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File:125px-Flag of the German Empire svg 3292.png
File:Deutsches Reich.jpg

 "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles!"

In 1871, Germany was unified for the first time ever (though the Holy Roman Empire was a basically German institution, it wasn't hadn't been for several centuries a true union of the myriad of small independent countries, but rather a loose confederations not unlike the constantly feuding and inbreeding residents of some backwards Louisiana swamp, and was formally dissolved in 1806). A lot bigger than modern Germany, it incorporated a large part of modern Poland, the Alsace and Lorraine areas of France, parts of Lithuania and Denmark, and what is now the Kaliningrad exclave of the Russian Federation. All had German populations at a time, but in some places they were not a majority or "German in sentiment". Be very careful when you talk about this. It may spontaneously combust. Germans were kicked out of a lot of places after the Second World War, but in Germany and these places (Poland and the Czech Republic) it's considered polite not to mention this.

Imperial Germany (Das Deutsche Reich) was a constitutional monarchy with a rather limp constitution and a great deal of influence in the hands of generals, landowners, and industrialists (although it did look good when it stood next to some of its contemporaries, and much of the weakness of its parliament was by comparison to Britain and France's supreme legislatures). It had an elected Parliament with very limited influence, as it had the power to pass, amend or reject bills, but only the chancellor could initiate them. The chancellor, in turn, was appointed by the Emperor and was responsible only to him. It is notable for having introduced universal suffrage early on, however, and for Bismarck's creation of a an advanced (for the time) welfare state.

The German Empire consisted of 4 Kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg), 6 grand duchies, 5 duchies, 7 principalities, 3 free cities and 1 imperial territory (Alsace-Lorraine). Prussia was by far the most dominant state, as it made up 64% of the empire and the King of Prussia was also the German Emperor.

Germany became a major world power at this time, because of its booming economy and powerful army. It produced a lot of leading artists and scientists, and began to dabble in overseas colonialism and to build up a navy to rival Britain.

The most famous statesman of the time was Otto Von Bismarck. Bismarck engineered the unification of Germany through a lot of extremely ruthless and deceptive tricks, but he was so good at it that you can't help but cheer for the guy (though that may be disputable). He spend his later years juggling a complex alliance system in an attempt to keep the peace in Europe. Historians are divided as to whether he could have kept it up, but Kaiser Wilhelm II booted him out, so we may never know. He also made the famous prediction that the next war in Europe would start over "some damned silly thing in the Balkans". He was right.

The other best-known characters of the period are of course the Kaisers. There were three. The first was Wilhelm I, a conservative old Prussian stalwart with magnificent whiskers who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars. His reign was dominated, politically, by Bismarck. Then came Frederick III,[1] for less than a year. A man of strong liberal sympathies (he quite admired Britain; he even married Queen Victoria's eldest daughter) he was struck down by cancer of the larynx and is a favourite of Alternate History. Finally and notoriously, Wilhelm II. A notoriously temperamental man with some major childhood issues concerning his arm defect who veered between liberal and conservative, strident militarism and sympathy for socialism, and, during the war that came to define his reign, defeatism and dreams of victory.[2] He fell out with Bismarck and dismissed him, and the rest of his reign was a succession of brief and unmemorable chancellors with himself as the real centre of gravity until during the war he was rendered irrelevant by the generals.

It's sometimes called "the second Reich", but that term was used by the Nazis as part of their warped view of history. "Kaiserreich" and "German Empire" are the usual terms for the state (not "Deutsches Reich": this was the official name, but it was also the official name of Weimar Germany and sounds a bit Nazi, so its not the best name and you shouldn't use it - "taint of the Nazis" and all.).

It all ended very badly.

Important note: never confuse Imperial Germany with the Nazis. People with any knowledge of German history (well, okay, nerds, but it's pretty much the same around here) scream and writhe when they hear this. And this wiki is full of nerds.

Imperial Germany has relatively few fans today, but it's generally agreed that they deserve some credit for not being the Nazis, and none other than Winston Churchill, writing in The Gathering Storm in 1948 concluded that Germany (and the world) would have been far better off keeping the Hohenzollerns under a true constitutional monarchy than the troubled republic of Weimar Germany, and a lot of facts seem to stand up for this. The Kaiser, despite remaining a reactionary, intolerant, and somewhat bonkers gentleman till the end, strongly condemned the violent Nazi persecution of Jews (despite being viciously anti-Semitic himself), and he died before the Holocaust even happened. Monarchism was strong in the Weimar Republic but today very few people support monarchism.

For several centuries, Germany had been splintered into many small states, most of which weren't really able to defend if the great powers (France, England, Sweden, Russia, Austria) decided to attack their country and use it as a battlefield. But now, as some historians stated, Germany had turned from a sponge (i.e. being soft and absorbing attacks) to a steel block. Its neighbors were pretty uncomfortable with that.

