Kaiserreich 1871-1890 World War I

The Kaiserreich 1890-1914

Administration . Foreign Policy . Colonial Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Social History . Cultural History

Kaiser 1888-1918 Wilhelm II. Chancellor 1871-1890 Otto von Bismarck, 1890-1894 Leo von Caprivi, 1894-1900 Chlodwig von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, 1900-1909 Bernhard Graf von Bülow, 1909-1917 Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. General elections were held in 1890, 1893, 1898, 1903, 1907, 1912.

Foreign Policy
Bismarck retired in 1890, at odds with Kaiser Wilhelm II. (since 1888). When a Russian delegation came to Berlin in 1891 to renew the mutual defense treaty, the German side showed them the German-Austrian mutual defense treaty, pointed out that the German-Austrian and German-Russian treaties contradicted themselves and that the new German administration would stick to it's Austrian ally. Thus, the Russians were dumbfounded. In 1894, Russia and France signed a Dual Alliance.
Unlike Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm II. favoured colonial expansion, and supported the rapid expansion of the German Fleet. This policy had to raise eyebrows in London, for Germany's relatively moderate colonial Empire did not require such a fleet and Germany's fleet was a challenge to the British navy's supremacy on the seas.
Diplomatic blunders committed by Bismarck's successors in the Foreign Office and the Kaiser Wilhelm's (and many others') dream of an Empire, a place in the sun, destroyed all what Bismarck had accomplished. Germany's two remaining allies, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were hanging on to outdated political structures, heading for implosions, ballast rather than assets. Other allies, Italy and Romania, proved to be unreliable, opportunistically switching sides in 1915/16.
Over the years, Germany continued to alienate other powers : during the Boer War, Kaiser Wilhelm II. sent a telegram to London expressing his sympathy with the Boer cause. When France wanted to declare a protectorate over Morocco in 1906 and again 1911 (and had almost everyone else's approval) Germany interfered, ostensively for the sake of Moroccan independence, only to be bought off by French cession of territory in the jungles at the Congo river.
Germany's ostentative use of its arms in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900) did not help to win sympathies either.

Colonial Policy
Colonies were only of secondary interest to Bismarck. In 1890 his successor Caprivi signed the so-called Heligoland-Zanzibar-Treaty with Britain : Germany ceded the Wituland as well as claims over Ugandan and Somali territory to Britain, in exchange for the small island of Heligoland, located in the North Sea, and the Caprivi Strip giving German South West Africa (Namibia) access to the Zambezi river. After Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894/95, Germany, France and Russia pressed Japan to give back some of its conquests from China, only to make their own claims. In 1897 Germany leased the Kiautschou territory from China; Germany enjoyed a number of economic privileges in the Shandong province. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Germany bought the Caroline and Mariana Islands (except Guam) from Spain. Kaiser Wilhelm II. was much more in favour of the acquisition of colonies (Germany demands a place in the sun); the supporters of an aggressive colonial policy became organized (Flottenverein 1898 (Naval League)). In the late 19th century, Germany's industry had expanded rapidly, looking to secure both a reliable supply of raw materials and a secure market. Emigration, although a frequent topic in imperialist speeches, was of minor importance - only in South West Africa (modern Namibia) ca. 20.000 Germans settled down. Unsaturated appetite for more colonial acquisitions and the (imagined) need to secure a harbour between Germany and its possessions in West Africa (Agadir 1907, 1911) were among the reasons that led to World War I. The logic of imperialists dominated among Wilhelm II.s advisors, namely Admiral Tirpitz. Germany pursued on a policy of massive fleet expansion. In a secret treaty with Britain, Germany suggested both countries to split up Portugal's colonial possessions, a treaty which never became reality.
In its colonies, Germany established an infrastructure - an administrative centre, roads, railways, hospitals, schools. A plantation economy was created, suiting the needs of the mother country, rebellions brutally crushed. When the Herero rebelled in German South West Africa in 1906, they were driven into the Kalahari desert, where most of them died of dehydration. Germany's colonial administration overall was deficitary, the expenses outnumbering the revenue.

