Why was Germany unified in Versailles not Berlin?

Why was Germany unified in Versailles not Berlin?

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Why did Wilhelm I (or Bismarck) decide to perform official Germany unification in France?

In my opinion, if the ceremonial was to honour the Prussian king and be a tribute or allegiance to him, it should be held in Berlin/Potsdam (like cardinals honour new pope in Rome).

Of course, capturing Paris in 1870 war was a spectacular event showing the Prussian dominance, however (as it seems) the French capital was not considered to be kept by the Prussians (or Germans) forever.

I performed some research, however I couldn't find any detailed information, nor any trustworthy sources.

Bismarck's final step to complete unification was to challenge the power of France on the southern border. Since Richilieu and Louis XIV, France had made a divided Germany a prime component in French foreign policy. Bimarck would have to tread carefully if he were to unify the scattered Germans. [source]

This above suggest it was to show France that "what Richelieu and Louis XIV did" was now aborted. The best place to show something to France would be Paris.

This paper in some way suggest the creation of the German Empire is related to Charlemagne:

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 was reflective of the conflict between the western part of the Charlemagne Split (France) and the eastern part of the Charlemagne Split (Germany). The powerful German state of Prussia unified all of the German states and built the Second Reich (… )

Maybe it was because everyone was in hurry, and Wilhelm was visiting the General Staff. The idea might be backed by the webpage of the Versailles palace:

On 16 December 1870, a delegation from the Parliament of Northern Germany arrived in Versailles. It came to beseech the king of Prussia to accept the title of Emperor of Germany. The Confederation was dissolved on the 20th. 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 Louis II. 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.

Until 1871, Germany wasn't "Germany." It was a collection of (often) warring German-speaking states like Prussia, Bavaria, etc. Austria, which was occupied elsewhere, never did join.

The thing that unified the "Germans" was their common distrust of the French, even though some German states liked France more than others. Essentially, uniting to defeat and keep down the French was the raison d'etre for creating a united Germany. The coronation of Wilhelm in the Versailles was just a celebration and reminder of that fact.

On the other hand, having a coronation of Wilhelm in Berlin would have indiscreetly "highlighted" the absorption of smaller German states into a Prussian-led union. That was a symbolism that e.g. Bismarck was anxious to avoid, even though that was actually what was taking place.

Put another way, the "German" states united more because they were anti-French than they were pro-German.

The Constitution of the German Confederation (1871), that turned the North German Confederation and several South German states into the German Empire was enacted on January 1st, 1871. The proclamation of Wilhelm I. as Emperor on January 18th was a "taking of office", not the unification per se.

Declaring Wilhelm I. Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors served several purposes:

  • The Hall of Mirrors is at the very heart of France. This symbolized the birth of the German Empire on military success over the "Erbfeind" (hereditary enemy). The hall is decorated with pictures celebrating successes of Louis XIV of France, including territorial gains over previously German territory (Alsace, Freiburg, Kehl and others), reinforcing the symbolism.

  • To give the ceremony the expected gravitas, regiments from most constituting German states assembled in full parade uniform, displaying their banners. These troops were "at hand". Note that the Franco-Prussian War was not even over yet. Having a similar ceremony in Berlin (or elsewhere in Germany, not that Wilhelm I. would have liked that idea… ) would have meant delaying the ceremony, and probably would have made the protocol of getting the troops assembled for such a display much more difficult. The "high point" in public perception would have passed.

  • As @TomAu pointed out, one of the more delicate points was how to not offend the other constituting states by too open a display of Prussian predominance. Wilhelm I., for one, wanted the title "Emperor of Germany", whereas Bismarck wanted the much more appeasing "German Emperor". That particular dispute on what exactly the title was to be wasn't even settled at the point of proclamation -- Wilhelm I. was hailed as "Emperor Wilhelm", side-stepping the whole issue (which was later resolved on Bismarck's terms). You can imagine how much the South German states would have liked having to hail their new Emperor in Berlin, the Prussian capital…

I think you already answered your own question. It was more fortuitous than anything else: that's where everybody was when the time came. Remember that Germany had already been long united in the Holy Roman Empire, which the French has destroyed in 1806. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the Prussians reversed that dominance, and created the grounds for the re-establishment of the Reich. King Wilhelm of Prussia led the Prussian army personally to victory. When the battle was won, all the various German princes flocked to him and the second reich was created. If he had been in Konigsberg instead, they would have gone there.

Austria–Germany relations

Relations between Austria and Germany are close, due to their shared history and language, with German being the official language of both countries.

Austro-German relations


Diplomatic mission
Embassy of Austria, BerlinEmbassy of Germany, Vienna

Modern-day Austria and Germany were united until 1866: their predecessors were part of the Holy Roman Empire and the German Confederation until the unification of German states under Prussia in 1871, which excluded Austria. In 1918 after the end of World War I, Austria renamed itself the Republic of German-Austria in an attempt for union with Germany but this was forbidden by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919). In 1938, the Third Reich, led by Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, annexed Austria in the Anschluss.

