those who were arrested in Bosnia were tried in Sarajevo in October 1914.
The other conspirators were arrested and tried before a Serbian kangaroo court on the French-controlled Salonika Front in 1916–1917 on unrelated false charges; Serbia executed three of the top military conspirators.
Much of what is known about the assassinations comes from these two trials and related records.
Assignment of responsibility for the bombing and murders of 28 June is highly controversial because the attack led to the outbreak of World War I one month later.


The murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife produced widespread shock across Europe, and there was initially much sympathy for the Austrian position.
Within two days of the assassination, Austria-Hungary and Germany advised Serbia that it should open an investigation, but Secretary General to the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Slavko Gruic, replied “Nothing had been done so far and the matter did not concern the Serbian Government.”
An angry exchange followed between the Austrian Chargé d’Affaires at Belgrade and Gruic.
After conducting a criminal investigation, verifying that Germany would honor its military alliance, and persuading the skeptical Hungarian Count Tisza, Austria-Hungary issued a formal letter to the government of Serbia.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Serbia was a state in the Balkans that came into existence as a result of the Serbian Revolution which lasted between 1804 and 1817. Despite serious and extremely brutal oppression and revenge by the Ottoman authorities, the revolutionary leaders, first Karađorđe Petrović and then Miloš Obrenović I, succeeded in their goal to liberate Serbia after centuries of Ottoman rule.

The letter reminded Serbia of its commitment to respect the Great Powers’ decision regarding Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to maintain good neighborly relations with Austria-Hungary.

The letter contained specific demands aimed at preventing the publication of propaganda advocating the violent destruction of Austria-Hungary, removing the people behind this propaganda from the Serbian Military, arresting the people on Serbian soil who were involved in the assassination plot and preventing the clandestine shipment of arms and explosives from Serbia to Austria-Hungary.
This letter became known as the ‘July Ultimatum’, and Austria-Hungary stated that if Serbia did not accept all of the demands in total within 48 hours, it would recall its ambassador from Serbia.
After receiving a telegram of support from Russia, Serbia mobilized its army and responded to the letter by completely accepting point #8 demanding an end to the smuggling of weapons and punishment of the frontier officers who had assisted the assassins and completely accepting point #10 which demanded Serbia report the execution of the required measures as they were completed.
Serbia partially accepted, finessed, disingenuously answered or politely rejected elements of the preamble and enumerated demands #1–7 and #9.
The shortcomings of Serbia’s response were published by Austria-Hungary and can be seen beginning on page 364 of Origins of the War, Vol. II by Albertini, with the Austrian complaints placed side-by-side against Serbia’s response.
Austria-Hungary responded by breaking diplomatic relations.
The next day, Serbian reservists being transported on tramp steamers on the Danube crossed onto the Austro-Hungarian side of the river at Temes-Kubin and Austro-Hungarian soldiers fired into the air to warn them off.
The report of this incident was initially sketchy and reported to Emperor Franz-Joseph as “a considerable skirmish”.
Austria-Hungary then declared war and mobilized the portion of its army that would face the (already mobilized) Serbian Army on 28 July 1914.
Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand von Österreich
Under the Secret Treaty of 1892 Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance mobilized.
Russia’s mobilization set off full Austro-Hungarian and German mobilizations.
Soon all the Great Powers except Italy had chosen sides and gone to war.
A review of the consequences of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria shows that it was the initial actions of the Serbian Government (see above – Serbian military officers stood behind the attack – probably members of the Black Hand – an organisation  formed on 6 September 1901 by members of the Serbian Army).

Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis (right) and his associates
Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis stated that he had organized the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 –
(the assassin was Гаврило Принцип – (Gavrilo Princip) – who was an athiest. 

Гаврило Принцип – (Gavrilo Princip)
Gavrilo Princip was born in the remote village of Obljaj near Bosansko Grahovo, at the time de jure part of Bosnia Vilayet within the Ottoman Empire, however the province had since 1878 been occupied by Austria-Hungary which governed it as its condominium, a de facto part of Austria-Hungary. Princip was too young to receive the death penalty, being only twenty-seven days short of his twentieth birthday at the time of the assassination. Instead, he received the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. He was held in harsh conditions which were worsened by the war. He contracted tuberculosis,[3] and had one of his arms amputated in 1917 when the disease infected an arm bone (probably because of a badly performed procedure to repair a bone broken during his capture).[10] He died on 28 April 1918 at Terezín 3 years and 10 months after he assassinated the Archduke and Duchess. At the time of his death, Princip weighed around 40 kilograms (88 lb), weakened by malnutrition, blood loss from his amputated arm, and disease.

His politics are unclear. Some of his associates were Muslims. ).

– in the process, Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis used not only his power over elements of the Serbian military, but also the Black Hand.

Dragutin Dimitrijević was born in Belgrade in 1876. At sixteen Dimitrijević went to the Belgrade Military Academy. A brilliant student, Dimitrijević was recruited into the General Staff of the Serbian Army immediately after his graduation.
Captain Dimitrijević and a group of junior officers planned the assassination of the autocratic and unpopular king of Serbia. On 11 June 1903, the group stormed the royal palace and killed both King Alexander and his wife Queen Draga. During the attack Dimitrijević was badly wounded, and, although he eventually recovered, the three bullets from the encounter were never removed from his body. When Dimitrijević heard that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was planning to visit Sarajevo in June 1914, he sent three members of the Young Bosnia group, Gavrilo Princip, Nedeljko Čabrinović, Trifko Grabež and four others from Serbia to assassinate him. At this time, Dimitrijević was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence.

Leaders of the Black Hand in turn had penetrated Narodna Obrana and used the Narodna organization to infiltrate the arms and assassins into Sarajevo.

So it can be categorically stated that responsibility for the ‘Great War’ lies with the actions of the Serbian Government.

Subsequently Serbian reservists were mobilized and moved into Austro-Hungarian territory.
In response to this invasion of their territory (combined with the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne by agents of the Serbian military, Austria-Hungary, in justified self-defense, declared war on Serbia.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Russia then mobilised in order to attack Austria.

Realising that Russian mobilisation threatened their Eastern borders, German mobilised against Russia, and Russia’s ally, France.
To prempt a French invasion of their Western borders, Germany, in accordance with the revised Schlieffen plan, sent her armies through Belgium.
In accordance with her treat obligations with regard to Belgium, Great Britain declared war on Germany.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013


Bismarck’s emphasis on military force amplified the voice of the officer corps, which combined advanced modernization of military technology with reactionary politics.
The rising upper-middle-class elites, in the business, financial, and professional worlds, tended to accept the values of the old traditional elites.
The German Empire was a strange mixture of highly successful capitalist industrialization and socio-economic modernization on the one hand, and of surviving pre-industrial institutions, power relations and traditional cultures on the other, which produced a high degree of internal tension, which led on the one hand to the suppression of socialists, Catholics, and reformers, and on the other hand to a highly aggressive foreign policy.

The origins of Germany’s path to disaster lie in the 1860s–1870s, when economic modernization took place, but political modernization did not happen and the old Prussian rural elite remained in firm control of the army, diplomacy and the civil service.
The historiographical concept of a German Sonderweg has had a turbulent history.
Nineteenth century scholars, who emphasized a separate German path to modernity, saw it as a positive factor that differentiated Germany from the “western path” typified by Great Britain.
They stressed the strong bureaucratic state, reforms initiated by Bismarck and other strong leaders, the Prussian service ethos, the high culture of philosophy and music, and Germany’s pioneering of a social welfare state.
Traditional, aristocratic, pre-modern society battled an emerging capitalist, bourgeois, modernizing society. Recognizing the importance of modernizing forces in industry and the economy and in the cultural realm,  reactionary traditionalism dominated the political hierarchy of power in Germany, as well as social mentalities and in class relations (Klassenhabitus).
The catastrophic German politics between 1914 and 1918 may be interpreted in terms of a delayed modernization of its political structures.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Der letzte deutsche Kaiser – The Last German Emperor

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012


It was just past 6.15 pm on the 22nd January 1901 in the ornate bedroom of a large Italianate mansion by the sea.

The old lady’s family surrounded as her shallow breathing became weaker.
Her favorite grandson cradled the sweet old lady in his arms. 

Finally the dying woman breathed her last, and the devoted and distraught grandson gently closed the old lady’s eyes.

The Queen-Empress, Victoria, ruler of the greatest empire in the world, had ended her long and eventful reign in her bedroom in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Seventeen years later crowds were demanding the hanging, or even ‘boiling alive in oil’ of the devoted grandson, whose name was Wilhelm – Kaiser Wilhelm  – the Last German Emperor.
So what had happened in the intervening years.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012

Kaiser is the German title meaning “Emperor”.
Imperial State Crown of India
Julius Ceasar

Like the Russian ‘царь’ (Czar)  it is directly derived from the Roman Emperors’ title of ‘Caesar’, which in turn is derived from the personal name of a branch of the gens (clan) Julia, to which Gaius Julius Caesar, the forebear of the first imperial family, belonged.

Although the British monarchs styled “Emperor of India” were also called “Kaisar-i-Hind” in Hindi and Urdu, this word, although ultimately sharing the same Latin origin, is derived from the Greek ‘Kaisar’, not the German Kaiser.
In English, the term the ‘Kaiser’ is usually reserved for the Emperors of the German Empire, the emperors of the Austrian Empire and those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It is important to note that during the First World War, the term the ‘Kaiser’ – especially as applied to Wilhelm II of Germany — gained considerable pejorative connotations in English-speaking countries.

Wappen des Heiligen Römischen Reiches
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The ‘Holy Roman Emperors’ (962–1806) called themselves ‘Kaiser’, combining the imperial title with that of Roman King (assumed by the designated heir before the imperial coronation); they saw their rule as a continuation of that of the Roman Emperors and used the title derived from the title Caesar to reflect their supposed heritage.
The rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1804–1918) were drawn from the Habsburg dynasty, who, after 1438, provided most of Holy Roman Emperors.
The Austrian-Hungarian rulers adopted the title ‘Kaiser’.

Kaiserkrone des Heiligen Römischen Reiches
Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

There were only three ‘Kaisers’ of the Austrian Empire, the successor empire to the ‘Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation’ (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), and they have all belonged to the Habsburg dynasty.
The successor empire to the Austrian Empire was termed the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had only two ‘Kaisers’, both again from the Habsburg dynasty.
In 1871, there was much debate about the exact title for the monarch of those German territories (such as free imperial cities, principalities, duchies, and kingdoms) that agreed to unify under the leadership of Prussia, thereby forming the German Empire.
‘Deutscher Kaiser’ (“German Emperor”) was chosen over alternatives such as ‘Kaiser von Deutschland’ (“Emperor of Germany”), or ‘Kaiser der Deutschen’ (“Emperor of the Germans”), as the chosen title simply connoted that the new emperor, hearkening from Prussia, was a German, but did not imply that this new emperor had dominion over all German territories.
There were only three Kaisers of ‘das Zweite Reich’ (the Second German Empire).
All of them belonged to the ‘Hohenzollern’ dynasty, which, as kings of Prussia, had been de facto leaders of lesser Germany.