The Imperial flag of Black-White-Red is used as an alternative to their banned symbols by Neo-Nazis, but monarchists universally condemn this, and people who know anything about history point out that the Neo-Nazis are grasping on to a symbol they have only a minimal connection to in order to circumvent German hate-speech laws and try (and fail) to gain some measure of legitimacy.


Tropes displayed by Imperial Germany include :

  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Founded in the old palace of the French kings, just to rub it in, with much outrageous headgear and swords being waved in the air. See picture.
  • Badass Moustache: A symbol of the era throughout Europe, but especially in Germany, where many people imitated Wilhelm II's rather magnificent example.
  • During the War: The most popular period to show it in.
  • The Empire: The most common perception of it from the outside.... and non-Germans inside it. Though it should be noted that the German Empire was just about the most homogeneous state in Europe: over 95% of its inhabitants spoke German as their first language. That's not even true of Germany today, though mostly due to immigration, mostly Turkish and Kurdish. Most of the Empire's security apparatus' loving concern fell on the left-wing parties, so the perception was strongest among Germans. Also, by far the largest minority in the German Empire, Poles, actually had it better (which is not to say they had it good) than the majority of Poles, living in the Russian Empire.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Wilhelm II wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue, but he was thoroughly disgusted at Adolf Hitler's treatment of Germany's Jews and declared that Hitler's actions made him "ashamed to be a German!"
  • The Federation: Imperial Germany was a federal monarchy with the King of Prussia having power over all the other guys.
  • Freudian Excuse: Wilhelm II and his withered left arm.
  • He Also Did: Somewhat randomly, Britain and the US chose Wilhelm I to settle a dispute about the sea border between Washington State (then the Washington Territory) and British Columbia in 1871, as a result of the "Pig War" twelve years earlier.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: They could be per-itty bad, but they weren't the Nazis. Some people aren't clear on this. On both sides of said issue.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Bismarck.
  • Nice Hat: The notorious Pickelhaube.
  • Prussia: But of course.
  • Royally Screwed-Up: Wilhelm II was rather loopy.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Maybe calling them villains is unfair, but if they didn't want to give that impression, they should have lost the spikes. (Ironically, the Pickelhaube went out of fashion druing World War One because it made German soldiers a better target.)
    • Actually the main reason was to use the metal (brass) in ammunition production.
      • And because the thing wasn't even shrapnel-proof and was time-consuming to manufacture.
  • Start of Darkness: World War One, for the German nation.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Bismarck could play almost any other foreign or domestic statesman like a fiddle, but Wilhelm II was so stubbornly determined to have a hand in things that he proved almost immune to Bismarck's influence.
    • What Wilhelm refused to play along with was Bismarck intentionally provoking German socialists to revolt, and then militarily crushing them to eliminate their political influence in Germany. Hardly a case of "too dumb to fool." Maybe "too humane to puppet."
  • What Could Have Been: Fredrick III was liberal and pro-British. If he had ruled Germany might have much more democratic and the First World War could have been avoided. Or Germany was far too conservative for his reforms to be implemented and a clash between the major powers in Europe was inevitable.
    • Or the personal opinions of the kaiser, whether it was Wilhelm or Friedrich, didn't matter for all that much in the federal imperial German state. What would "more democratic" have meant for a Germany that already granted universal manhood suffrage anyway (unlike the contemporary United Kingdom, for that matter)?
      • Well, for one thing, making the Chancellor responsible to the Reichstag rather than the Kaiser, making the actual leader of the government responsible to the people? The Social Democrats were the largest party in the Reichstag from 1912 until the end of the Empire in 1918, so had this been the case, the SPD should have at least been part of the government (if not leading it) during that period. It wasn't.
        • For one, reforming the electoral system so that universal suffrage worked as it should have rather than as it actually was implemented: as a club to keep dissent amongst the lower classes down via the partitioned vote.
          • The partioned vote only applied in the state legislatures, in the Reichstag elections it worked just as it did e. g. in the UK, with a first-past-the-post winner in each constituency becoming the representative in the Reichstag.
      • Like Imperial Japan during World War Two, wasn't Germany basically a military dictatorship before the end of World War One?
        • Pretty much, though by all accounts Kaiser Wilhelm was on far better terms with the 3rd OHL (the German high command which had effectively taken over the government of the parts of Europe still under Central dominance- including Austria-Hungary and to a lesser extent Bulgaria-) than Hirohito was with the "Imperial Junta" right up to the end.
        • Not quite in the same way. Imperial Japan during World War II was ruled by a Government Conspiracy; sort of a military mafia that suppressed opposition through assassinations and lived on the Japanese government like a virus lives on a cell-the sort of thing only a paranoid or a fiction writer could think of. The German government was more coherent as the above poster indicated.