After Austria's entry into the European Union in 1995, both countries are member-states of the Schengen Agreement. However, whereas Germany is a member nation of NATO, in accordance with its strict constitutional requirement of neutrality, Austria is not a NATO member.

Central Questions:

  • Which power Austria (Southern German and Catholic) or Prussia (North German and Protestant) would dominate the new Germany?
  • How to overcome French objections to a strong unified Germany?

Relations between Austria and Prussia broke down over the control of Schleswig- Holstein. However the real issue was which of the two powers were going to be the dominant force in Germany. Bismarck provoked quarrels with the Austrians.

Bismarck secured Italian support and French neutrality. Prussian troops occupied Holstein and the “Seven Weeks War” broke out between Prussia and Austria. Most of the other German states were deeply suspicious of Prussian militarism and sided with Austria, e.g. Saxony, Hanover, Bavaria.

Austria was decisively defeated at the battle of Sadowa (Koniggratz). As a result of the Treaty of Prague (August), Austria was now excluded from German affairs but importantly Bismarck had made sure that Austria lost no land.
The German Confederation was dissolved and a North German Confederation was formed. It contained all German states north of the Main River. Effectively it was controlled by Prussia.

While the southern states e.g. Baden, Bavaria remained independent they had military alliances with Prussia. The main stumbling block to further unification was France ruled by Napoleon III. There was a growing recognition in France that the emergence of a united Germany under Prussia was an unacceptable threat to French supremacy in Europe. Relations between Prussia and France soon deteriorated over the vacant Spanish throne.

After a coup in Spain, Queen Isabella was forced to abdicate. A formal offer of the Spanish throne was made to Leopold of Hohenzollern- Sigmaringen, a member of the Catholic branch of the Prussian royal family.

France was very alarmed at this development and the possibility of a German king of Spain. Prince Leopold declined the offer after considerable French pressure.

However the French foreign minister Duc de Gramont insisted on a Prussian guarantee that the candidacy would not be renewed. King William refused to give this guarantee to the French ambassador at Ems.

Bismarck released a version of the discussions to the press that gave the impression that the French Ambassador had been insulted by the Prussian king, the famous “Ems Telegram”. The French were outraged by the telegram and two days later, declared war on Prussia.

The Franco - Prussian War

The French suffer another serious defeat when 180,000 French troops under Marshal Bazaine surrendered at Metz. The Prussians now laid siege to Paris. The leader of the new French government Leon Gambetta escaped from Paris in a balloon and continued to organise resistance to the Prussians.

Parisians suffered starvation, bombardments and disease. Citizens were forced to eat horses, cats, dogs and even rats. Balloons and pigeon post provided the only contact with the outside.

The Treaty of Frankfurt formally ended the war. The French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were annexed. A war indemnity of 5 Billion marks imposed.

Paris refused to disarm and the Commune of Paris was formed. The French troops loyal to the government began the second siege of Paris. After the cruel suppression of the commune, peace returned to France.

Reasons for the defeat of France

  • The French were over-confident and felt that they would have little difficulty defeating Prussia. Traditionally she was Europe’s strongest military power.
  • The French counted on the technical superiority of their chassepot rifles but this advantage was cancelled by Prussian superiority in artillery.
  • The sheer speed of the Prussian mobilisation organised brilliantly by von Moltke caught the French by surprise.
  • The catastrophic defeat at Sedan was as much a psychological defeat as a military one. Napoleon III was captured and a French army was utterly defeated. French morale never recovered.
  • France was diplomatically isolated. Bismarck had cleverly made France appear the aggressor and she received no help from any of the other major powers.

Results of the War

  • The war marked the end of French military domination in Europe. The new German Empire emerged as Europe’s foremost military power. Prussia dominated this new German state.
  • The war and its aftermath created great bitterness between the two countries and sowed the seeds for the First World War. French resentment at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and the desire for revenge dominated French politics for fifty years.
  • As a result of the war French troops guarding the Pope in Rome were forced to withdraw and Italian unification was completed.

Primary Source

The Ems telegram (a report of the King's meeting with the French Ambassador) was sent to Bismarck by the foreign office official accompanying William. Note the King's irritation and his fateful recommendation that the matter be made public:

“His Majesty the King has written to me (namely, Heimlich Abe ken, of the Foreign office)

"Count Benedictine (the French ambassador) intercepted me on the promenade and ended by demanding of me in a very importunate manner that I should authorize him to telegraph at once that I bound myself in perpetuity never again to give my consent if the Hohenzollerns renewed their candidature. I rejected this demand somewhat sternly as it is neither right nor possible to undertake engagements of this kind [for ever and ever]. Naturally I told him that I had not yet received any news and since he had been better informed via Paris and Madrid than I was, he must surely see that my government was not concerned in the matter."

