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A Brief History of the German Empire

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In 1871, Bismarck united Germany victory in the Franco-Prussian War. Then Germany united with Prussia as the largest state and Berlin the capital. The emergence of the German Empire altered the map of Europe.

Wilhelm became king of Germany after unification. For his part in unification, Bismarck seemed an obvious choice of German foreign minister. Foreign policy aside, Bismarck also had a big impact on the German charter.

In the period after unification Bismarck and Germany aimed to establish alliances with central and more eastern European neighbors. To this extent, Austria-Hungary was an obvious potential ally given its links with Germany. As such, Germany established the Duel Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879. The alliance was as the historian Carr noted, “The cornerstone of German foreign policy.

Germany extended this alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1882. Then Germany extended the alliance to include Italy. Germany had established the Triple Alliance in Europe.

During the period, Germany's industry and economy greatly expanded. In many respects Germany's expansion of industry was comparable to Britain's Industrial Revolution. Coal and iron output was particularly notable, and Germany became a leader in these industries. In addition, German railroads further enhanced trade.

However, socialist parties in Germany could not be ignored. The SPD was gaining an increasing amount of support in Germany. Bismarck himself was Prussian conservative, and was certainly not a great supporter of left-wing parties. Consequently, they were increasingly curbed and later banned by 1880.

Still, Bismarck was not inclined to ignore socialist policies entirely. As such, ironically enough, Bismarck pursued more socialist policies to reduce support for the socialists. So welfare reform was gradually expanded in Germany.

1888 marked the cross-roads for the German Empire. Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd assumed the throne, and all of a sudden Bismarck was out of favor. As such, he soon resigned as foreign minister.

This was great news for the socialist parties. For Wilhelm 2nd was not inclined to continue with Bismarck's banning of socialist parties such as the SPD. They returned to the Reichstag, and their support continued to expand during the period up to the point that they were the largest of parties.

With Bismarck disappearing from German politics, new foreign ministers altered Germany's foreign policies. No longer would reinsurance treaties with Russia be continued with, so the Russians established an alliance with Britain and France.  In 1907, the Triple Entente included Russia, Britain and France.

Increasing expansion of the Imperial German Navy was an indicator of colonial ambitions. The German navy became more comparable with the Royal Navy, although was not as big. Relations with the British could never be enhanced so long as the German navy posed an obstacle to Britain's own defense commitments.

Colonial disputes with Britain and France continued. This was most notable in regard to Morocco. Two crisis in Morocco emerged in 1906 and in 1911. Germany disputed the colonial status of Morocco in both cases, and eventually it became a French protectorate. In many respects, Entente unity became increasingly more evident in relation to Morocco.

Europe remained at peace, but war always remained a possibility. Germany and the Triple Alliance gradually expanded their armies, while the Entente also did the same. The assassination of archduke Ferdinand in 1914 triggered war in the Balkans between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Germany was fully committed to supporting its Austrian ally, which extended to military support. Consequently, Germany declared war on Serbia's ally Russia; and expecting that France would join the Russians also declared war with France. Britain was fully committed to Belgium neutrality, and declared war with Germany after their violation of Belgium borders.

The outbreak of World War One was in a backdrop of general euphoria. However, it was the beginning of the end for the German Empire. The Triple Alliance was at war with the Triple Entente, and Germany needed a quick victory. German troops soon advanced into France, and the French army fell back. However, the Entente halted this advance at the Marne; and German troops pulled back. Britain and France had prevented a German breakthrough, and both sides dug-in.

Battle of the Marne

This was a disaster for German strategy. Germany based its hopes for victory on defeating France quickly and then Russia. Now the French and British had more than enough reserves to match the Germans. On the other hand, as the war continued victories in Eastern Europe left the Russians all but defeated by 1917; and they began peace negotiations. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ceded considerable territory to Germany in Eastern Europe and ended the war with Russia.

The final, decisive year of 1918 turned against the Germans as U.S. support for the Entente increased. With their last advances halted in the West, the German army retreated eastwards. Increasing calls for peace in Germany, and the kaiser's abdication, left few options but to begin peace negotiations. Therefore, as per Entente demands a cease-fire was accepted on November 11.

Consequently, the German Empire was crumbling. With the monarchy abandoned, this left the socialist parties, spearheaded by Ebert, to establish a new German constitution. Germany embraced democracy and established the Weimar Republic. The Versailles Treaty also removed Germany's colonial territories, and with that the German Empire was no more.



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