Depictions in fiction

Literature

  • Margot Benary-Isbert's Under A Changing Moon takes place during the unification.
  • In the 1978 sci-fi novel "And Having Writ", the 1908 explosion in Tunguska, Siberia, is revealed to be the crashing of an alien spacecraft. The aliens pay visits to several major turn-of-the-century historical figures, including Kaiser Wilhelm II. They cure him of his withered arm, which lightens his bellicose personality and thereby prevents his leading Germany into war.
  • Imperial Germany is the setting of many of the works of Heinrich Mann (the elder brother of Thomas Mann), in which he paints a rather unflattering image of its burgeois society as hypocritical, conceited, and spinelessly servile to authority. See Professor Unrat and his most famous novel, The Subject (Der Untertan).

Advertising

  • The Kaiser also appeared in a 1993 commercial for Tab Clear soda, in which he drinks Tab while planning military strategy with his generals, pops out his monocle into his glass in amazement at the taste,swallows it, coughs it up and re-arranges the army men on the map so that divisions are instantly moved into battle, retreats in embarrassment aboard an enormous bratwurst-shaped zeppelin, flies all the way to the boglands of Oregon, pricks the balloon accidentally with his helmet, falls into the mud and thereafter makes a career as the original film-captured Bigfoot, payed by the government as a tourist attraction.

Film

  • The Kaiserreich is depicted as the primary villains in the 1985 film version of "King Solomons Mines", which updated the story to the African front of the First World War.
  • An armed skirmish erupts between the heroes of the film "The Wind And The Lion" and their troops (miraculously not resulting in a German-American war), as they are one of the foreign powers taking advantage of the crisis to seize Moroccan territory.
  • The 1971 film "Zeppelin" concerns their attempt to use the titular craft to steal the original Magna Carta from the British.
  • The novel and film adaptations of "All Quiet on the Western Front" deal with the First World War from their perspective.
  • Frequent adversaries in "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones" tv series.
  • They attempted to utilize an elaborate disintegrating ray as a secret weapon in "Biggles, Adventures in Time."
  • The protagonists must face off against their re-animated mecha zombies to steal a copy of the Kaiser's war plans in "Sucker Punch."
  • The Kaiser is also taken prisoner at the end of Charlie Chaplin's short 1918 film "Shoulder Arms", having been portrayed by his brother Sydney.
  • Their soldiers are attacked with a knife from behind and scalped by Tristan in "Legends of the Fall", after they go to the rather elaborate lengths of setting up a machine gun just to kill Samuel when he is blinded by gas and trapped on the barbed wire.
  • Represented by buffoonish German air ace Count Manfred Von Holstein in "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines".
  • Were the comical villains of the British sex-comedy "Up The Front"
  • Various silent First World War propaganda films portrayed them as melodramatic moustache-twiddling villains, such as in "Hearts of the World" and the now lost "The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin", starring Rupert Julian.

Western Animation

  • Kaiser Wilhelm the Second appeared as a zombie in a The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror episode, working with several Old West zombie outlaws to terrorize Springfield.
    • He was even called the scariest german who ever lived
    • The Simpsons also featured a lone old man with a pickelhaube and kaiser moustache, the only member of Mr Burns' party at his attempt to marry Marge's mother, who screams "NEIN!!!!" and refuses to go "down in front" when Old Man Jasper goes to sit on the groom's side.
    • Another Simpsons joke involves Imperial German World War One recreationists celebrating their graduation by throwing their pickelhaubes into the air, only to regret this when they fall with the points facing downwards.
  • In the Ren and Stimpy episode "Ren's Retirement," Ren (who has gone prematurely senile after discovering that he is actually seventy in dog years) hallucinates fictitious experiences in the First World War and spills his pureed food on stimpy, strangling him when the moustache and pickelhaube-shaped blobs on Stimpy convince Ren that he is Kaiser Wilhelm II.
  • Johnny Quest villain Heinrich Von Froelich (from the episode "Shadow of the Condor") is a First World War German flying ace, and is the archetypal villainous Prussian officer, complete with monocle, moustache and general haughty demeanour.

Live Action TV

  • The British historical miniseries "Fall of Eagles" deals to a great extent with Imperial Germany's rise and fall.

Anime

  • They appear to be the villains in Hayao Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky", what with the uniforms being spot-on and the fondness for enormous heavily-armed zeppelins (which, granted, are portrayed as being more advanced than anything they ever possessed in real life.)

Tabletop RPG

  • One of the powers involved in outer space colonization in the RPG "Space 1889."

Music

  • California-based death metal band Minenwerfer's music is concerned primarily with the First World War from their perspective.
  • Is the subject of Ammer and Einheit's "historical sound recording opera"/electronic song series "Kaiser Wilhelm Overdrive," from the album "Deutscher Krieger."

Notes

  1. They were using the Prussian numbering
  2. Also, serious Mommy Issues involving his relationship with Britain and British culture: unlike his father, who had a healthy respect for Britain, Wilhelm was at once awestruck and envious, hating his mother but also wanting to be British...and then hating them again because he could never be British. It's suspected that this obsession with Britain informed his focus on building up the German Navy.
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