[The King, on the advice of one of his ministers] "decided in view of the above-mentioned demands not to receive Count Benedetti any more, but to have him informed by an adjutant that His Majesty had now received from [Leopold] confirmation of the news which Benedetti had already had from Paris and had nothing further to say to the ambassador. His Majesty suggests to Your Excellency that Benedetti's new demand and its rejection might well be communicated both to our ambassadors and to the Press."

The edited version Bismarck released to the press without first informing the French government was clearly designed to goad the French to war by the almost contemptuous tone the telegram inferred the King had adopted toward the ambassador.
Its effect, as Bismarck noted, was like "a red rag to the Gallic bull."

"After the news of the renunciation of the Prince von Hohenzollern had been communicated to the Imperial French government by the Royal Spanish government, the French Ambassador in Ems made a further demand on His Majesty the King that he should authorize him to telegraph to Paris that His Majesty the King undertook for all time never again to give his assent should the Hohenzollerns once more take up their candidature.

His Majesty the King thereupon refused to receive the Ambassador again and had the latter informed by the adjutant of the day that His Majesty had no further communication to make to the Ambassador."

Robert K. Massie: Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the coming of the Great War.

D.G. Williamson: Bismarck and Germany 1862-1890

Michael Sturmer: The German Empire

This is a website with a lot of links about the war

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

The lessons of the Versailles Treaty

The Treaty of Versailles was signed in Versailles, France, on June 28, 1919. Neither the winners nor the losers of World War I were happy with the formal conclusion to the bloodbath.

The traditional criticism of the treaty is that the victorious French and British democracies did not listen to the pleas of leniency from progressive American President Woodrow Wilson. Instead, they added insult to the German injury by blaming Germany for starting the war. The final treaty demanded German reparations for war losses. It also forced Germany to cede territory to its victorious neighbors.

The harsh terms of the treaty purportedly embittered and impoverished the Germans. The indignation over Versailles supposedly explained why Germany eventually voted into power the firebrand Nazi Adolf Hitler, sowing the seeds of the World War II.

But a century later, how true is the traditional explanation of the Versailles Treaty?

In comparison to other treaties of the times, the Versailles accord was actually mild — especially by past German standards.

After the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, a newly unified and victorious Germany occupied France, forced the French to pay reparations and annexed the rich Alsace-Lorraine borderlands.

Berlin’s harsh 1914 plans for Western Europe at the onset of World War I — the so-called Septemberprogramm — called for the annexation of the northern French coast. The Germans planned to absorb all of Belgium and demand payment of billions of marks to pay off the entire German war debt.

Just months before the end of the war, Germany imposed on a defeated Russia a draconian settlement. The Germans seized 50 times more Russian territory and 10 times greater the population than it would later lose at Versailles.

So, under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, the winning democracies were far more lenient with Germany than Germany itself had been with most of its defeated enemies.

No one denied that Germany had started the war by invading Belgium and France. Germany never met the Versailles requirements of paying fully for its damage in France and Belgium. It either defaulted or inflated its currency to pay reparations in increasingly worthless currency.

Versailles certainly failed to keep the peace. Yet the problem was not because the treaty was too harsh, but because it was flawed from the start and never adequately enforced.

The Versailles Treaty was signed months after the armistice of November 1918, rather than after an utter collapse of the German Imperial Army. The exhausted Allies made the mistake of not demanding the unconditional surrender of the defeated German aggressor.

That error created the later German myth that its spent army was never really vanquished, but had merely given up the offensive in enemy territory. Exhausted German soldiers abroad were supposedly “stabbed in the back” by Jews, communists and traitors to the rear.

The Allied victors combined the worst of both worlds. They had humiliated a defeated enemy with mostly empty condemnations while failing to enforce measures that would have prevented the rise of another aggressive Germany.

England, France and America had not been willing to occupy Germany and Austria to enforce the demands of Versailles. Worse, by the time the victors and the defeated met in Versailles, thousands of Allied troops had already demobilized and returned home.

The result was that Versailles did not ensure the end of “the war to end all wars.”

As the embittered Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, supreme commander of the Allied forces, presciently concluded of the Versailles settlement: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.”

Twenty years after the 1919 settlement, the German army invaded Poland to start World War II, which would cost the world roughly four times as many lives as World War I.

After the Treaty of Versailles, the victorious Allies of 1945 did not repeat the mistakes of 1919. They demanded an unconditional surrender from the defeated Nazi regime.

The Western Allies then occupied, divided and imposed democracy upon Germany. Troops stayed, helped to rebuild the country and then made it an ally.

In terms of harshness, the Yalta and Potsdam accords of 1945 were far tougher (on the Germans) than Versailles — and far more successful in keeping the peace.

The failure of Versailles remains a tragic lesson about the eternal rules of war and human nature itself — 100 years ago this summer.

• Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author of “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” (Basic Books, 2017).