Domestic Policy
Changing Cabinets . In 1890 Bismarck was ousted by Emperor Wilhelm II., who believed himself destined to exert strongg influence on German policy. Bismarck's successors in the office of Reich chancellor administrated German policy rather than shaping it. Often, a change in office resulted in a change in policies; the stability experienced under Bismarck was a matter of the past.
Chancellors were appointed by the Kaiser, who chose them from the Junker class, i.e. from (Prussian-Lutheran) nobility. They pursued a policy in general supporting the owners of landed estates (i.e. Junkers) by keeping import tariffs on grain high, a policy alienating the country's growing working class.
Emerging Political Parties . Political parties had been founded earlier, but hitherto they had had limited membership numbers as well as limited political influence. Bismarck had succeeded in splitting the liberal camp into a Progressive Liberal Party opposing him and a National Liberal Party supporting him. Liberalism never again would rise to be among Germany's leading political movements. Bismarck's policy of attacking Catholicism and Social Democracy had only resulted in strengthening the political organizations of these camps; the SDAP (social democrats) and Zentrum (Catholics) had seen a steady rise in membership and representation in parliament. These parties were, in general, opposed to government policy and developed programs for a different policy, programs, which for the moment seemed utopian as both the constitution limited the influence of parliament, and Prussia's election law placed those with lower income at a disadvantage when it came to parliamentary representation. Under chancellor Georg von Caprivi discontinued the Anti-Socialist-Laws by permitting them to expire; however the government continued to regard the social democrats as suspicious elements.
Yet German Catholicism proved its strength by organizing the collection of funds to finish the construction of Cologne Cathedral (interrupted in the 15th century), and Social Democracy challenged state and society in a number of large-scale strikes, among them the great coal miners' strike of 1905. Both the Zentrum and the SDAP were strengthened by state oppression. The parties supporting the government, the conservatives (the Junkers' party) and the National liberals, lost out, in spite of the Dreiklassenwahlrecht placing the mass parties (SDAP, Zentrum) at a disadvantage.
A reform was necessary, yet outdated structures lived on - all chancellors were selected from Germany's nobility; the Three Class Franchise (Dreiklassenwahlrecht) in Prussia remained unreformed; parliament had little influence on politics. Despite massive population shifts in consequence of industrialization and urbanization, the constituencies were not reformed after 1871. The military, widely respected (the most vocal critics were the social democrats) had achieved a position where it seemed no more under control of the civilian administration.

The Economy
The German economy continued to expand, the German industry surpassed Britain in steel output; the steel, electric, chemical and pharmaceutical industries grew rapidly. The discovery of Aspirin (discovered in 1897, patented in 1899) lead to the success of Bayer; Hoechst was leading in the synthetic production of pigments, BASF another chemo-pharmaceutical giant. Requiring huge amounts of water, these enterprises went on to establish entire cities - Leverkusen, Leuna focussing on the production of chemicals. Siemens produced electric appliances, Krupp, Stinnes, Hoesch and Thyssen became leading steel producers.
The state nationalized the infrastructure, such as railroads (federal control est. 1878/1887) and the postal service (declared a state monopoly in 1900). Universities also were nationalized; schools, insofar they were not state-owned (most were run by the catholic resp. lutheran church) were regulated by the state administration.
As a result of labour conflicts anf negotiations, industrial wages had risen to a level which had made them an attractive customer group. The workers' movement organized cooperative shops for them, on a non-profit basis. Malls targeted this customer group with simple, cheap household goods they advertised in newspapers and first mail-order catalogues.

German Government Revenue and Expenditure, 1890-1913
Source : B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics 1750-1988, pp.797, 799, 811, 819, 890, 894
figures in German Marks; NNP = Net National Product





Jan Lahmeyer gives Germany's population for 1890 as 49.4 million, for 1900 as 56.3 million, for 1910 as 64.9 million, for 1914 as 67.1 million.