Wappen des Hauses Hohenzollern
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The House of Hohenzollern is a noble family and royal dynasty of electors, kings and emperors of Prussia, Germany and Romania. It originated in the area around the town of Hechingen in Swabia during the 11th century. They took their name from their ancestral home, the Burg Hohenzollern castle near Hechingen.
The family uses the motto Nihil Sine Deo (English: Nothing Without God). The family coat of arms, first adopted in 1192, began as a simple shield quarterly sable and argent. A century later, in 1317, Frederick IV, Burgrave of Nuremberg, added the head and shoulders of a hound as a crest. Later quartering reflected heiresses’ marriages into the family.

Burg Hohenzollern – Hechingen

The family split into two branches, the Catholic Swabian branch and the Protestant Franconian branch, known also as the Kirschner line. The Swabian branch ruled the area of Hechingen until the revolution of 1848/49. The Franconian branch was more successful: members of the Franconian branch became Margrave of Brandenburg in 1415 and Duke of Prussia in 1525. Following the union of these two Franconian lines in 1618, the Kingdom of Prussia was created in 1701, eventually leading to the unification of Germany and the creation of the German Empire in 1871.
Social unrest at the end of World War I led to the German Revolution of 1918, with the formation of the Weimar Republic forcing the Hohenzollerns to abdicate, thus bringing an end to the modern German monarchy. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 set the final terms for the dismantling of the German Empire.

In English the (untranslated) word ‘Kaiser’ is mainly associated with the emperors of the unified German Empire (1871–1918), in particular with Kaiser Wilhelm II.
In 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, but the title of ‘Kaiser’ was retained by the House of Habsburg, the head of which, beginning in 1804, bore the title of Emperor (Kaiser) of Austria.

Wappen der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie
Greater Coat of Arms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012

Kaisers of the Austrian Empire (1804–1867) and of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867–1918) were:

Franz I (1804–1835)
Ferdinand I (1835–1848)
Franz Joseph I (1848–1916)
Karl I (1916–1918)

Wappen des Zweiten Deutsch Reich
Greater Arms of the German Empire
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012

Kaisers of the German Empire (1871–1918) were:

Wilhelm I (1871–1888);
Frederick III (9 March-15 June 1888), who ruled for 99 days;
Wilhelm II (1888–1918), during whose reign the monarchy in Germany ended near the end of World War I
Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia, is currently head of the House of Hohenzollern, which was the former ruling dynasty of the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Karl von Habsburg is currently the head of the House of Habsburg.

Proklamation des Deutschen Reiches – Versailles – Frankreich

Deutscher Kaiser – (the German Emperor) was the official title of the Head of State and ruler of the German Empire, beginning with the proclamation of William I as Emperor during the Franco-Prussian War, on 18 January 1871 at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris in France, and ending with the official abdication of William II on 18 November 1918, at the end of the First World War.

The title ‘Deutscher Kaiser’ (German Emperor) was carefully chosen by Otto von Bismarck after discussion until (and after) the day of the proclamation.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012

William I of Prussia accepted this title grudgingly as he would have preferred “Emperor of Germany” which was however, unacceptable to the federated monarchs, and would also have signalled a claim to lands outside of his reign (Austria, Swiss Confederation, Luxembourg etc.). The title Emperor of the Germans, as proposed in 1848, was ruled out as he considered himself chosen ‘durch die Gnade Gottes’ (By the Grace of God), not by the people as in a democracy.
By this ceremony, the ‘Norddeutscher Bund’ (North German Confederation) was transformed into the ‘Deutsches Kaiserreich’ (German Empire).
This empire was a federal monarchy; the emperor was head of state and president of the federated monarchs (die Könige (the Kings) of Bayern, Württemberg, Sachsen, die Großherzöge of Baden, Mecklenburg, Hesse, as well as other principalities, duchies and of the free cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen).

Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preußen
Kaiser Wilhelm I

Wilhelm I (Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig, 22 March 1797 – 9 March 1888), of the House of Hohenzollern, was the King of Prussia (2 January 1861 – 9 March 1888) and the first German Emperor (18 January 1871 – 9 March 1888).
Under the leadership of Wilhelm and his Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Prussia achieved the unification of Germany and the establishment of the German Empire.

In his memoirs, Bismarck describes Wilhelm as an old-fashioned, courteous, infallibly polite gentleman, and a genuine Prussian officer, whose good common sense was occasionally undermined by “female influences”.

In 1829, Wilhelm married Augusta of Saxe-Weimar and had two children:
Frederick III, German Emperor (1831–1888) and
Princess Louise of Prussia (1838–1923)


His Imperial and Royal Majesty William the First, by the Grace of God, German Emperor and King of Prussia; Margrave of Brandenburg, Burgrave of Nuremberg, Count of Hohenzollern; sovereign and supreme Duke of Silesia and of the County of Glatz; Grand Duke of the Lower Rhine and of Posen; Duke of Saxony, of Westphalia, of Angria, of Pomerania, Lunenburg, Holstein and Schleswig, of Magdeburg, of Bremen, of Guelders, Cleves, Jülich and Berg, Duke of the Wends and the Kassubes, of Crossen, Lauenburg and Mecklenburg; Landgrave of Hesse and Thuringia; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Prince of Orange; Prince of Rügen, of East Friesland, of Paderborn and Pyrmont, of Halberstadt, Münster, Minden, Osnabrück, Hildesheim, of Verden, Cammin, Fulda, Nassau and Moers; Princely Count of Henneberg; Count of Mark, of Ravensberg, of Hohenstein, Tecklenburg and Lingen, of Mansfeld, Sigmaringen and Veringen; Lord of Frankfurt.

Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preußen
Friedrich III – 

Friedrich III, Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preußen; (18 October 1831 – 15 June 1888) was German Emperor and King of Prussia for 99 days in 1888, the ‘Year of the Three Emperors’. Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl, known informally as Fritz, was the only son of Emperor William I and was raised in his family’s tradition of military service.
Following the unification of Germany in 1871 his father, then King of Prussia, became the German Emperor.
On William’s death at the age of 90 on 9 March 1888, the throne passed to Frederick, who had by then been Crown Prince for 27 years.
Frederick was suffering from cancer of the larynx when he died on 15 June 1888, aged 56, following unsuccessful medical treatments for his condition.
Frederick married Princess Victoria, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The couple were well matched; their shared liberal ideology led them to seek greater representation for commoners in the government.

Kaiser Friedrich Mausoleum – Potsdam – Berlin

Frederick, in spite of his conservative militaristic family background, had developed liberal tendencies as a result of his ties with Britain, and his studies at the University of Bonn.
As the Crown Prince, he often opposed the conservative Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, particularly in speaking out against Bismarck’s policy of uniting Germany through force, and in urging that the power of the Chancellorship be curbed.
Liberals in both Germany and Britain hoped that as emperor, Frederick III would move to liberalize the German Empire.
However, Frederick reigned for only 99 days.


© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012


Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preußen
Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II (Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht; 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-Empress 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  “New Course” in foreign affairs that culminated in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914 that contributed to conflict of the First World War.
An ineffective war leader, he lost the support of the army, abdicated in November 1918, and fled to exile in the Netherlands.


Wilhelm was born on 27 January 1859 at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin to Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Frederick III) and his wife, Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom.
He was the first grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, but more importantly, as the first son of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Wilhelm was (from 1861) the second in the line of succession to Prussia, and also, after 1871, to the German Empire, which, according to the constitution of the German Empire, was ruled by the Prussian King.
He was related to many royal figures across Europe.
A traumatic breech birth left him with a withered left arm due to Erb’s palsy, making his left arm about 6 inches (15 centimeters) shorter than his right arm, which he tried with some success to conceal.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Erb’s palsy or Erb–Duchenne palsy is a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the upper group of the arm’s main nerves, specifically the severing of the upper trunk C5–C6 nerves. These form part of the brachial plexus, comprising the ventral rami of spinal nerves C5–C8 and thoracic nerve T1. These injuries arise most commonly, but not exclusively, from shoulder dystocia during a difficult birth. Depending on the nature of the damage, the paralysis can either resolve on its own over a period of months, necessitate rehabilitative therapy, or require surgery.

Georg Hinzpeter

In many photos he carries a pair of white gloves in his left hand to make the arm seem longer, holds his left hand with his right, or has his crippled arm on the hilt of a sword or holding a cane to give the effect of a useful limb posed at a dignified angle.
Wilhelm, from six years of age, was tutored and heavily influenced by the 39-year old teacher Georg Hinzpeter.

Wilhelm – Teenager

As a teenager he was educated at Kassel at the Friedrichsgymnasium, and the University of Bonn, where he became a member of Corps Borussia Bonn.
As a scion of the Royal house of Hohenzollern, Wilhelm was exposed from an early age to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy.

Friedrichsgymnasium – Kassel

This had a major impact on him and, in maturity, Wilhelm was seldom seen out of uniform.
The military culture of Prussia in this period did much to frame his political ideals and personal relationships.
Crown Prince Frederick was viewed by his son with a deeply felt love and respect.
His father’s status as a hero of the wars of unification was largely responsible for the young Wilhelm’s attitude, as in the circumstances in which he was raised; close emotional contact between father and son was not encouraged.
Later, as he came into contact with the Crown Prince’s political opponents, Wilhelm came to adopt more ambivalent feelings toward his father, given the perceived influence of Wilhelm’s mother over a figure who should have been possessed of masculine independence and strength.

Wilhelm the Great
Otto von Bismark

Wilhelm also idolized his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and he was instrumental in later attempts to foster a cult of the first German Emperor as “Wilhelm the Great”.
In many ways, Wilhelm was a victim of his inheritance and of Otto von Bismarck’s machinations.
Both sides of his family had suffered from mental illness, and this may explain his emotional instability.
When Wilhelm was in his early twenties, Bismarck tried to separate him from his parents (who opposed Bismarck and his policies) with some success.
Bismarck planned to use the young prince as a weapon against his parents in order to retain his own political dominance.
Wilhelm thus developed a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, but especially with his English mother.


Kaiser Frederick III

The German Emperor Wilhelm I died in Berlin on 9 March 1888, and Prince Wilhelm’s father was proclaimed Emperor as Frederick III.
He was already suffering from an incurable throat cancer, and spent all 99 days of his reign fighting the disease before dying.
On 15 June of that same year, his 29-year-old son succeeded him as German Emperor and King of Prussia.
Although in his youth he had been a great admirer of Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm’s characteristic impatience soon brought him into conflict with the “Iron Chancellor“, the dominant figure in the foundation of his empire.

Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a conservative German statesman who dominated European affairs from the 1860s to his dismissal in 1890. After a series of short victorious wars he unified most of the German states (whilst excluding some, most notably Austria) into a powerful nation-state German Empire in 1871 under Prussian leadership, then created a “balance of power” that preserved peace in Europe from 1871 until 1914.

The new Emperor opposed Bismarck’s careful foreign policy, preferring vigorous and rapid expansion to protect Germany’s “place in the sun.”
Furthermore, the young Emperor had come to the throne with the determination that he was going to rule as well as reign, unlike his grandfather, who had largely been content to leave day-to-day administration to Bismarck.