The Treaty of Versailles

World War I was formally ended by the Treaty of Versailles, which was negotiated in Paris and signed at Versailles in June 1919.

The Treaty of Versailles sought to reduce Germany’s capacity to make war against her neighbours. It also attempted to resolve outstanding disputes over borders, sovereignty and colonial possessions, and provide a means of settling future disagreements that might lead to war.

Paris peace conference

The treaty was negotiated and drafted at the Paris Peace Conference, which began its first sessions in January 1919, just weeks after the November armistice.

The Paris conference was attended by delegates from 25 nations. The most notable absentees were the defeated Germany and Bolshevik-controlled Russia (both did not receive invitations).

Nationalist ambitions

The war’s major combatants were also joined by representatives of smaller nations, some of whom hoped to gain independence, territory or international recognition.

The Chinese, for example, hoped to regain control of the Shandong peninsula, a colonial outpost of Germany that was later overrun by the Japanese. A Vietnamese student, Nguyen Sinh Cung (later known as Ho Chi Minh) desired protection for the rights of Viet people living under French rule.

Australia, represented by prime minister Billy Hughes, sought control of German New Guinea. Delegates from the newly-proclaimed Irish Republic sought international recognition and independence from Britain.

Jewish Zionists lobbied the conference for the formation of a Palestinian state and acknowledgement of Palestine as their homeland. The Italians, who had entered the war chiefly to acquire territory from the Austro-Hungarians, wanted land in the north and the east.

Dealing with Germany

These requests from smaller nations were shadowed by the peace conferences’ overriding issue: what to do with the defeated Germany.

This question was dominated by the so-called ‘Big Three’: American president Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and French leader Georges Clemenceau. Each arrived with their own agenda.

Wilson’s position

Woodrow Wilson had the most conciliatory outlook of the three leaders. His peace plan, dubbed the Fourteen Points, was developed by a thinktank of 150 US foreign policy experts who explored the causal factors and crisis points of 1914.

Under Wilson’s Fourteen Points, armaments would be reduced to a minimum, colonial disputes would be finalised and secret diplomacy and naval attacks in international waters would be outlawed.

A multi-national body, the League of Nations, would exist to resolve international disputes, to guarantee the sovereignty of member nations and to protect smaller nations from larger ones.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points also encouraged self-determination: the principle that national groups should be entitled to decide their own fate, govern themselves and declare their independence, provided there was consensus for this.

Clemenceau’s position

French leader Georges Clemenceau was far more outspoken and punitive in its thinking. Clemenceau wanted the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine to France and the prevention of future German aggression against his country.

Clemenceau regularly spoke to the press and made his views known, sometimes bluntly. He argued that was never invaded or conquered, its factories, mines and industrial capacity all remained intact.

Clemenceau argued for Germany’s industrial base to be dismantled and the German economy wound back to focus on agriculture and small manufacturing. The German military should be restricted in size for defensive objectives only.

Clemenceau also sought a binding military alliance between France, Britain and the United States, as further insurance against German aggression. He was not interested in Wilson’s Fourteen Points because it contained insufficient protections against German militarism.

Lloyd George’s position

British prime minister David Lloyd George adopted a more moderate position, at least initially. Wilson’s Fourteen Points him, since notions of self-determination might undermine control in the colonies.

Lloyd George was not immediately supportive of Clemenceau’s wish to economically cripple Germany. He viewed the Germans as a conquered foe now but peacetime trading partners in the future.

In early discussions, Lloyd George found himself sandwiched between Wilson’s conciliatory approach and Clemenceau’s demands for retribution. When asked how he had fared at Versailles, Lloyd George later responded: “Not bad, considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon”.

In time, however, Lloyd George’s position on Germany hardened. This was partly because of Clemenceau’s influence but also reflected public attitudes. British public opinion, whipped up by the anti-German press, demanded Germany be punished and incapacitated. There were calls to hang the Kaiser and to “squeeze Germany until its pips squeaked”.

The final treaty

After six months of negotiations, delegates to Paris reached a series of awkward compromises that were fashioned into a treaty. The document was formally signed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on June 28th 1919.

Few delegates were fully happy with the final document. No nation was more unhappy than Germany. German delegates had been excluded from the conference until May, after which their attendance was a formality, in effect so they could be lectured about what had been decided on their behalf.

Of greatest concern to Berlin was Article 231, the so-called ‘war guilt’ clause, which obligated Germany to admit full responsibility for causing the war. This clause was drafted by American legal experts, who argued that Germany could only be held liable for reparations for the war if she admitted starting it.

Germans had been bracing for stern treatment in the treaty, however, a clause assigning them total blame for the outbreak of war proved almost too much to bear:

“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

The fate of Germany

The territorial and economic penalties imposed by the final Versailles treaty were extensive.

Germany lost 13 per cent of its land and six million Germans found themselves citizens of other nations. Around 15 per cent of German agricultural land and 10 per cent of its industry was surrendered, mainly to the French.

