German Empire  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The German Empire was the period of the German Reich from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the November Revolution in 1918, when the German Reich changed its form of government from a monarchy to a republic.

It was founded on 1 January 1871 when the south German states, except for Austria, joined the North German Confederation and the new constitution came into force changing the name of the federal state to the German Empire and introduced the title of German Emperor for Wilhelm I, King of Prussia from the House of Hohenzollern. Berlin remained its capital, and Bismarck, Minister-President of Prussia became Chancellor, the head of government. As these events occurred, the Prussian-led North German Confederation and its southern German allies were still engaged in the Franco-Prussian War.

The German Empire consisted of 26 states, most of them ruled by royal families. They included four kingdoms, six grand duchies, five duchies (six before 1876), seven principalities, three free Hanseatic cities, and one imperial territory. Although Prussia was one of four kingdoms in the realm, it contained about two thirds of Germany's population and territory. Prussian dominance had also been established constitutionally.

After 1850, the states of Germany had rapidly become industrialized, with particular strengths in coal, iron (and later steel), chemicals, and railways. In 1871, Germany had a population of 41 million people; by 1913, this had increased to 68 million. A heavily rural collection of states in 1815, the now united Germany became predominantly urban. During its 47 years of existence, the German Empire was an industrial, technological, and scientific giant, gaining more Nobel Prizes in science than any other country. Between 1901 and 1918, the Germans won 4 Nobel Prizes in Medicine, 6 Prizes in Physics, 7 Prizes in Chemistry and 3 Prizes in Literature. By 1913, Germany was the largest economy in Continental Europe, surpassing the United Kingdom (excluding its Empire and Dominions), as well as the third-largest in the world, only behind the United States and the British Empire.

From 1867 to 1878/9, Otto von Bismarck's tenure as the first and to this day longest-serving Chancellor was marked by relative liberalism, but it became more conservative afterwards. Broad reforms, and the Kulturkampf marked his period in the office. Late in Bismarck's chancellorship and in spite of his personal opposition, Germany became involved in colonialism. Claiming much of the leftover territory that was yet unclaimed in the Scramble for Africa, it managed to build the third-largest colonial empire at the time, after the British and the French ones. As a colonial state, it sometimes clashed with other European powers, especially the British Empire. During its colonial expansion, the German Empire committed the Herero and Namaqua genocide.

Germany became a great power, boasting a rapidly developing rail network, the world's strongest army, and a fast-growing industrial base. Starting very small in 1871, in a decade, the navy became second only to Britain's Royal Navy. After the removal of Otto von Bismarck by Wilhelm II in 1890, the Empire embarked on Weltpolitik – a bellicose new course that ultimately contributed to the outbreak of World War I. In addition, Bismarck's successors were incapable of maintaining their predecessor's complex, shifting, and overlapping alliances which had kept Germany from being diplomatically isolated. This period was marked by various factors influencing the Emperor's decisions, which were often perceived as contradictory or unpredictable by the public. In 1879, the German Empire consolidated the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary, followed by the Triple Alliance with Italy in 1882. It also retained strong diplomatic ties to the Ottoman Empire. When the great crisis of 1914 arrived, Italy left the alliance and the Ottoman Empire formally allied with Germany.

In the First World War, German plans to capture Paris quickly in the autumn of 1914 failed. The war on the Western Front became a stalemate. The Allied naval blockade caused severe shortages of food. However, Imperial Germany had success on the Eastern Front; it occupied a large amount of territory to its east following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 contributed to bringing the United States into the war.

The high command under Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff increasingly controlled the country, but in October after the failed offensive in spring 1918, the German armies were in retreat, allies Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire had collapsed, and Bulgaria had surrendered. The Empire collapsed in the November 1918 Revolution with the abdications of its monarchs. This left a post-war federal republic and a devastated and unsatisfied populace, faced with post-war reparation costs of nearly 270 billion dollars, all of which is considered a leading factor in the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "German Empire" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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