Early conflicts between Wilhelm II and his chancellor soon poisoned the relationship between the two men.
Bismarck unwisely believed that Wilhelm was a lightweight, who could be dominated, and he showed scant respect for Wilhelm’s policies in the late 1880s.
The final split between monarch and statesman occurred soon after an attempt by Bismarck to implement a far-reaching anti-Socialist law in early 1890.
It was during this time that Bismarck, after gaining an absolute majority in favour of his policies in the Reichstag, decided to make the anti-Socialist laws permanent.
His Kartell, the majority of the amalgamated Conservative Party and the National Liberal Party, favoured making the laws permanent, with one exception: the police power to expel Socialist agitators from their homes.
This power had been used excessively at times against political opponents, and the National Liberal Party was unwilling to pass the expulsion clause in the first place.
Bismarck would not give his assent to a modified bill, so the Kartell split over this issue.
The Conservatives would support the bill only in its entirety and threatened to and eventually did veto the entire bill.
As the debate continued, Wilhelm became more and more interested in social problems, especially the treatment of mine workers who went on strike in 1889.
Following his policy of active participation in government, he routinely interrupted Bismarck in Council to make clear where he stood on social policy.
Bismarck sharply disagreed with Wilhelm’s policy and worked to circumvent it.
Even if Wilhelm supported the altered anti-Socialist bill, Bismarck pushed for his support to veto the bill in its entirety, but when Bismarck’s arguments failed to convince Wilhelm, the Chancellor (uncharacteristically) blurted out his motive for having the bill fail: he wanted the Socialists to agitate until a violent clash occurred, which could be used as a pretext to crush them.

Wilhelm replied that he would not open his reign with a bloody campaign against his subjects. 
The next day, after realising his blunder, Bismarck attempted to reach a compromise with Wilhelm by agreeing to his social policy towards industrial workers and even suggested a European council to discuss working conditions, presided over by the German Emperor.
Despite this, a turn of events eventually led to his distance from Wilhelm.
Bismarck, feeling pressured and unappreciated by the Emperor and undermined by ambitious advisors, refused to sign a proclamation regarding the protection of workers along with Wilhelm, as was required by the German Constitution, to protest Wilhelm’s ever-increasing interference with Bismarck’s previously unquestioned authority. Bismarck also worked behind the scenes to break the council that Wilhelm held so dear.
The final break came as Bismarck searched for a new parliamentary majority, with his Kartell voted from power due to the anti-Socialist bill fiasco.
The remaining powers in the Reichstag were the Catholic Centre Party and the Conservative Party.
Bismarck wished to form a new bloc with the Centre Party, and invited Ludwig Windthorst, the party’s parliamentary leader, to discuss a coalition.
Wilhelm was furious to hear about Windthorst’s visit.
In a parliamentary state, the head of government depends on the confidence of the parliamentary majority and has the right to form coalitions to ensure his policies a majority, but in Germany, the Chancellor had to depend on the confidence of the Emperor, and Wilhelm believed that the Emperor had the right to be informed before his ministers’ meeting.
After a heated argument at Bismarck’s estate over Imperial authority, Wilhelm stormed out. Bismarck, forced for the first time into a situation he could not use to his advantage, wrote a blistering letter of resignation, decrying Wilhelm’s interference in foreign and domestic policy, which was published only after Bismarck’s death.
When Bismarck realised that his dismissal was imminent all his resources were deployed; he even asked Empress Victoria to use her influence at her son on his behalf.
But the wizard had lost his magic; his spells were powerless because they were exerted on people who did not respect them, and he who had so signally disregarded Kant’s command to use people as ends in themselves had too small a stock of loyalty to draw on.
Although Bismarck had sponsored landmark social security legislation, by 1889–90, he had become disillusioned with the attitude of workers.
In particular, he was opposed to wage increases, improving working conditions, and regulating labour relations.

Reischstag – Berlin

Moreover the Kartell, the shifting political coalition that Bismarck had been able to forge since 1867, had lost a working majority in the Reichstag.
Bismarck also attempted to sabotage the council that the Kaiser was organising.
In March 1890, the dismissal of Bismarck coincided with the Kaiser’s opening of the Labour Conference in Berlin.
Subsequently, at the opening of the Reichstag on 6 May 1890, the Kaiser stated that the most pressing issue was the further enlargement of the bill concerning the protection of the labourer.
In 1891, the Reichstag passed the Workers Protection Acts, which improved working conditions, protected women and children and regulated labour relations.


Graf Leopold von Caprivi 
Dismissal of Bismark
Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II’s insistence in 1890, at the age of 75, to be succeeded as Chancellor of Germany and Minister-President of Prussia by Leo von Caprivi, who in turn was replaced by Chlodwig, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, in 1894.

Georg Leo Graf von Caprivi de Caprera de Montecuccoli (Count George Leo of Caprivi, Caprera, and Montecuccoli, born Georg Leo von Caprivi; 24 February 1831 – 6 February 1899) was a German major general and statesman, who succeeded Otto von Bismarck as Chancellor of Germany. Caprivi served as German Chancellor from March 1890 to October 1894. As part of Kaiser Wilhelm’s “Neuer Kurs” in foreign policy, Caprivi abandoned Bismarck’s military, economic, and ideological cooperation with Russia, and was unable to forge a close relationship with Britain. He negotiated commercial treaties and emphasized the reorganization of the German military.

Chlodwig Carl Viktor, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Prince of Ratibor and Corvey (German: Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Fürst von Ratibor und Corvey) (31 March 1819 – 6 July 1901), usually referred to as the Prince of Hohenlohe, was a German statesman, who served as Chancellor of Germany and Prime Minister of Prussia from 1894 to 1900. Prior to his appointment as Chancellor, he had served in a number of other positions, including as Prime Minister of Bavaria (1866–1870), German Ambassador to Paris (1873–1880), Foreign Secretary (1880) and Imperial Lieutenant of Alsace-Lorraine (1885–1894). He was regarded as one of the most prominent liberal politicians of his time in Germany.

 Fürst Hohenlohe
Following the dismissal of Hohenlohe in 1900, Wilhelm appointed the man whom he regarded as “his own Bismarck“, Bernhard von Bülow.

Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow (May 3, 1849 – October 28, 1929), named in 1905 Prince (Fürst) von Bülow, was a German statesman who served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for three years and then as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1900 to 1909.

Bernhard von Bülow

Bülow reserved his mornings for Wilhelm, who would visit the chancellery every morning when in Berlin. His determination to remain on Wilhelm’s good side was remarkable, even for those accustomed to Wilhelm’s manner. Wilhelm’s household controller noted, “Whenever, by oversight, he expresses an opinion in disagreement with the emperor, he remains silent for a few moments and then says the exact contrary, with the preface, ‘as Your Majesty so wisely remarked'”. He gave up tobacco, beer, coffee and liqueurs and took 35 minutes of exercise every morning and would ride in good weather through the Tiergarten. Sundays he would take long walks in the woods. In 1905, aged 56, he led his old Hussars regiment at the gallop in a parade for Wilhelm and was rewarded by an appointment to the rank of major general. Wilhelm remarked to Eulenburg in 1901, “Since I have Bülow I can sleep peacefully“.
His first conspicuous act as chancellor was a masterly defense in the Reichstag of German imperialism in China. 

In foreign policy Bismarck had achieved a fragile balance of interests between Germany, France and Russia – peace was at hand and Bismarck tried to keep it that way despite growing popular sentiment against Britain (regarding colonies), and especially against Russia.
With Bismarck’s dismissal the Russians now expected a reversal of policy in Berlin, so they quickly came to terms with France, beginning the process that by 1914 largely isolated Germany.
In appointing Caprivi and then Hohenlohe, Wilhelm was embarking upon what is known to history as “the New Course“, in which he hoped to exert decisive influence in the government of the empire.

Inauguration of the Reichstag (December 5, 1894)

There is debate among historians as to the precise degree to which Wilhelm succeeded in implementing “personal rule” in this era, but what is clear is the very different dynamic which existed between the Crown and its chief political servant (the Chancellor) in the “Wilhelmine Era”.
These chancellors were senior civil servants, and not seasoned politician-statesmen like Bismarck.
Wilhelm wanted to preclude the emergence of another ‘Iron Chancellor’, whom he ultimately detested as being “a boorish old killjoy” who had not permitted any minister to see the Emperor except in his presence, keeping a stranglehold on effective political power.
Upon his enforced retirement and until his dying day, Bismarck was to become a bitter critic of Wilhelm’s policies, but without the support of the supreme arbiter of all political appointments (the Emperor) there was little chance of Bismarck exerting a decisive influence on policy.
Something which Bismarck was able to effect was the creation of the “Bismarck myth“.

Bethmann Hollweg
Alfred Thayer Mahan

This was a view – which some would argue was confirmed by subsequent events – that, with the dismissal of the Iron Chancellor, Wilhelm II effectively weakened any chance Germany had of stable and effective government.
In the early twentieth century Wilhelm began to concentrate upon his real agenda; the creation of a German navy that would rival that of Britain and enable Germany to declare itself a world power.
He ordered his military leaders to read Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s book, ‘The Influence of Sea Power upon History’, and spent hours drawing sketches of the ships that he wanted built.
Bülow and Bethmann Hollweg, his loyal chancellors, looked after domestic affairs, and Wilhelm began to spread disuiet in the chancelleries of Europe with his increasingly eccentric views on foreign affairs.

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (29 November 1856 – 1 January 1921) was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917.

In foreign policy, he pursued a policy of détente with Britain, hoping to come to some agreement that would put a halt to the two countries’ ruinous naval arms race, but failed, largely due to the opposition of German Naval Minister Alfred von Tirpitz. Despite the increase in tensions due to the Second Moroccan Crisis of 1911, Bethmann Hollweg did improve relations with Britain to some extent, working with British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey to alleviate tensions during the Balkan Crises of 1912-1913, and negotiating treaties over an eventual partition of the Portuguese colonies and the Berlin-Baghdad railway. 
Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Bethmann Hollweg and Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow were instrumental in assuring Austria of Germany’s unconditional support regardless of Austria’s actions against Serbia.
In the last days before the outbreak of war, once it became clear that, should war break out, British involvement was inevitable, he appeared to have some second thoughts, and he took half-hearted measures to prevent an all out war, until Russia’s mobilization on 31 July 1914, took the matter out of his hands.


Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Eva Wagner Chamberlain

With Bismark long gone, Wilhelm needed a new source of inspiration for his ideology, and that person was to be found in the person of Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

Houston Stewart Chamberlain (September 9, 1855 – January 9, 1927) was a British-born German author of books on political philosophy, natural science and Richard Wagner.
Chamberlain married the composer’s daughter, Eva, some years after Wagner’s death.
His two-volume book, ‘Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’ (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), published in 1899, became one of the many references for the pan-Germanic movement of the early 20th century, and, later, of the völkisch philosophy of racial superiority.

Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Chamberlain’s education began in a Lycée at Versailles and most of his education occurred on the continent, but his father had planned a military career for his son and at the age of eleven he was sent to Cheltenham College, an English boarding school which produced many army and navy officers.
The young Chamberlain was “a compulsive dreamer” more interested in the arts than the military, and he developed a fondness for nature and a near-mystical sense of self.
The prospect of serving as an officer in India or elsewhere in the British Empire held no attraction for him. In addition, he was a delicate child with poor health.
At the age of fourteen he had to be withdrawn from school.
He then traveled to various spas around Europe, accompanied by a Prussian tutor, Herr Otto Kuntze, who taught him German and interested him in German culture and history.

Richard Wagner

Chamberlain then went to Geneva, where he studied under Carl Vogt, (a supporter of racial typology at the University of Geneva) Graebe, Müller Argoviensis, Thury, Plantamour, and other professors.
He studied systematicbotany, geology, astronomy, and later the anatomy and physiology of the human body.
Thereafter he settled at Dresden, where “he plunged heart and soul into the mysterious depths of Wagnerian music and philosophy, themetaphysical works of the Master probably exercising as strong an influence upon him as the musical dramas.
Chamberlain was immersed in philosophical writings, and became a Völkisch author, one of those who were concerned more with art, culture, civilization and spirit than with quantitative physical distinctions between groups.
This is evidenced by his huge treatise on Immanuel Kant with its comparisons.

Friedrich Nietzsche

His knowledge of Friedrich Nietzsche is demonstrated in that work (p. 183) and ‘Foundations’ (p. 153n).

Arthur de Gobineau

By this time Chamberlain had met his first wife, the Prussian Anna Horst, whom he was to divorce in 1905.
In 1889 he moved to Austria.
During this time it is said his ideas on race began taking shape, influenced by the concept of Teutonic supremacy embodied in the works of Wagner and Arthur de Gobineau.
Chamberlain had attended Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival in 1882 and struck up a close correspondence with his wife Cosima.
In 1908 he married Eva Wagner, the composer’s daughter, and the next year he moved to Germany and became an important member of the “Bayreuth Circle” of German nationalist intellectuals.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain was born in Southsea, Hampshire, England, the son of Rear Admiral William Charles Chamberlain, RN.
His mother, Eliza Jane, daughter of Captain Basil Hall, RN, died before he was a year old, and he was raised by his grandmother in France.

‘Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’

‘Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’

In 1899 Chamberlain wrote his most important work, ‘Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’ – ‘The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’, – in German.

‘Die Grundlagen’  (1899) was the best-selling work by Houston Stewart Chamberlain. In it he advances various racist and especially völkisch anti-Semitic theories on how he saw the Aryan race as superior to others, and the Teutonic peoples as a positive force in European civilization and the Jews as a negative one.
Chamberlain was a Germanophile who adopted German citizenship, and wrote most of his works in German (on numerous subjects, from biographies to biology).
Published in German, the book focuses on the controversial notion that Western civilization is deeply marked by the influence of the Teutonic peoples.
Chamberlain grouped all European peoples – not just Germans, but Celts, Slavs, Greeks, and Latins – into the “Aryan race”, a race built on the ancient Proto-Indo-European culture.
At the helm of the Aryan race, and, indeed, all races, were the Nordic or Teutonic peoples.
Certain anthropologists would fain teach us that all races are equally gifted; we point to history and answer: that is a lie !
The races of mankind are markedly different in the nature and also in the extent of their gifts, and the Germanic races belong to the most highly gifted group, the group usually termed Aryan… Physically and mentally the Aryans are pre-eminent among all peoples; for that reason they are by right … the lords of the world.”
Chamberlain’s book focused on the claim that the Teutonic peoples were the heirs to the empires of Greece and Rome, something which Charlemagne and some of his successors also believed.
He argued that when the Germanic tribes destroyed the Roman Empire, Jews and other non-Europeans already dominated it.
The Germans, therefore, saved Western civilization from Semitic domination.
Chamberlain’s thoughts were influenced by the writings of Arthur de Gobineau – (right) – who had argued the superiority of the “Aryan race“.
 Houston Stewart Chamberlain

‘Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’ was published in 1900, and it was through the publication of the book that Wilhelm beacame familiar with Chamberlain’s thinking.

Wilhelm II first met Houston Stewart Chamberlain in 1901.
Kaiser Wilhelm II patronized Chamberlain, maintaining a correspondence, inviting him to stay on many occasions at his court, distributing copies of ‘Die Grundlagenamong’ the German army, and seeing that ‘Die Grundlagen’ was carried in German libraries and included in the school curricula.
‘Die Grundlagen’ would prove to be a seminal work in German nationalism; due to its success, aided by Chamberlain’s association with the Wagner circle, its ideas of Aryan supremacy and a struggle against Jewish influence spread widely across the German state at the beginning of the century.


Wilhelm II enthusiastically promoted the arts and sciences, as well as public education and social welfare.
He sponsored the ‘Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschafte’ (Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science) for the promotion of scientific research; it was funded by wealthy private donors and by the state and comprised a number of research institutes in both pure and applied sciences.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science (German Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften) was a German scientific institution established in the German Kaiserreich in 1911. During the Third Reich it was involved in scientific operations, and after the Second World War was wound up, its functions being taken over by the Max Planck Society. The Kaiser Wilhelm Society was an umbrella organization for many institutes, testing stations, and research units spawned under its authority.

Protector of the Order of Saint John

The Prussian Academy of Sciences was unable to avoid the Kaiser’s pressure and lost some of its autonomy when it was forced to incorporate new programs in engineering, and award new fellowships in engineering sciences as a result of a gift from the Kaiser in 1900.
Wilhelm II supported the modernisers, as they tried to reform the Prussian system of secondary education, which was rigidly traditional, elitist, politically authoritarian, and unchanged by the progress in the natural sciences.
As hereditary ‘Protector of the Order of Saint John’, he offered encouragement to the Christian order’s attempts to place German medicine at the forefront of modern medical practice through its system of hospitals, nursing sisterhood and nursing schools, and nursing homes throughout the German Empire.
Wilhelm continued as Protector of the Order even after 1918, as the position was in essence attached to the head of the House of Hohenzollern.


Historians have frequently stressed the role of Wilhelm’s personality in shaping his reign.
Wilhelm II
Kaiserin Frederick

Gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,- technology, industry, science – but at the same time hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, desperate for applause and success, – as Bismarck said early on in his life, he wanted every day to be his birthday – romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, – he had a pathological love-hate against his English mother.

In addition Wilhelm had an unresolved love-hate relationship with Britain.
From the outset, it should be remembered that the half-German side of him was at war with the half-English side.
He was wildly jealous of the British, wanting to be British,and yet wanting to be better at being British than the British were, while at the same time hating them and resenting them because he never could be fully accepted by them.
Like many Germans of this period he believed in force, and the ‘survival of the fittest’ in domestic as well as foreign politics.
William was not lacking in intelligence, but he did lack stability, disguising his deep insecurities by swagger and tough talk.
He frequently fell into depressions and was mildly bi-polar.

The Kaiser lived, like all his predecessors, in the ‘Stadtschloss Palace’ in Berlin.

Potsdamer Stadtschloss

The Potsdam City Palace (German: Potsdamer Stadtschloss) was a historical building in Potsdam, Germany. It was the second official residence (the winter residence) of the Margraves and electors of Brandenburg, later kings in Prussia, kings of Prussia and German emperors. It stood on the Old Market in Potsdam, next to the Church of St. Nicholas (Nikolaikirche) and the Old Townhall.

Wilhelm in Admiral’s Uniform

The baroque palace was constructed on the site of an earlier fortification from 1662 to 1669 under Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm, and was rebuilt by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff under Friedrich II from 1744 to 1752, who performed additional interior decoration. It stood as one of the most important examples of Frederician Rococo.

In the summer, he is used to spend his vacations near the Norwegian coasts on one of his private yachts.
He was very fond of appearing in  uniform (like wearing an admiral’s uniform while visiting an aquarium), and also loved to hunt stag in Prussian forests in company of his advisers.
Despite his arm malformation, he also loved to ride was was an accomplished horseman.

Wilhelm’s entourage consisted mainly of two groups: military and the “camarilla”, the latter represented by Eulenburg and his ‘Liebenberg Circle’.

Philipp Fuerst von Eulenburg 

Philipp Fuerst von Eulenburg was born at Königsberg, Province of Prussia, the eldest son of Philipp Konrad Graf zu Eulenburg (Königsberg, 24 April 1820 – Berlin, 5 March 1889) and of his wife, Alexandrine Freiin von Rothkirch und Panthen (Glogau, 20 June 1824 – Meran, 11 April 1902). The Eulenburgs were a Junker family which belonged to the Uradel (ancient nobility). For generations the family had served the House of Hohenzollern; his uncle, Friedrich Albrecht zu Eulenburg served as Interior Minister of Prussia as did his cousin Botho zu Eulenburg.

Roughly said, both fulfilled the same function for Kaiser Wilhelm II, despite the inherent opposition (on the one side the masculine military, on the other side the art-oriented, intellectual, feminine Liebenberg Circle). They both assured him in his masculinity.
Wilhelm needed this because he had problems of self-esteem stemming from his childhood. deformity (see above).

Queen-Empress Victoria 
Kaiserin (Empress) Frederick 

This in itself would not have had such a great influence on Wilhelm’s psyche, since he learned how to cope with this disability.

What was worse than this was the way in which he learned to cope with it, and how his mother treated him.
His mother Victoria, daughter of Queen-Empress Victoria of England and married to crown prince Friedrich, the son of Kaiser Wilhelm I, came to Germany with great plans.
Together with her husband she wanted to transform the German monarchy to a liberal monarchy, such as the one already established in England.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

She wanted to bring up her son in the idealised image she had of her father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

But when she became aware of Wilhelm’s disability to move his left arm, she felt that he would not be able to fulfil her great expectations.
Her first reaction was attempting to cure Wilhelm’s stunted arm, but when he made only slow efforts, she reacted with rejection of her son.
Wilhelm saw the different medical treatments he had to endure as tortures, and they helped their part to alienate him from his mother.
In the same way that she withdrew her love from him, he also began to hate her and placed the guilt for all of his suffering on her.
Kaiser Friedrich III 

Wilhelm’s father, Friedrich, left the upbringing of his children in the hands of his wife.

Although most of Wilhelm’s memories of his father were good, Friedrich and his son had no close relationship.
Despite this, Wilhelm glorified his father, but Friedrich’s presence in his son’s life was not strong enough to play a paternal role towards Wilhelm.
More than that, realising the fact that Victoria dominated Friedrich, Wilhelm had to put even more blame on his mother.
His longing to win back his father from his mother’s influence, a negative Oedipus-complex, when Vitoria undermined the position Wilhelm wanted his father to have, had a big influence for Wilhelm’s later entourage.
Dr. Georg Hinzpeter

Other men around the young Wilhelm were not able to fill the gap his father left, least of all his tutor Dr. Georg Hinzpeter, who by function would have been predestined for this role.