Most of Germany’s merchant fleet was seized by Britain. She also lost all of her colonial possessions. Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France, the Rhineland was demilitarised and occupied, while Northern Schleswig was given to Denmark.

Germany was forbidden from political or economic unification with Austria. Posen and West Prussia were ceded to Poland, cutting off East Prussia from the rest of Germany.

The German army was reduced to 100,000 men and forbidden from having tanks, warplanes or heavy artillery. Its navy was restricted to 15,000 personnel, six battleships and no submarines. Germany was also indefinitely excluded from membership of the newly formed League of Nations.

German reaction

The Treaty of Versailles was slammed by the German press as a humiliating peace forced upon them by diktat. German commentators, diplomats and academics publicly condemned it.

Some Germans, including members of the high command, argued for a recommencement of the war, rather than submission to such costly and insulting terms. Germany’s civilian politicians saw the futility of this, however, and eventually agreed to ratify the treaty.

The new government’s acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles rocked Germany and gave rise to a theory popular among nationalists and right-wing groups: that the nation had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by treacherous politicians.

In Scapa Flow, Scotland, where most of the German navy had been detained since the armistice, the Treaty of Versailles prompted one last defiant act. Not wanting their vessels to be gifted to the British or French, German officers ordered the scuttling (intentional sinking) of 52 ships.

On June 28th 1919, Deutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, editorialised that “today in the Hall of Mirrors the disgraceful Treaty is being signed. Do not forget it! The German people will, with unceasing labour, press forward to reconquer the place among the nations to which it is entitled.”


The Versailles treaty is considered by most historians to have been a failure, in terms of its attitude and its objectives.

While moderate politicians pushed for a treaty that allowed European reconstruction and the reconciliation of national relationships, the negotiations were instead hijacked by populists who sought to punish and avenge rather than to rebuild.

The harsh treatment of Germany contributed to the weakness of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism in the late 1920s, while its newly formed organisations, particularly the League of Nations, proved ineffective.

As if to prove the failures of Versailles, 20 years after the treaty was signed, Europe was again plunged into total war, this time with even more catastrophic outcomes.

“Scholars, although remaining divided, now tend to view the treaty as the best compromise that the negotiators could have reached in the existing circumstances. The delegations in Paris and their entourages had to work quickly. Troops had to be sent home, food shipments needed to enter blockaded ports, and revolutionary movements required containment. None of those endeavours allowed for delay. The progress of the deliberations… made heavy demands on the organisational skills, patience, mental and physical health, and political survival skills of the participants.”
Manfred Boerneke, historian

1. The treaties ending World War I were negotiated in Paris in mid-1919 by delegates of the victorious Allies.

2. There were many delegates but the negotiations were dominated by the leaders of France, Britain and the US.

3. French leader Clemenceau urged strong punitive measures against Germany, to prevent the prospect of another war.

4. The Treaty of Versailles, deemed Germany to be entirely responsible for the war and liable to pay reparations.

5. The terms of the treaty were severe, restricting Germany’s industrial production and military this was widely supported in Britain and France but caused outrage in Germany.

Why was Germany unified in Versailles not Berlin? - History

A.) The Situation in 1862

When Otto von Bismarck was appointed chancellor of Prussia by King Wilhelm IV. in 1862, the liberal democratic attempt to unify Germany had failed (1848/49). There was a widespread sentiment among the Germans, especially among the urban and protestant Germans, in favour of unification. Under similar conditions, Count Camillo Cavour had engineered Italy's unification in 1859/60. As in Italy's case, there were a number of obstacles to Germany's unification. Among them were foreign powers' interests in Germany :

Foreign Interests in Member Territories of the German Confederation, 1815-1870
The Netherlands
Holstein, Lauenburg (Duchies)
Luxemburg (Duchy), Limburg (Province)
Hannover (on the British throne ruled the Hanover Dynasty)

Then, there was Austria, an Empire German by tradition and character (administration), but in which Germans accounted for only about 12 % of the population and which was a multinational state. The Greater German Solution would mean the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire and was out of the question. So, the only option would be unification according to the Smaller German Solution, without the German territories held by Austria, under the leadership of Prussia. Still, Austria was against this model Austria still held the presidency in the German Confederation, and many of the smaller state administrations, fearing Prussia's dominance, leant on Austria.
Then, Prussia, faced, to a lesser extent, Austria's dilemma. The Prussian provinces of Posen, West Prussia and East Prussia were not part of the German Federation, West Prussia and Alsace and large parts of Switzerland, had a German speaking majority.