Social History
During the Kaiserreich, the Junkers (nobility) still enjoyed privileges - they diminated both the officers and the diplomatic corps, and Germany's protectionist economic policy intended to keep grain prices up - the East Elbian Junker estates profitted most from this law, at the expense of the workers who had to spend much of their hard earned wage for bread.
The difference between nobility (Agrarian Barons) and industrialists (Steel Barons) became less visible. Alfred Krupp built his Villa Hügel, a representative estate few noblemen could afford, in which he, among others, entertained Kaiser Wilhelm II. Some of the industrialists acquired noble titles by marriage, or were ennobled.
Since the unification the Army stood in high esteem. In Germany's bourgeois society, the Unterofficierspatent (NCO's patent) was regarded the most desiable goal. It opened many career opportunities. The military was overrated, few viewed it critically. Military music (march music) were very popular, as were uniforms of any kind. The Kaiserreich has often been associated with Militarism, a militarism which was romantic rather than oppressive.
The Social Democrats, workers striving for much improved living conditions and a society offering equal chances in education, political representation etc., rejected the Kaiserreich's militarism, it's colonial policy, the state itself.
The well-to-do could afford lavish households with staffs of servants. The railways offered seats in 4 different classes. The high school was intended for sons of the high society, focussing on the classic languages (Latin, Greek), preparing for university studies. The Realschule, focussing on Mathematics, Physics, modern languages, was to educate engineers and clerks, jobs the Junkers and the more traditional of the city merchants looked down upon. The Volksschule (elementary school) was for the working masses, for whom 4 years of basic education were regarded sufficient.
Women were expected to stay at home and accept the role of housewife and mother. There were separate higher schools for women; universities cautiously admitted women, for whom the careers of school teacher and nurse stood open.
In 1890 the era Bismarck ended, and with him the Anti-Socialist Laws. The SDAP had become the largest political party in Germany; trade unions had reached a size in which they could paralyze the economic life, thus gaining the means to achieve improvements in labour negotiations. Yet the employers' concessions were small in scope, and strikes became a regular feature of economic life.
Labour legislation also continued, the most important piece being legislation banning child labor (below the age of 11, 1903), passed in order to meet complaints of the army - too many young men had been exempted from military service because they were unfit, a fact caused by too hard work at too young an age.

Cultural History
Numerous private organizations took care of the needs of the simple folk, such as the Wandervogel, which led groups of students out of polluted cities into the countryside; to provide lodgings for them, the first Youth Hostels were built (1907).
German athletes participated in the Summer Olympics in Athens 1896, Paris 1900, St. Louis 1904, London 1908 and Stockholm 1912. The German Football Association (DFB) was established in 1900, a national champion was first determined in 1903.
Germans W.R. Röntgen (1901), K.F. Braun (1909), W. Wien (1911) and M. von Laue (1914) were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, E.A. von Behring (1901), R. Koch (1905), P. Ehrlich (1908), A. Kossel (1910) the Nobel Prize for Physiology, H.E. Fischer (1902), A. von Baeyer (1905), E. Buchner (1907), W. Ostwald (1909), O. Wallach (1910) the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Theodor Mommsen (1902), R.C. Eucken (1908), P.J.L. Heyse (1910) and G. Hauptmann (1912) the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In 1904-1905, Max Weber published "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism".