Hinzpeter was appointed Wilhelm’s tutor in 1866, when Victoria thought the boy needed a male person around him.
The tutor took his duties seriously and taught Wilhelm in a coldly rational and eventually brutal way.
It was impossible to satisfy Hinzpeter, who never gave encouraging words or praise, but always expected perfection: – an impossibility.
One of the most torturing experiences was when Wilhelm at the age of eight-and-a-half still could not ride because of his left arm.
Hinzpeter taught him to keep balance on the horse by ordering him to try it again without pause. It took some weeks, but finally Wilhelm could ride despite his disability.
Wilhelm later placed the blame for this poor treatment on his mother.
It is not possible to say to what extent Wilhelm’s psychological defects were inherited or the outcome of his childhood and youth, however, following the psychoanalytic model can give in this case at least some explanations for the behaviour Wilhelm showed in his later life.
The two main groups of Wilhelm’s entourage – the military and ‘Liebenberg Circle’ – were chosen subconsciously by the Kaiser because they helped him to deal with his problems.
Both of them served the purpose of male companionship and, as it is mentioned above, assured him in his masculinity.
Wilhelm preferred male companionship for different reasons.
It was on the one hand the outgrowth of his longing for a strong idealised father, and furthermore a result of the experiences Wilhelm made in his family life.

His father was dominated by his mother, and Wilhelm saw this as the reason for his father’s absence.

This finally led to a general aversion of women, and to the glorification of an all-male companionship – the “Männerbund“, clearly identifiable in both parts of Wilhelm’s entourage.
Symbolic of Wilhelm’s affection for the military is the fact that one of his first sentences was “Soldat ist ein schöner Mensch“.
German Soldiers Parading – Berlin

Soldiers gave Wilhelm a sense of stability and security.

The command of his troops gave him a sense of confidence and power.
When he was together with army generals, whom Wilhelm admired from his early childhood, Wilhelm vicariously participated in their masculine activities.
Through them, he tried to achieve a masculine identity.

Wilhelm II Gala Uniform
He could even feel more masculine than them, because they had to obey his orders.
Wilhelm’s love of uniform has to be seen in the same context: When wearing a uniform, Wilhelm could show that he was part of the army, once again proving he was as leader of the army more masculine than them.
The second way for Wilhelm to derive strength from his masculine entourage through their degradation.

General Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler
The most famous example of this occurred when General Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler, chief of the military cabinet, died of a heart attack in 1908, shortly after he had to dance in front of the Kaiser dressed as a ballerina.
The humiliation of honourable members of his military entourage allowed Wilhelm to feel as if he was the only sober person surrounded by tipsy and childish companions, and thus gained self-confidence.
The military assured Wilhelm in his masculinity because of its masculinity, while the ‘Liebenberg Circle’ assured Wilhelm in his masculinity because of its femininity.
Here, homo-eroticism plays a role as the circle was feminine due to the ‘passive-homosexual’ orientation of most of its members.
There is almost no doubt that Philipp Count zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, the pivot of the ‘Liebenberg Circle’, was homosexual.
Eulenburg had heterosexual tendencies (he had a wife and eight children and was described as a “devoted father”), so that perhaps “bisexual” is a better term.
But Eulenburg’s homosexual side was stronger.
He enjoyed his family life only for a short time, and the only female person he was ever close to in his life was his mother.
The relationship to his male companions of the ‘Liebenberg Circle’ seems to have been by far stronger than any relationship to a female with the exception of his mother.

Kuno von Moltke

The main source for the examination of Eulenburg and the ‘Liebenberg Circle’ is Eulenburg’s correspondence, and although in the letters homosexuality is never directly mentioned, some evidence can be found that Eulenburg’s friendship to Kuno von Moltke, a member of the ‘Liebenberg Circle’, included more than an ordinary friendship, and that the whole “Männerbund” lived out in the ‘Liebenberg Circle’ had a homoerotic background.

Eulenburg also had sexual relationships to lower-class men, which was proved by Maximilian Harden during the Munich process in 1908.
Maximilian Harden

Wilhelm’s close friendship to Philipp Count zu Eulenburg, and thus the whole affiliation with the ‘Liebenberg Circle’ served Wilhelm’s psyche in different ways.

Eulenburg gave the Kaiser, seven years his junior, the friendly affection which Wilhelm had never received from his parents.
Eulenburg’s genuine affection also stood in contrast to the flattery of those who sought only their own advancement when they met Wilhelm.
Eulenburg had bad health and suffered constantly from a number of illnesses.
He also had hypochondrious tendencies.
Eulenburg’s weakness made the Kaiser feel more masculine, self-confident, and powerful. Eulenburg’s melodramatic suffering and self-pity helped Wilhelm to overcome anxiety about his own health by playing the role of the stronger, more courageous friend who offers encouragement and support.
Up to this point Wilhelm’s personality concerning his relationships to men can be explained without assuming he was homosexual.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Nontheless, labelling Wilhelm as a repressed or latent homosexual, who was perhaps unaware of this fact, gives hints to the explanation of Wilhelm’s complex personality.

Yet Wilhelm’s psychological shortcomings cannot be simplified to a hidden sexual orientation.
Assuming Wilhelm was homosexual can only contribute partially to an explanation of his character.
The exposure of Eulenburg and other members of his group was not initially pursued because of the ‘homoerotic’ nature of the group, but rather because Eulenburg was seen as a detrimental influence on Wilhelm’s approach to the governance of the Reich.
Subsequently the accusations against the group involved a number of court cases, which did little to guide Wilhelm onto a more constitutional approach with regard to the political situation, and unfortunately damaged the reputation of certain groups in the officer corps and the aristocracy.


In February, 27 1881, Wilhelm II married the eldest daughter of Duke Friedrich VIII of Schleswig-Holstein, the Princess Auguste Viktoria Friederike Luise Feodora Jenny of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, who was known as Empress Augusta-Viktoria (born on October, 22 1858).

Kaiserin Augusta-Viktoria 

Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein (22 October 1858 – 11 April 1921) was the last German Empress and Queen of Prussia.
She was the eldest daughter of Frederick VIII, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.
Her maternal grandparents were Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and Princess Feodora of Leiningen, half-sister of Queen Victoria.

On 27 February 1881, Augusta married Prince Wilhelm of Prussia in an eight-hour ceremony that required everyone to remain standing.
Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was a strong proponent of the marriage, believing that it would end the dispute between the Prussian government and Augusta’s father.
Wilhelm had earlier proposed to his first cousin, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine (known in the family as “Ella”), but she declined.
Wilhelm did not take that well – and was adamant to soon marry another princess.
Wilhelm’s family was originally against the marriage with Augusta Viktoria, whose father was not even a sovereign, but in the end, Wilhelm’s intransigence, the support of Bismarck, and a determination to move beyond the rejection of his proposal to Ella, led the reluctant imperial family to give official consent.

Kaiserlichen Monogramm
Kaiserin Augusta Victoria

Augusta was known as “Dona” within the family.
She enjoyed a somewhat lukewarm relationship with her mother-in-law, Victoria, who had hoped that Dona would help to heal the rift between herself and Wilhelm; sadly, this was not to be the case.
In 1920, the shock of exile and abdication proved too much for Augusta.
She died in 1921, in House Doorn at Doorn in the Netherlands.
The Weimar Republic allowed her remains to be transported back to Germany, where they still lie in the ‘Temple of Antiquities’, not far from the New Palace, Potsdam.

They had seven children together, and the Empress died on April, 11 1921, in the last years of the Weltkrieg (First World War), certainly depressed by the devastating war.

Kaiserin Hermine

Taking advantage of the Kaiser’s birthday in 1922, the recently widowed Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz (born on December, 17 1887), was invited with her son to the Imperial Palace. The old Kaiser found the widow very attractive, despite the fact she was 30 years younger than him and had already five children.
Despite the grumblings of his personal advisers and his children, the Kaiser married the woman on November, 9 1922, now known as Empress Hermine. They had no children.

1. Kronprinz Wilhelm (born Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst on May, 6 1882), official heir to his father as German Kaiser and King of Prussia. Married Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, had six children.
2. Prince Eitel Friedrich (born Wilhelm Eitel Friedrich Christian Karl on July, 7 1883). Married Duchess Sophie Charlotte Holstein-Gottorp of Oldenburg, they had no children.
3. King Adalbert (born Adalbert Ferdinand Berengar Viktor on July, 14 1884), current king of Flanders-Wallonia. Married Adelheid Arna Karoline Marie Elisabeth of Saxe-Meiningen, had two living children. As king of another country, renounced to his rights to the Prussian throne.
4. Prince August Wilhelm (born August Wilhelm Heinrich Günther on January, 29 1887), controversial due to his links to the Pan-Germanist GDVP. Married Princess Alexandra Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, had a son.
5. Prince Oskar (born Oskar Karl Gustav Adolf on July, 27 1888), married morganically Countess Ina-Marie Helene Adele Elise von Bassewitz, thus renunciating to his succession rights, had four children.
6. Prince Joachim (born Joachim Franz Humbert on December, 17 1890), king of Ireland for three months before Irish dictator Michael Collins abolished the monarchy imposed by the Germans. Diseappeared from political life after his failed tentative of suicide in 1923, due to his failed marriage. Married Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt, had one son.
7. Princess Viktoria Luise (born Viktoria Luise Adelheid Mathilde Charlotte on September, 13 1892), duchess of Braunschweig. Married Ernst August III, Duke of Braunschweig, had five children.


German foreign policy under Wilhelm II was faced with a number of significant problems. Perhaps the most apparent was that Wilhelm was an impatient man, subjective in his reactions and affected strongly by sentiment and impulse.

Paul Kruger

He was personally ill-equipped to steer German foreign policy along a rational course. It is now widely recognised that the various spectacular acts which Wilhelm undertook in the international sphere were often partially encouraged by the German foreign policy elite.

There were a number of key exceptions, such as the famous Kruger telegram of 1896 in which Wilhelm congratulated President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic on the suppression of the Jameson Raid, thus alienating British public opinion.

Boxer Rebellion – China

Wilhelm invented and spread fears of a yellow peril trying to interest other European rulers in the perils they faced by invading Chinese; few other leaders paid attention.
After the murder of Clemens von Ketteler during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, German troops were sent to China.
Under Wilhelm Germany attempted to develop its colonies in Africa and the Pacific, but few became self-supporting, and all were lost during World War I. 

Herzogin von Hohenberg

One of the few times Wilhelm succeeded in personal diplomacy was when he supported Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in marrying Sophie Chotek in 1900 against the wishes of Emperor Franz Joseph.

Herzogin von Hohenberg – Sophie Maria Josephine Albina Gräfin Chotek von Chotkow und Wognin – (Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg) – (1 March 1868 – 28 June 1914) was a Czech aristocrat from the Kingdom of Bohemia, the morganatic wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Their assassination sparked World War I.
She was granted the title of Duchess of Hohenberg with the style of Highness in 1909.