Otto von Bismarck was a nobleman, raised in the spirit of Prussian Bureaucracy, in loyalty to Prussia and the Hohenzollern Dynasty. He had been Prussia's ambassador to Russia (1859-62) and to France (1862) before having been appointed chancellor in 1862. He kept distance to Prussia's diet and baffled everybody by stating that Germany's unification would have to be achieved by BLOOD AND IRON. He expanded the military budget, knowing that the recently invented NEEDLE GUN would give Prussia's army an advantage in the field - it could be reloaded 3 times as fast as the hitherto used guns. Bismarck was regarded an outsider.
In 1871, unification being accomplished, sceptical criticism and mockery gave way to admiration. Bismarck had turned the dream of many into reality and, by defeating the French, turned lack of confidence (as a political nation) into pride tending towards overconfidence.

C.) The Wars Leading to Unification

In 1863, during the Polish uprising in Russian Poland, Bismarck supported the Russians, while public sympathy was with the Poles. Bismarck thus secured Russian goodwill for his policy of unification. In 1863/64 the Danes played into Bismarck's hands. They passed a constitution declaring Denmark, including Schleswig, a unitarian state, thus violatng the Treaty of London of 1852 which guaranteed Schleswig's autonomy. The German-feeling population majority of Schleswig, together with the Holsteiners and Lauenburgians, rose in rebellion. Prussia and Austria declared war (German-Danish War, 1864) the Danes were quickly defeated Denmark ceded Schleswig and Lauenburg to Prussia, Holstein to Austria.
In 1866 Bismarck provoked Austria into declaring war (Austrro-Prussian War or Seven Weeks War). A number of other German states - Bavaria, Nassau, Hessen-Kassel, Hannover, joined the Austrian side. The Prussians were victorious in the BATTLE OF SADOWA (Königgrätz), and quickly a piece was concluded. Austria ceded Holstein to Prussia and withdrew from the German Confederation. It also ceded Venetia to Italy, which gained Bismarck Italy's goodwill. Else, Austria lost nothing Bismarck's demands had been moderate in order to facilitate good German-Austrian relations afterwards. Prussia annexed Holstein, Hannover, Nassau, Hessen-Kassel and the city of Frankfurt (which had been neutral during the war). French Emperor Napoleon III. warned Prussia not to extend its influence south of the Main river. The states to the north of it established the North German Confederation in 1867, a confederation clearly dominated by Prussia.
Napoleon III. wanted to gain territory for France and eyed at Luxemburg, a concession Bismarck was willing to make. However, Germany's public opinion was strongly against it, and Bismarck gave in, placing Prussian troops into the fortress of Luxemburg (1867), angering Napoleon III.

Stamps issued by Norddeutscher Postbezirk (North German Postal District, an equivalent to the Northern German Confederation. The stamps show that the establishment of an economic unit was not easy : the district included three different sets of currencies, the Groschen currency (Northern Germany), the Kreuzer currency (Southern Germany) and the Schilling currency (Hanseatic cities).

In 1868 the throne of Spain became vacant. There were several candidates, among them a French Bourbon, a Savoyan and a Hohenzollern. French Emperor Napoleon III. demanded that King Wilhelm of Prussia, as head of the Hohenzollern family, would denounce his nephew's claim to the Spanish throne. Wilhelm complied. Napoleon demanded that Wilhelm would once and for all declare that the Hohenzollern family, now and for the future, would denounce her claims to the Spanish throne. Wilhelm refused, and Bismarck published an abridged version of the telegram containing the French demand. Napoleon III. felt offended France declared war. In the Franco-German War (units from the southern German states fought on Prussia's side, and it was Bavarian troops that forced Napoleon's surrender at Sedan) were victorious France had to cede Alsace-Lorraine and to pay reparations of 5 milliard golden francs (in American English : 5 billion).

Stamps issued by the victorious Germans for occupied Alsace and Lorraine. After the annexion, German stamps were used there.

On January 2nd 1871, in Versailles, Germany's princes elected Prussia's King Wilhelm IV. Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm I. The German Empire (Deutsches Reich) was established as a federation of states, with Alsace-Lorraine being a special province under military administration.

In contrast to the treatment given to Austria in 1866, the conditions imposed on France in 1870/71 were harsh. For the following decades, the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine was a political goal of French diplomacy, and one of the roots for World War I.
Unification had been accomplished, with the approval of most, but not of all Germans. Especially in Hannover, annexed in 1866, the aversion of Prussia remained strong and Hannover's representatives in Germany's Reichstag, the Welfen, were in constant opposition. The Catholic Bavarians remained sceptical of the new Empire.
The army had been the most visible instrument by which unification had been achieved. In the German Empire, the defense forces were revered. The state failed to establish a mechanism ensuring state control over the army. As long as Bismarck was in charge (1862-1890), his chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke followed Bismarck. However, under Bismarck's successors the army developed into a state in a state. When World War I began, military reasoning (crossing Belgium t o get into France, the Schlieffen-Plan) won out over political reasoning. The breach of Belgium's neutrality was the main reason for chrging Germany with sole responsibility for World War I.