Articles from Wikipedia : Wilhelm II., Leo von Caprivi, Chlodwig Prince zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Bernhard von Bülow, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German Militarism, Wilhelm Voigt, Wandervogel, German Youth Movement, Germany at the Summer Olympics, German Football Association, German Football Champions, Nobel Laureates by Country : Germany
Category : Elections in the Second Reich, from Wikipedia
German Railway History, from DB Museum
DOCUMENTS Documents on the Kaiserreich, from psm-data; scroll down for Foreign Policy
April 7th 1906 : General Act of the Algeciras Conference relating to the Affairs of Morocco, from warflag.com
Letters from the Kaiser to the Czar copied from Government Archives in Petrograd 1895-1914, from World War I Document Archive
December 11, 1899 : Bernhard von Bülow, Hammer and Anvil Speech before the Reichstag, excerpt, from World War I Document Archive
July 1900 : Kaiser Wilhelm II. and German Interests in China, Speeches Wilhelmshaven July 2nd and Bremerhaven July 27th, from H-net
The Schlieffen Plan 1905, from World War I Document Archive
Feb. 8th-12th 1912 : The Lord Haldane Mission, from World War I Document Archive
Dec. 5th 1912 : Amended version of the Triple Alliance, from World War I Document Archive, click here for the French original
Feb. 9th 1909 : Franco-German Treaty over Morocco, from warflag.com
March 31st 1905 : Councillor von Schön reports to the Foreign Office on Kaiser Wilhelm's landing in Tangier, from warflag.com
German Diplomatic Documents : The Sino-Japanese war, and the East-Asiatic Triple Alliance, 1894-1895, from Mt. Holyoke
My Mission to London, 1912-14, by Prince Lichnowsky, from BYU
Botschafter in Paris Münster an Kanzler Hohenlohe-Sch., 1898, from cliotexte, in French, on colonial tensions
Medal : Reception of Kaiser Wilhelm II. in London, 1891, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Programm der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands beschlossen auf dem Parteitag zu Erfurt 1891, from PSM - Data Geschichte
Documents from psm-data geschichte, in English translation :
The German chancellor Georg Leo Count von Caprivi on the fight against Social Democracy in summer 1890
Address held by Kaiser Wilhelm II. on the Occasion of the Swearing-in-Ceremony of the New Recruits of the Potsdam Garderegiment 1891
Statistical Table Featuring Sentences Passed against Workers for "Political Crimes", 1890-1912
Statement of the Ruhrgebiet's miners' organizations of January 7th 1905, pertaining to the strike on the Bruchstrasse mine
The German Social Democratic Party's executive board appeals for support for the striking miners in the Ruhrgebiet, January 17th 1905
Amtliche Streikstatistik 1899-1914 (Official statistical table on strikes, Germany 1899-1914), from PSM - Data Geschichte
Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, Erfurter Programm, 1891, posted by Marxists' Internet Archive; in German
Postcard advertising the 8-hours workday, issued May Day 1900, from HDBG
German banknotes issued 1900-1919, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
E.D. Howard, The Cause and Extent of the Recent Industrial Progress of Germany, (1907), in excerpt posted by J.V. O'Brien, CUNY
Documents from psm-data geschichte :
Statistical Tables Regarding the Housing Situation around 1900
Costs of Living and Gross Wages in Industry and Agriculture, 1890-1914
Working Women by Profession, in Relation to Total Number of Workers, 1882 and 1907
Statement of the Ruhrgebiet's miners' organizations of January 7th 1905, pertaining to the strike on the Bruchstrasse mine
The German Social Democratic Party's executive board appeals for support for the striking miners in the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr District), January 17th 1905;
Paul Göhre on the housing and living conditions of workers' families, c. 1891
The Worker Moritz Bromme Describes his Family's Living Conditions (c 1905):
Statistical Table Illustrating the Social Background of Students of the Schools of Higher Learning in the city of Barmen (1906);
Karl Retzlaw describes in his memories how he fared when he as a 12-year-old arrived, with his mother, in Berlin in 1908
Else Conrad on the Living Conditions of Workers' Families in München (c. 1909)
Oberschlesien (Upper Silesia), Percentage of Coal Miners who work in a shift of up to 8, 8 to 10, 10 to 12 hours per shift
Wahlen in Deutschland bis 1918 (Elections in Germany until 1918), in German
REFERENCE Friedrich von Bernhardi, Germany and the Next War (1911) 1912, posted by Gurenberg Library Online
Paul Kennedy, The Position of the Powers, 1885-1918 : Germany, pp.209-215 in : Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, NY : Vintage (1987) 1989
Price Collier, Germany and the Germans (1913), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Stanley Shaw, William of Germany (1913), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Algernon Bastard, The Gourmet's Guide to Europe (1903), posted by Gutenberg Library Online, chapters VI-VII pp.110-151 on Germany
Frederic Augustin Ogg, The Governments of Europe (1913), posted by Gutenberg Library Online, Pt.2 pp.193-282 on Germany
Article : Germany, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1913 pp.1008-1024 (on events of 1912) [G]
Article : German Empire, in : Statesman's Year Book 1895 pp.530-645, 1898 pp.528-644, 1901 pp.612-734, 1905 pp.679-798, 1910 pp.821-917 [G]
Article : Germany, in : International Year Book 1898 pp.353-360, 1899 pp.364-371, 1900 pp.386-395 [G]
Article : Germany, in : New International Year Book 1907 pp.306-315, 1908 pp.284-296, 1909 pp.285-295, 1913 pp.284-293 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events 1894 pp.313-322 [G]
Lily Braun, Die Frauenfrage, ihre geschichtliche Entwicklung und wirtschaftliche Seite [The Question of the Status of Women, its Historic Development and its Economic Aspect] (1901), posted by Gutenberg Library Online

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First posted in 2000, last revised on November 10th 2007

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