Prinzessin Victoria Louise

One domestic triumph for Wilhelm was when his daughter Victoria Louise married the Duke of Brunswick in 1913; this helped heal the rift between the House of Hanover and the House of Hohenzollern after the 1866 annexation of Hanover by Prussia.
One of Wilhelm II’s diplomatic blunders sparked the Moroccan Crisis of 1905, when Wilhelm made a spectacular visit to Tangier, in Morocco.
Wilhelm’s presence was seen as an assertion of German interests in Morocco, in opposition to France.
In his speech he even made certain remarks in favour of Moroccan independence.
This led to friction with France, which had expanding colonial interests in Morocco, and led to the Algeciras Conference, which served largely to further isolate Germany in Europe.
This Moroccan debacle can be seen as an aspect of Wilhelm’s strange involvement with the Ottoman Empire.


محمد خامس
Mehmed V Reshad
Osmanli Armasi 

Wilhelm II of Germany enjoyed a personal romance with Islam, intensified by national strategic imperatives.
There is concrete evidence that Turco-German-jihad action plans were ready to go when the guns of August started firing.
The Kaiser’s Islamic enthusiasm was fired by an 1889 visit to Turkey, which Bismarck opposed on the grounds that it would gratuitously alarm the Russians.
Wilhelm met the murderous Sultan Abdul Hamid II and enjoyed the sinuous gyrations of the Circassian dancers in his Constantinople harem.
In 1898 Wilhelm returned to the Ottoman Empire and rode into Jerusalem through a breach specially made in its walls, allegedly to dedicate the new Church of the Redeemer, built by German Protestants.
This pilgrimage was deemed somewhat less benign than it sounded, since the Kaiser wore a field marshal’s uniform with holstered pistol.

The Kaiser and the Sultan

Referring to the Kaiser as Haji Wilhelm, the German Intelligence Bureau for the East spread propaganda throughout the region, fostering rumours that the Kaiser had converted to Islam following a secret trip to Mecca, and portraying him as a savior of Islam.
The Kaiser and some influential German diplomats, bankers, and soldiers were powerfully attracted by the notion of establishing a bridgehead in the Near East to exploit its natural resources.
The foremost manifestation of German influence would be a railway built from the Asian shore of Constantinople to Baghdad, crossing not only Turkey’s vast wildernesses but the Taurus Mountains and bandit regions of Syria and Mesopotamia.
Wilhelm’s ambassador to the Ottoman court, Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, wrote that the railway must be constructed “with only German materials and for the purpose of bringing goods and people to [Asia]…from the heart of Germany.

The railway would run from Berlin to the Persian Gulf, and would further connect to British India through Persia.
This railway could provide a short and quick route from Europe to Asia, and could carry German exports, troops and artillery.
At the time, the Ottoman Empire could not afford such a railway, and Abdülhamid II was grateful to Wilhelm’s offer, but was suspicious over the German motives.
Abdülhamid II’s secret service believed that German archaeologists in the Emperor’s retinue were in fact geologists with designs on the oil wealth of the Ottoman empire.
Later, the secret service uncovered a German report, which noted that the oilfields in Mosul, northern Mesopotamia were richer than that in the Caucuses.
In his first visit, Wilhelm secured the sale of German-made rifles to Ottoman Army, and in his second visit he secured a promise for German companies to construct the Istanbul-Baghdad railway.

Bağdat Demiryolu – Baghdad Railway

Bağdat Demiryolu (Bagdadbahn – The Baghdad Railway), was built from 1903 to 1940 to connect Berlin with the Ottoman Empire city of Baghdad, where the Germans wanted to establish a port in the Persian Gulf, with a 1,600 kilometres (1,000 mi) line through modern-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.
Funding and engineering was mainly provided by German Empire banks and companies, which in the 1890s had built the Anatolian Railway (Anatolische Eisenbahn) connecting Constantinople, Ankara and Konya. The Ottoman Empire wished to maintain its control of Arabia and to expand its influence across the Red Sea into the nominally Ottoman (until 1914) Khedivate of Egypt, which had been under British military control since the Urabi Revolt in 1882. The Germans gained access to and ownership of oil fields in Iraq, and with a line to the port of Basra would have gained better access to the eastern parts of the German colonial empire, by avoiding the Suez Canal.
The railway became a source of international disputes during the years immediately preceding World War I.
It has been argued that the railway was a leading cause of the First World War.
Technical difficulties in the remote Taurus Mountains and diplomatic delays meant that by 1915 the railway was still 480 kilometres (300 mi) short of completion, severely limiting its use during the war in which Baghdad was occupied by the British while the Hejaz railway in the south was attacked by guerrilla forces led by T. E. Lawrence. Construction resumed in the 1930s and was completed in 1940.
A history of this railway in the context of World War I history has lately emerged to describe the German interests in countering the British Empire, and Turkey’s interest in countering their Russian rivals.

The Central Powers

The involvement with the Ottoman Empire  led to the creation of the Central Powers (German: Mittelmächte; Turkish: İttifak Devletleri or Bağlaşma Devletleri) were one of the two warring factions in World War I (1914–18), composed of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria.
This alignment originated in the Triple Alliance, and fought against the Allied Powers that had formed around the Triple Entente.

A Prussian military mission had been entrusted with the modernization of the Ottoman army as early as 1835 and since that time the Germans were viewed by the Ottomans as friends.
Wilhelm II visited Istanbul twice during Abdülhamid’s reign in 1889 and in 1898, the first Western sovereign to do so. The Germans embarked in a policy of encouraging Pan-Islamism in the hope that Muslim rebellions would dislodge the British from the Middle East.
In his second visit Kaiser Wilhelm visited Jerusalem on October 29, 1898. He dedicated a German Protestant church but he also took care of the Catholics by sending a telegram to Pope Leo XIII offering his protection of Catholics in the Holy Land. The Kaiser next visited Damascus where he laid a wreath on the tomb of Sala’din and offered to build a marble mausoleum in his honor. He topped it all by declaring in a speech: “May the Sultan (i.e. Abdülhamid) and his 300 million subjects scattered across the earth, who venerate him as their Caliph, be assured that the German Kaiser will be their friend for all time”. There were several problems with this declaration: the Shia Muslims of Persia and what is now southern Iraq did not accept the Ottoman sultan as their caliph; and most important, many of the 300 million Muslims were subject of Britain or France. But of course, that was the point for the German Kaiser. He wanted to use Islam to cause trouble for the British and the French.

Bronsart von Schellendorf

As the war progressed Germany became increasingly involved in the management of the poorly trained and poorly equipped Ottoman forces, and Friedrich (Fritz) Bronsart von Schellendorf (1864–1950) was appointed as the chief of the Ottoman General Staff, part of German military mission in the Ottoman Empire.
The ruler of the Ottoman Empire during the period of the Central Powers was  محمد خامس  (Mehmed V Reshad).
He was born at Topkapı Palace, Constantinople.
Like many other potential heirs to the throne, he was confined for 30 years in the Harems of the palace.
For nine of those years he was in solitary confinement. During this time he studied poetry of the old Persian style and was an acclaimed poet.

His reign began on 27 April 1909 but he was largely a figurehead with no real political power, as the Ottoman state affairs were largely run by the ‘Three Pashas’ since the ‘Young Turk Revolution’ in 1908.

Members of the Committee of Union and Progress

The Young Turks( chikas) (Turkish: Jön Türkler (plural) or Turkish: Genç Türkler (plural), from French: Les Jeunes Turcs) was a secularist Turkish nationalist reform party in the early twentieth century, favoring reformation of the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Empire. Officially known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), their leaders led a rebellion against Sultan Abdul Hamid II. They contributed to establish the Second Constitutional Era in 1908 and The İttihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress) based on the ideas of the Young Turks ruled the Ottoman empire from 1908 until the end of World War I in November 1918.

Enver Pasha

Enver Pasha (Ottoman Turkish: انور پاشا‎, Turkish: Enver Paşa) or Ismail Enver Pasha (اسماعیل انور پاشا‎, İsmail Enver Paşa‎, born Ismail Enver) (November 22, 1881 – August 4, 1922) was an Ottoman military officer and a leader of the Young Turk revolution. He was the main leader of the Ottoman Empire in both Balkan Wars and World War I. 

As a war minister and de facto Commander-in-Chief (de jure he was Deputy Commander-in-Chief, since formally the Sultan held the title), Enver Pasha was considered to be the most powerful figure of the government of Ottoman Turkey.

Talaat Pasha

Talaat Pasha (Ottoman Turkish: طلعت پاشا, born Mehmed Talaat (Ottoman Turkish: محمد طلعت, Turkish: Mehmed Talât or Mehmet Talat) (1874–1921) was one of the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress that controlled the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Djemal Pasha

In 1917, Talaat became the Grand Vizier, but was unable to reverse the downward spiral of Ottoman fortunes in his new position.
Over the next year, Jerusalem and Baghdad were lost, and in October 1918 the British shattered both Ottoman armies they faced. With defeat certain, Talaat resigned on October 14, 1918.

Djemal Pasha (Ottoman Turkish: جمال پاشا, modern Turkish: Cemal Paşa), born Ahmed Djemal (Ottoman Turkish: احمد جمال, Turkish: Ahmet Cemal; 6 May 1872 – 21 July 1922), was a Young Turk and member of the Three Pashas. Djemal was also Mayor of Istanbul.

Mehmed V’s only significant political act was, as Caliph, to formally declare ‘jihad‘ against the Entente Powers (Allies of World War I) on 11 November 1914, following the Ottoman government’s decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers.
This was the last genuine proclamation of jihad in history by a Caliph, as the Caliphate ended in 1924.

Enver Pasha had the Sultan proclaimed jihad in the hope that it would provoke and aid a vast Muslim revolution, particularly in India.
Translations of the proclamation were sent to Berlin for propaganda purposes, for distribution to Muslim troops of the Entente Powers, however, while widely heard, the proclamation did not have the intended effect of mobilising global Muslim opinion on behalf of Turkey or the Central Powers.

The proclamation had no noticeable effect on the war, despite the fact that many Muslims lived in Ottoman territories.
The Arabs eventually joined the British forces against the Ottomans with the Arab Revolt in 1916.
Mehmed V hosted Kaiser Wilhelm II, his World War I ally, in Constantinople on 15 October 1917.
He was made Generalfeldmarschall of the Kingdom of Prussia on 27 January 1916, and of the Empire of Germany on 1 February 1916.
The Ottoman Sultan specifically wanted the Empire to remain a non-belligerent nation, however, pressure from some of Mehmed’s senior advisors led the Empire to align with the Central Powers.
Whilst Great Britain was unenthusiastic about aligning with the Ottoman Empire Germany was enthusiastic.
Germany needed the Ottoman Empire on its side.
The Orient Express had run directly to Constantinople since 1889, and prior to the First World War the Sultan had consented to a plan to extend it through Anatolia to Baghdad under German auspices.
This would strengthen the Ottoman Empire’s link with industrialised Europe, while also giving Germany easier access to its African colonies and to trade markets in India.
To keep the Ottoman Empire from joining the Triple Entente, Germany encouraged Romania and Bulgaria to enter the Central Powers.
Led by Enver Pasha, a coup in Turkey in 1913 sidelined Sultan Mehmed V, and concentrated power in the hands of a junta.
Despite the secular nature of the new government, Turkey retained its traditional influence over the Muslim world.
Turkey ruled Hejaz until the Arab Revolt of 1916 and controlled the Muslim holy city of Mecca throughout the war.