Why was Germany unified in Versailles not Berlin? - History

History of German-American Relations >
1901-1939: Early 20th Century

Germans in America | The German Language in the United States | German-American Relations

The Dawes Plan presented in 1924 by American banker Charles Dawes was designed to help Germany pay its World War I reparations debt. It eased Germany's payment schedule and provided for an international loan. In 1929, the Dawes Plan was replaced by the Young Plan which substituted a definite settlement that measured the exact extent of German obligations and reduced payments appreciably.

In 1928 Herbert Hoover, the first president of German ancestry, was elected.

The stock market crash of 1929 marked the end of an era of prosperity and led to the worst depression in American history. The German economy also faltered. Germany faced severe economic hardships, high unemployment, and runaway inflation. The days of the Weimar Republic were coming to an end.

The rise of Hitler's National Socialist Party and the resulting persecution of Jews and political dissidents brought about another break in German-American relations. However, an isolationist Congress and American public did not allow the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to do much to resist Hitler's rise to power. The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 was severed. After the "Reichskristallnacht" in 1938, the American ambassador was recalled but diplomatic relations were not severed.

A new wave of emigration from Germany to the United States occurred. These refugees from Nazi Germany included Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Kurt Weill and Marlene Dietrich, and other artists, scientists, musicians, and scholars. With the exception of the German-American Bund, with Fritz Kuhn as its "Führer," there was little Nazi support in the United States. Most German-Americans were loyal to the United States and indifferent to the appeal of international Nazism.

Questions for Writing and Discussion

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What does the article identify as positive and negative changes in Germany since the Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago?

2. The article quotes artist Yury Kharchenko as saying that everyone in Germany “is searching for their identity.” How does the author develop this idea further?

3. In what ways have immigration and changing immigration laws influenced Germany and German identity over the past few decades?

4. Dr. Hans-Joachim Maaz is quoted as saying that the West has misunderstood what happened in Germany in 1989. What does he believe people got wrong about it? Why?

5. What is the “intrinsic racism of German citizenship law” that became very visible after the fall of Communism? How has Germany attempted to fix this in recent years?


From our own correspondent
The Observer, 22 January 1871

Berlin, Jan 19
Once more the good people of Berlin are hanging out their flags, and this time it is for a bloodless victory. Germany has an Emperor once more. To foreigners, and, to tell the truth, to most Prussians, this seems a matter of small importance. If the real power of ruling Germany is placed in the hands of the King of Prussia, the title which he may choose to assume seems a matter of small moment. But there is often more in a name than we are inclined to believe. A standard is, after all, only to bit of coloured cloth, yet no soldier would view with indifference the loss of his ensign. To him it is the symbol of honour. So a name is often the rallying point for a nation, and the name of Emperor is dear to Germans, especially to those of the south.

Among all the changes which have passed over Germany she has never had to face a destructive revolution. Even the Reformation, at least for the moment, preserved more than it destroyed. The principles on which the social life of the country rests have never been suddenly altered the great ideals of the nation have never been broken. It is true that the political life of Germany does not, like that of England, present a picture of almost uninterrupted development. Much has been lost in the course of her history which had afterwards to be reintroduced in new and modified forms. Yet still the strong conservative element which tempers the love of freedom in all Germanic races, has always been an active force in moulding her policy. The old Diet never took a powerful hold on the imagination of the people. Its introduction was a disappointment, and to the liberals it seemed to have a greater capacity for evil than for good. It was able to enforce reactionary measures, but it could not adopt a great national policy either in foreign or domestic affairs.

The North German Confederation was felt by all to be only a partial and temporary arrangement. It excluded the southern, in some respects the most gifted, German races. Its enemies said it was nothing but an enlarged Prussia, while its very friends were obliged to plead that it was only a preparation for something better. The inclinations of Germany are decidedly monarchical, and the federal and particularistic tendencies so clearly distinguishable in all parts of the country, particularly among the nobles and the peasantry, are chiefly displayed in loyalty to the ruling princes. Most of the smaller states have at some time or other played an important part either in the political or the literary history of the nation, and, like families who have “seen better times,” their inhabitants dwell, with perhaps a somewhat inordinate fondness, on the memories of their departed greatness.

Choices and Consequences in Weimar Germany

The failure of Germany’s first true democracy was the result of choices made by Weimar Germans during its brief life. In every historical period major developments such as wars, peace treaties and economic crisis limit the freedom of individual action. Certainly for Weimar Germans defeat in World War I, the Versailles Treaty, inflation and depression made the development and survival of democracy difficult. Yet while these factors were important they did not doom the Republic to inevitable failure. Within the limits imposed by these major factors numerous courses of action and results were possible and were determined by decisions and choices that individuals made. The fate of the Weimar Republic was in the hands of its leaders and its citizens. The following are some examples of some choices and decisions that shaped the history of Weimar Germany.