Osmanli Devleti Nisani Yeni

The Sultan’s title of Caliph was recognised as legitimate by most Muslims, including those in Afghanistan and India.
A secret treaty was then concluded between the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire on August 2, 1914.
The Ottoman Empire was to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers one day after the German Empire declared war on Russia.
The alliance was ratified on 2nd August by many high ranking Ottoman officials, including Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha, the Minister of War Enver Pasha, the Interior Minister Talat Pasha, and Head of Parliament Halil Bey.
However, there was no signature from the House of Osman as the Sultan Mehmed V did not sign it.
The Sultan was the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, as written in the constitution, this made the legitimacy of the Alliance questionable.
This meant that the army was not be able to fight a jihad on behalf of the Sultan.
He did not wish to command a war himself, and as such left the Cabinet to do much of his bidding.
The third member of the cabinet of the ‘Three Pashas’, Djemal Pasha also did not sign the treaty as he had tried to form an alliance with France.
The Alliance was not universally accepted by all parts of the Ottoman government.
The Ottoman Empire did not enter the war until German elements in the Ottoman Navy took matters into their own hands and bombarded Russian ports on the 29th of October 1914.
Once at war, Turkey joined Germany in taking aim at the opposing Entente Powers and their extensive empires in the Muslim world.


Nothing Wilhelm II did in the international arena was of more influence than his decision to pursue a policy of massive naval construction.
A powerful navy was Wilhelm’s pet project.

Spithead Diamond Jubilee Review 26 June 1897
King-Emperor Edward VII

He had inherited from his English mother a love of the British Royal Navy, which was at that time the world’s largest.

He once confided to his uncle, Edward VII, that his dream was to have a “fleet of my own some day“.
Wilhelm’s frustration over his fleet’s poor showing at the Fleet Review at his grandmother Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, combined with his inability to exert German influence in South Africa following the dispatch of the Kruger telegram, led to Wilhelm taking definitive steps toward the construction of a fleet to rival that of his British cousins.

Großadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz
Wilhelm was fortunate to be able to call on the services of the dynamic naval officer Alfred von Tirpitz, whom he appointed to the head of the Imperial Naval Office in 1897.

Großadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz (March 19, 1849 – March 6, 1930) was a German Admiral, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, the powerful administrative branch of the German Imperial Navy from 1897 until 1916. Prussia never had a major navy, nor did the other German states before the German Empire was formed in 1871. Tirpitz took the modest Imperial Navy and, starting in the 1890s, turned it into a world-class force that could threaten the British Royal Navy. His navy, however, was not strong enough to confront the British successfully in World War I; the one great naval Battle of Jutland was a draw. Tirpitz turned to submarine warfare, which antagonized the United States. He was dismissed in 1916 and never regained power.

The new admiral had conceived of what came to be known as the “Risk Theory” or the ‘Tirpitz Plan’, by which Germany could force Britain to accede to German demands in the international arena through the threat posed by a powerful battle-fleet concentrated in the North Sea.
Tirpitz enjoyed Wilhelm’s full support in his advocacy of successive Naval Bills of 1897 and 1900, by which the German navy was built up to contend with that of the United Kingdom.

Naval expansion under the ‘Fleet Acts’ eventually led to severe financial strains in Germany by 1914, as by 1906 Wilhelm had committed his navy to construction of the much larger, more expensive dreadnought type of battleship.
In 1889 Wilhelm II re-organised top level control of the navy by creating a ‘Marine-Kabinett’ (Navy Cabinet) – (equivalent to the German Imperial Military Cabinet which had previously functioned in the same capacity for both the army and navy).
The Head of the ‘Marine-Kabinett’ was responsible for promotions, appointments, administration and issuing orders to naval forces.
Captain Gustav von Senden-Bibran was appointed as its first head and remained so until 1906.

The existing kaiserlichen Admiralität (Imperial Admiralty) was abolished and its responsibilities divided between two organisations.
A new position (equivalent to the supreme commander of the army) was created, Chef des Oberkommandos der Marine, being responsible for ship deployments, strategy and tactics. Vice Admiral Max von der Goltz was appointed in 1889 and remained in post until 1895. Construction and maintenance of ships and obtaining supplies was the responsibility of the State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office (Reichsmarineamt), responsible to the Chancellor and advising the Reichstag on naval matters.
The first appointee was Rear Admiral Eduard Heusner, followed shortly by Rear Admiral Friedrich von Hollmann from 1890 to 1897.
Each of these three heads of department reported separately to Wilhelm II.

In addition to the expansion of the fleet the ‘Kiel Canal’ was opened in 1895 enabling faster movements between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.


The causes of World War I, which began in central Europe in late July 1914, included intertwined factors, such as the conflicts and hostility of the four decades leading up to the war. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism played major roles in the conflict as well.

The immediate origins of the war, however, lay in the decisions taken by statesmen and generals during the Crisis of 1914, ‘casus belli‘ for which was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by Gavrilo Princip, an irredentist Serb.
The crisis came after a long and difficult series of diplomatic clashes between the Great Powers (Italy, France, Germany, the British Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Russia) over European and colonial issues in the decade before 1914 that had left tensions high.
In turn these diplomatic clashes can be traced to changes in the balance of power in Europe since 1867.
The more immediate cause for the war was tensions over territory in the Balkans.
Austria-Hungary competed with Serbia and Russia for territory and influence in the region, and they pulled the rest of the Great Powers into the conflict through their various alliances and treaties.

Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand

Wilhelm was a friend of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, and he was deeply shocked by his assassination on 28 June 1914.
Wilhelm offered to support Austria-Hungary in crushing the ‘Black Hand’, the secret organization that had plotted the killing, and even sanctioned the use of force by Austria against the perceived source of the movement – Serbia.
He wanted to remain in Berlin until the crisis was resolved, but his courtiers persuaded him instead to go on his annual cruise of the North Sea on 6 July 1914.
Wilhelm made erratic attempts to stay on top of the crisis via telegram, and when the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered to Serbia, he hurried back to Berlin.
He reached Berlin on 28 July, read a copy of the Serbian reply, and wrote on it:
‘A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected.
A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade.
On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilisation.’

Kaiser Franz Josef

Unknown to the Emperor, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the 84-year-old Francis Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia.
As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilization to attack Austria in defense of Serbia.

On the night of 30 July, when handed a document stating that Russia would not cancel its mobilization, Wilhelm wrote a lengthy commentary containing these observations:
‘For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us… Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honourable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e., playing off all European States for her own benefit against us.’
When it became clear that Germany would experience a war on two fronts and that the United Kingdom would enter the war if Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium Wilhelm attempted to redirect the main attack against Russia.
When Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) (who had chosen the old plan from 1905, made by the former German general von Schlieffen for the possibility of German war on two fronts) told him that this was impossible, Wilhelm said: “Your uncle would have given me a different answer!
Wilhelm is also reported to have said, “To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it.
In the original Schlieffen plan, Germany would attack the (supposed) weaker enemy first, meaning France.
The plan supposed that it would take a long time before Russia was ready for war.
Defeating France had been easy for Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
At the 1914 border between France and Germany, an attack at this more southern part of France could be stopped by the French fortress along the border, however, Wilhelm II got von Moltke (the younger) to not also invade the Netherlands.


Paul von Hindenburg – General Ludendorff
and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wilhelm’s role in wartime was of ever-decreasing power as he increasingly handled awards ceremonies and honorific duties.

The high command foolishly continued with its strategy even when it was clear that the Schlieffen plan had failed.
By 1916 the Empire had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff.
Paul von Hindenburg

Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, known universally as Paul von Hindenburg –  (2 October 1847 – 2 August 1934) was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934.
Hindenburg enjoyed a long career in the Prussian Army, retiring in 1911. He was recalled at the outbreak of World War I, and first came to national attention, at the age of 66, as the victor at Tannenberg in 1914. As Germany’s Chief of the General Staff from 1916, he and his deputy, Erich Ludendorff, rose in the German public’s esteem until Hindenburg came to eclipse the Kaiser himself.
Hindenburg retired again in 1919, but returned to public life one more time in 1925 to be elected as the second President of Germany.

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (sometimes referred to as von Ludendorff) (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916 his appointment as Quartermaster general made him joint head (with Paul von Hindenburg), and chief engineer behind the management of Germany’s effort in World War I until his resignation in October 1918.
After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader who was convinced that the German Army had been betrayed by Marxists and Republicans in the Versailles Treaty. He took part in the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925 he ran for president against his former colleague, Paul von Hindenburg,

Increasingly cut off from reality and the political decision-making process, Wilhelm vacillated between defeatism and dreams of victory, depending upon the fortunes of his armies. Nevertheless, Wilhelm still retained the ultimate authority in matters of political appointment, and it was only after his consent had been gained that major changes to the high command could be effected.

Helmuth von Moltke
Prinz Ruprecht and Wilhelm II
Wilhelm was in favour of the dismissal of Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in September 1914 and his replacement by Erich von Falkenhayn.

Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke (23 May 1848, Biendorf – 18 June 1916), also known as Moltke the Younger, was a nephew of Field Marshal Count Moltke and served as the Chief of the German General Staff from 1906 to 1914. The two are often differentiated as Moltke the Elder and Moltke the Younger. Moltke the Younger’s role in the development of German war plans and the instigation of the First World War is extremely controversial.

Erich von Falkenhayn

Erich von Falkenhayn (11 September 1861 – 8 April 1922) was a German soldier and Chief of the General Staff during World War I. He became a military writer after World War I.

Falkenhayn succeeded Moltke as Chief of the General Staff of the German Army after the Battle of the Marne on 14 September 1914. Confronted with the failure of the Schlieffen Plan due to Moltke’s interference, he attempted to outflank the British and French in the “Race to the Sea”, a series of engagements throughout northern France and Belgium in which each side tried to turn the other’s flank until they reached the coastline. The British and French eventually stopped the Germans at the First Battle of Ypres (October–November 1914).
Falkenhayn preferred an offensive strategy on the Western Front while conducting a limited campaign in the east: he hoped that Russia would accept a separate armistice more easily if it had not been humiliated too much. This brought him into conflict with Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who favored massive offensives in the east. Eventually – either in the hope that a massive slaughter would lead Europe’s political leaders to consider ending the war, or that losses would in the end be less harmful for Germany than for France – Falkenhayn staged a massive battle of attrition, as claimed in his post-war memoires, at Verdun in early 1916. Although more than a quarter of a million soldiers eventually died – for which Falkenhayn was sometimes called “the Blood-Miller of Verdun” – neither side’s resolve was lessened, because, contrary to Falkenhayn’s assumptions, the Entente was able to replace their dead. 
After the failure at Verdun, coupled with several reverses in the east and incessant lobbying by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Hindenburg.

Georg Michaelis
In 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided that Bethman-Hollweg was no longer acceptable to them as Chancellor and called upon the Kaiser to appoint somebody else.
When asked whom they would accept, Ludendorff recommended Georg Michaelis, a nonentity he barely knew.
The Kaiser did not know Michaelis, but accepted the suggestion.
The Kaiser’s support collapsed completely in October–November 1918 in the army, in the civilian government, and in German public opinion, as President Woodrow Wilson made clear the Kaiser could no longer be a party to peace negotiations.
That year Wilhelm also became seriously ill during the worldwide 1918 flu pandemic, though he survived.

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Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late 1918.

The Kiel Mutiny – 1918

Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine, the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him.

The Kiel mutiny was a major revolt by sailors of the German High Seas Fleet on 3 November 1918. The revolt triggered the German revolution which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. It ultimately led to the end of the German Empire and to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.
On 7 November, the revolution had spread as far south as München, causing Ludwig III of Bavaria to flee.

After the outbreak of the German Revolution, Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate.
Up to that point, he was confident that even if he were obliged to vacate the German throne, he would still retain the Prussian kingship.

Maximillian Prinz von Baden

The unreality of this belief was revealed when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Wilhelm’s abdication both as German Emperor and King of Prussia was abruptly announced by the Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, on 9 November 1918.
Prince Max himself was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD could effectively exert control.
Wilhelm consented to the abdication only after Ludendorff’s replacement, General Wilhelm Groener, had informed him that the officers and men of the army would march back in good order under Paul von Hindenburg’s command, but would certainly not fight for Wilhelm’s throne on the home front.
The monarchy’s last and strongest support had been broken, and finally even Hindenburg, himself a lifelong royalist, was obliged, with some embarrassment, to advise the Emperor to give up the crown, thus ending the Hohenzollern dynasty’s five-century rule.
The fact that the High Command might one day abandon the Kaiser had been foreseen in December 1897, when Wilhelm had visited Otto von Bismarck for the last time.
Bismarck had again warned the Kaiser about the increasing influence of militarists, especially of the admirals who were pushing for the construction of a battle fleet.
Bismarck’s last warning had been:
‘Your Majesty, so long as you have this present officer corps, you can do as you please. But when this is no longer the case, it will be very different for you.’
Subsequently, Bismarck had predicted accurately:
Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this” – a prophecy fulfilled almost to the month.
On November 10, Wilhelm Hohenzollern crossed the border by train, as a private citizen, and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war.
Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, Article 227 expressly provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm “for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties“, but Queen Wilhelmina refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies.
King-Emperor George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as “the greatest criminal in history (?)“, but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s proposal to “hang the Kaiser“.
President Wilson rejected extradition, arguing that punishing Wilhelm for waging war would destabilize international order and lose the peace.

Wilhelm after his Abdication

The erstwhile Emperor first settled in Amerongen, where on 28 November he issued a formal statement of abdication.

He subsequently purchased a country house in the municipality of Doorn on 16 August 1919 and moved in on 15 May 1920.
This was to be his home for the remainder of his life.
From this residence, ‘Huis Doorn’, Wilhelm absolved his officers and servants of their oath of loyalty to him; however, he himself never formally relinquished his titles, and hoped to return to Germany in the future.
The Weimar Republic allowed Wilhelm to remove twenty-three railway wagons of furniture, twenty-seven containing packages of all sorts, one bearing a car and another a boat, from the New Palace at Potsdam.


Huis Doorn

On 2 December 1919, Wilhelm wrote to Field Marshal August von Mackensen, denouncing his abdication as the “deepest, most disgusting shame ever perpetrated by a person in history, the Germans have done to themselves“, “egged on and misled by the tribe of Judah … Let no German ever forget this, nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from German soil!

He advocated a “regular international all-worlds pogrom à la Russe” as “the best cure” and further believed that Jews were a “nuisance that humanity must get rid of some way or other.”

Residence of Empress Elisabeth – Corfu

In 1922, Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs – a very slim volume that insisted he was not guilty of initiating the Great War, and defended his conduct throughout his reign, especially in matters of foreign policy.

For the remaining twenty years of his life, he entertained guests (often of some standing) and kept himself updated on events in Europe.
He grew a beard and allowed his famous moustache to droop.
He also learned the Dutch language. Wilhelm developed a penchant for archaeology during his vacations on Corfu, a passion he retained in his exile.
He had bought the former Greek residence of Empress Elisabeth after her murder in 1898.
He also sketched plans for grand buildings and battleships when he was bored.
In exile, one of Wilhelm’s greatest passions was hunting, and he bagged thousands of animals, both beast and bird.

Kaiser and Kaiserin
Wilhelm’s Library – Huis Doorn

Much of his time was spent chopping wood, and thousands of trees were chopped down during his stay at Doorn.

In the early 1930s, Wilhelm apparently hoped that the successes of the NSDAP would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with his eldest grandson as the fourth Kaiser.
His second wife, Hermine, actively petitioned the government of the Third Reich on her husband’s behalf, but the petitions were ignored.
Though he hosted Hermann Göring at Doorn on at least one occasion, Wilhelm grew to mistrust Hitler.

General von Dommes

In the wake of the German victory over Poland in September 1939, Wilhelm’s adjutant, General von Dommes, wrote on his behalf to Hitler, stating that the House of Hohenzollern “remained loyal” and noted that nine Prussian Princes (one son and eight grandchildren) were stationed at the front, concluding “because of the special circumstances that require residence in a neutral foreign country, His Majesty must personally decline to make the aforementioned comment. The Emperor has therefore charged me with making a communication.”

Wilhelm greatly admired the success which Hitler was able to achieve in the opening months of the Second World War, and personally sent a congratulatory telegram on the fall of Paris stating “Congratulations, you have won using my troops.

‘Uncle Edward VII’ 

In a letter to his daughter Victoria Louise, the Duchess of Brunswick, he wrote triumphantly, “Thus is the pernicious Entente Cordiale of Uncle Edward VII brought to nought.”

Nevertheless, after the conquest of the Netherlands in 1940, the aging Wilhelm retired completely from public life.
In May 1940, when Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Wilhelm declined an offer from Churchill for asylum (?) in the UK, preferring to die at Huis Doorn.
During his last year at Doorn, Wilhelm believed that Germany was the land of monarchy and therefore of Christ, and that England was the land of Liberalism and therefore of Satan and the Anti-Christ.
He argued that the English ruling classes were “Freemasons thoroughly infected by Juda“. Wilhelm asserted that the “British people must be liberated from Antichrist Juda. We must drive Juda out of England just as he has been chased out of the Continent.”

He believed the Freemasons and Jews had caused the two world wars, aiming at a world Jewish empire with British and American gold, but that “Juda’s plan has been smashed to pieces and they themselves swept out of the European Continent!

Continental Europe was now, Wilhelm wrote, “consolidating and closing itself off from British influences after the elimination of the British and the Jews!
The end result would be a “U.S. of Europe!
In a letter to his sister Princess Margaret in 1940, Wilhelm wrote: “The hand of God is creating a new world & working miracles… We are becoming the U.S. of Europe under German leadership, a united European Continent.
He added: “The Jews are being thrust out of their nefarious positions in all countries, whom they have driven to hostility for centuries.”
Also in 1940 came what would have been his mother’s 100th birthday, of which he ironically wrote to a friend “Today the 100th birthday of my mother! No notice is taken of it at home! No ‘Memorial Service’ or… committee to remember her marvellous work for the… welfare of our German people… Nobody of the new generation knows anything about her.
This sympathy for his mother is in sharp contrast to the intense animosity he expressed for her during most of her life.


Wilhelm II died of a pulmonary embolus in Doorn, Netherlands on 3 June 1941 aged 82, just weeks before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

German soldiers had been guarding his estate.

Grabmal von Kaiser Wilhelm II – Doorn
Funeral of Kaiser Wilhelm II – Doorn

Despite his personal animosity toward Wilhelm, Hitler wanted to bring Wilhelm’s body back to Berlin for a state funeral, as Wilhelm was a symbol of Germany and Germans during World War I.

Begräbnis von Kaiser Wilhelm II – Doorn

Hitler felt this would demonstrate to Germans the direct succession of the Third Reich from the old Kaiserreich, however, Wilhelm’s wishes of never returning to Germany until the restoration of the monarchy were respected, and the German occupation authorities granted a small military funeral with a few hundred people present, the mourners including August von Mackensen, along with a few other military advisers.
He was buried in a small mausoleum in the grounds of ‘Huis Doorn’, which has since become a place of pilgrimage for German monarchists.

Three trends have characterized the writing about Wilhelm.
First, the writers who considered him a martyr and a hero.
Second, those who judged Wilhelm as completely unable to handle the great responsibilities of his office.
Third, after 1950, scholars sought to transcend the passions of the 1910s and attempted objective portrayal of Wilhelm II and his rule.
On 8 June 1913, a year before the Great War began, ‘The New York Times’ published a special supplement devoted to the 25th anniversary of the Kaiser’s coronation. The banner headline read: “Kaiser, 25 Years a Ruler, Hailed as Chief Peacemaker“.
The accompanying story called him “the greatest factor for peace that our time can show” – and credited Wilhelm with frequently rescuing Europe from the brink of war.
Until the late 1950s the Kaiser was depicted by most historians as man of considerable influence.
Partly that was a deception by German officials.
For example, President Theodore Roosevelt believed the Kaiser was in control of German foreign policy because Hermann Speck von Sternburg, the German ambassador in Washington and personal friend of Roosevelt, presented messages of Chancellor von Bülow to the president as messages from the Kaiser.
Then historians downplayed his role, arguing senior officials learned to work around him.
More recently historian John C. G. Röhl has portrayed Wilhelm II as the key figure in understanding the downfall of Imperial Germany.
Thus the argument is made that the Kaiser played a major role in promoting the policies of naval and colonial expansion that caused the sharp deterioration in Germany’s relations with Britain before 1914.


Seine Kaiserliche und Königliche Majestät Wilhelm der Zweite, von Gottes Gnaden Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preußen, Markgraf von Brandenburg, Burggraf von Nürnberg, der Hohenzollern, Herzog von Schlesien und der Grafschaft Glatz Graf, Großherzog vom Niederrhein und Posen, Herzog in Sachsen, der Angria, Westfalen, Pommern und Lunenburg, Herzog von Schleswig, Holstein und Crossen, Herzog von Magdeburg, Bremen, der Geldern und Jülich, Cleve und Berg, Herzog von der Wenden und Kaschuben, von Lauenburg und Mecklenburg, Landgraf von Hessen und Thüringen, Markgraf von Ober-und Niederlausitz, Prinz von Oranien, auf Rügen, Ost-Friesland, Paderborn und Pyrmont, Prinz von Halberstadt, Münster, der Minden, Osnabrück, Hildesheim, Verden, der Kammin, Fulda, Nassau und Moers, Fürstlicher Grafen von Henneberg, der Mark Graf von Ravensberg, Hohenstein, Tecklenburg und Lingen, Graf von Mansfeld, der Sigmaringen und Veringen, Herr von Frankfurt. 

to be continued….