January 1919: Friedrich Ebert decided to call in the army to put down radical workers demonstrating in the streets of Berlin thus crushing what became known as the Spartacist Revolution. Ebert’s critics argued that his actions split the left and made the Republic much more vulnerable to rightwing forces and ultimately to a Nazi takeover. His supporters argued that his action saved the Republic, kept the English, French and Americans from occupying Germany and gave life to coalitions between moderate socialists and pro-republican members of the middle class.

December 1923: Bavarian and Austrian officials made a decision that Adolf Hitler should not be declared an Austrian citizen and be deported to Austria after his arrest for trying to overthrow the German government by force in the November Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Had the bureaucrats decided for deportation before his trial or after his release from a brief imprisonment the history of the Weimar Republic and that of much of the twentieth century might have been very different indeed.

October 1928: The executive committee of the German Nationalist People’s Party (DNVP) voted by a three-vote margin to appoint Alfred Hugenberg as party chairman. Hugenberg, who controlled a media empire including newspapers that about 50% of Germans read, was an enemy of the Weimar Republic. Hugenberg wished to become the ruler of Germany but his strategy called for an alliance with Hitler and the Nazis. The former Nationalist Party leader and Hugenberg’s opponent Count Westarp opposed this alliance with the Nazis. Hugenberg provided Hitler with positive media coverage in “respectable” conservative newspapers and an introduction to industrialists and financiers who had money to spend supporting political candidates. Hitler’s alliance with Hugenberg was a necessary step on his way to power.

October 1928: The executive committee of the Catholic Center Party chose Monsignor Ludwig Kaas to replace Wilhelm Marx as party leader. Marx was a dedicated republican and a skilled politician. Monsignor Kaas was neither. Kaas favored a more authoritarian form of government and moved the party away from its position as of strong support for the Republic. Kaas was close ally of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII. He supported Cardinal Pacelli’s desire to weaken independent national Catholic political parties and have Catholics look more directly to Rome for guidance in shaping their society. The decision of the executive committee of the Catholic Center party to appoint Kaas and change the direction of the party contributed to the failure of Weimar Democracy.

March 1930: Hermann Müller the leader of the Social Democratic Party announced that his party had decided to refuse to join a new government and would prefer to be in opposition. The Social Democratic Party had been the strongest supporter of the Republic and German democracy. Unwilling to confront the challenge of dealing with the great depression the Social Democrats stayed out of the government. Their decision allowed the erosion of legislative government to take place in the period from 1930-1932 seriously weakening the Weimar Republic and contributing to its failure.

July 20,1932: Otto Braun, the Minister President of Prussia accepted an order suspending his Prussian State government and turning power over to the national government of Chancellor von Papen and President von Hindenburg. Braun, a Social Democratic and the most able Weimar republican politician had headed stable coalition governments of Prussia since 1920. Under his rule Prussia had become the bulwark of the Weimar Republic. In the summer of 1932 there was street fighting between Communists and Nazis in the streets of Prussia’s capital Berlin. Using this violence, which the Prussian police were controlling, as an excuse Papen and Hindenburg decided to remove the government of Prussia claiming it could not fulfill its constitutional provision to maintain law and order. The real reason for Papen and Hindenburg’s decision was to weaken the Republic and strengthen conservative and right wing forces. Otto Braun considered refusing to give up his power and calling upon his police and the workers to support his action. Deciding not to risk civil war he surrendered his government and took his case to the courts, a futile course of action. The fall of the Prussian State government is seen by many as the death bell for the Weimar Republic.

July 31,1932: Over thirty-seven per cent of the German people cast their secret ballots for the National Socialist Party from an election list which showed 30 parties. This vote made the Nazis the most successful Party in Weimar’s thirteen years. It made Hitler, who was committed to destroy the Republic and German democracy, the most popular Weimar leader. By voting for Hitler, Germans endorsed a party whose leader, in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, made clear his fanatical hatred for Jews, and his desire for an expansionist aggressive foreign policy in the east.

January 31, 1933: President Paul Von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany. In three months, armed with emergency dictatorial powers, Hitler would announce the death of the Weimar Republic

Modern Thoughts

Modern historians sometimes conclude that the treaty was more lenient than might have been expected and not really unfair. They argue that, although the treaty didn't stop another war, this was more due to massive fault lines in Europe that WWI failed to solve, and they argue that the treaty would have worked had the Allied nations enforced it, instead of falling out and being played off one another. This remains a controversial view. You rarely find a modern historian agreeing that the treaty solely caused World War II, although clearly, it failed in its aim to prevent another major war.

What is certain is that Adolf Hitler was able to use the treaty perfectly to rally support behind him: appealing to soldiers who felt conned and wielding the anger at the November Criminals to damn other socialists, promise to overcome Versailles, and make headway in doing so.

However, supporters of Versailles like to look at the peace treaty Germany imposed on Soviet Russia, which took vast areas of land, population, and wealth, and point out that country was no less keen to grab things. Whether one wrong justifies another is, of course, down to the perspective of the reader.

Watch the video: Captured Film -- Germany Invades Poland 1939 (February 2023).

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